Mia Culpa! pH issue, I was wrong- BR correct

alan haighApril 4, 2014

Partially because of Charina's patient and thorough tutorials on my posting about having very healthy blueberry plants in relatively sweet soil I went back today to double check my pH readings.

I had assumed the original test I took was legitimate because the soil had been well stirred during the transplant, but this time I went down deep and measured some soil with very little organic matter over a foot down- the reading I got was about 5.5.

Somewhere in the mix of many less helpful suggestions, Bamboo Rabbit had said this might be the case as had Charina.

I believe now, as was suggested by others, that all the times I got near neutral pH readings of soil at the base of thriving blueberry bushes, the neutrality was likely created by composted wood chips. You can be sure that in the future I will probe more deeply and if I find thriving plants with near neutral soil throughout the root zone I will post it.

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mes111(5b -Purling NY & 7b -Nassau County NY)


It takes a big man re-asses when new information comes to light and to publicly admit a mistake.

It takes a bigger man to do so after being pilloried mercilessly.

Many would just dig in and "spin" and give excuses why the past held position might have had some merit.



    Bookmark   April 4, 2014 at 10:14AM
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olpea(zone 6 KS)


Do you think some of the Blueberry roots were down in the acidic soil?

The reason I ask is that our soil is neutral and I've never been able to make blueberries thrive, even with lots of woodchips on top. Our soil is naturally high in OM. I've tested it twice. Once it came back as 4.9% and 5%. This was before I started mass mulching with wood chips.

Our blueberries grow very little and are slowly dieing out. It's always looked like chlorosis to me.

I've used some sulfur, but I think it was too late. I have noticed they brighten up when I water with a sulfuric acid solution.

    Bookmark   April 4, 2014 at 10:18AM
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bamboo_rabbit(9A Inverness FL)

I appreciate the admission and you could have just not admitted it, so while I hate to say it and it pains me deeply to do so........thank you.

now quit saying sweet soil if it is under 7 :)

    Bookmark   April 4, 2014 at 10:23AM
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olpea(zone 6 KS)

I just read the companion threads about blueberry soil for the first time, so I now have the background for this thread. I hadn't been reading blueberry threads because I had pretty much given up on growing healthy blueberries. Maybe I'll try a little harder now.

I noticed there was some discussion in a companion thread about the length of time it takes for sulfur to amend alkaline or neutral soil. As I recall I put sulfur on top of my blueberry mounds about 3 years ago. If you move the mulch you can still see the remains of pelletized sulfur underneath some of the mulch. From this I conclude the sulfur really hasn't worked its way in the soil. Perhaps I'll test the soil pH again to see if any progress has been made.

    Bookmark   April 4, 2014 at 11:13AM
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Wow. That's an impressive example of integrity.

Can't say I'm not a little disappointed to find that what seemed like the most likely scenario to me, is actually the case. I always held some sort of 'hope' there was something more unusual going on making it possible to grow in higher ph highly-organic conditions.

Were you able to identify any bb roots down that deep? I suppose it is still possible that the plants were not drawing directly from that soil.

Thanks for sharing.

    Bookmark   April 4, 2014 at 11:16AM
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alan haigh

The key word is "relatively", BR, as in relatively sweet compared to 5.5.

I feel your pain (or maybe it's mine).

Thank you Mike, much appreciated. Your support helped make me brave, I'm sure. I do want to help people enjoy their fruit plants.

Olpea, given my record as a blueberry guru perhaps you should submit your questions elsewhere, but I do believe there were roots established in the more acidic soil.

The funny thing is that I've observed for years that the darker soil, richer in organic matter was more basic in areas I work, but I never thought to double check when I was getting readings close to the surface of healthy blueberries. I preferred devising my own "original theories" as to the cause. So much more creative!

I still intend to investigate this more, as at least half the soil these plants were living in was nearly neutral (relatively sweet, G D it!) and the soil below was at the highest pH level considered acceptable for blueberries.

    Bookmark   April 4, 2014 at 11:24AM
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alan haigh

Charina, the site is pretty stirred up, but I have another plant to move and when I do I'll be careful to see if roots are growing in the more acidic soil. Now I expect they will be.

    Bookmark   April 4, 2014 at 11:46AM
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bamboo_rabbit(9A Inverness FL)


If the sulfur you used was pelleted what you may be seeing in the soil is just the remains of the binder. Your experience is why I just don't think sulfur is the best option. With the sulfur it is a chunk it out there and hope type thing. Some areas will be PH 6 and others PH 3. With the sulfuric acid it is exact and it is even. If the soil PH creeps up you drop the PH of the irrigation water down to 4.5 or 4 for a watering or two. It is a graceful dance...with pelleted sulfur it is waltzing with a brontosaurus.

I do hate to say though that if the plants have been subjected to these stresses they may never recover and be all they could have been.....at least that has been my experience.

    Bookmark   April 4, 2014 at 12:39PM
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olpea(zone 6 KS)


I fear you are correct. These plants have been stunted so long I doubt they will ever thrive.

I may replant at some point. If I do, I will make sure the soil is right before I plant. Blueberries are so touchy (have to have the right pH, the right amount of water). Peaches much easier.

Your point is well taken about the sulfuric acid vs. sulfur. From now on I'll amend with sulfuric acid only.

Some good info on blueberries in the last few threads. Thanks to all.

    Bookmark   April 4, 2014 at 1:24PM
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I am not sure why your local soil has a lower pH as you dig deeper. Our soils, here in Madison, are essentially an ancient sea bed, complete with buried layers of limestone. In these parts, the pH would be expected to go up as you dig, not the other way. So, the natural history is different, in a very general way. With regard to using agricultural sulfur for lowering soil pH, I have found this method to be reliable and reasonably simple to use. The mulch is pulled back, the soil is scratched up a bit, if necessary, the sulfur goes down in a ring, and three to six inches of mulch goes down, on top of the sulfur. I make an effort to maintain adequate soil moisture throughout the growing season, and I would think that this helps sustain the bacteria that feed on the sulfur. However, our irrigation water has pH around 7.6, so I can't say how well this method would work for someone using irrigation water with pH above 8.

    Bookmark   April 4, 2014 at 2:35PM
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alan haigh

Eric, I believe the reason the pH goes down- and I'm not talking about subsoil- just as you go down the top 18", is the natural affect of composting, which the book always says is generally neutral. The forest litter becomes humus and the humus has a higher pH than the soil beneath it. It's affect diminishes the deeper you go.

In areas around here with limestone underneath it the opposite is more likely to be true with the composting process pulling the pH down the closer you are to the surface.

BR, are you aware of any research that indicates a homogenous pH creates superior results in BB production? Certainly my plants were growing in conditions of variable acidity and the leaves were as green and healthy as could be with plenty of vigorous replacement canes. Of course layered is not the same as splotches.

    Bookmark   April 4, 2014 at 3:10PM
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jagchaser(5A NE, -15-115f may frost)

BR is right about the pellet remaining. I think most of them use bentonite as a binder, so that is what you will see left over. The pelletized sulfer is the best bet for commercial amendment because of its cost. If someone is amending acres of land it can take .5-1 ton per acre of product to amend the soil. If you are a backyard grower looking to amend a couple beds, or just get by for the season, then you will see faster results with liquid. You may need to reapply sooner also.

I did also read that when moisture levels are near saturation then mineralization of S is slowed and so it doesn't move, just because the oxidation cannot happen. ?? Same is true when the moisture level is too low for the micro organisms to function.

    Bookmark   April 4, 2014 at 4:00PM
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drew51 SE MI Z5b/6a

I have had good luck building 4x4 beds, 1 foot high, loading them with peat, pine barks fines and sulfur and use rain water. I only use sulfur in the water when I run out of rainwater. I have had good success. Our soil is 6.5
3x3 would probably do. I grow strawberries around the border. They don't mind the low PH.
Trying to fight the natural PH of ground soil seems like a big fight. It's so easy to control the PH of a raised bed.

    Bookmark   April 4, 2014 at 5:41PM
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alan haigh

This seems a pretty thorough explanation of many aspects of pH adjustment.

Here is a link that might be useful: adjusting soil pH

    Bookmark   April 4, 2014 at 6:50PM
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I have not found it difficult at all to control ph in the soil with a combination of peat and sulfur primarily through ammonium sulfate. I water with well water. This year ph a bit too low so I'm laying off the ammonium.


    Bookmark   April 4, 2014 at 6:58PM
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bamboo_rabbit(9A Inverness FL)


I am aware of no research that indicates perfect conditions in the entire bed is better than a bed that has areas of ideal conditions and less then ideal, sure seems logical but have never looked for such research either. Having grown BB using both methods I can assure you it makes a difference, a HUGE difference. Like I have said before one persons thrive is another persons mediocre. If I had been a brand new grower I would have thought my bushes were doing fine with the sulfur, they did grow, they did produce new canes, they had green leaves and they did fruit. Even those that say sulfur works for me.....should try the other method. At least then they would have a personal basis to make a determination of what is best.


Bentonite yep that is it, I knew it was a drilling clay but could not think of the name. Here the commercial folks use sulfuric acid.


It all depends on the local soil and water.....that is the reason why what works for you may not work for others. The sulfuric acid will work for everyone so it is a more clear message to those that might not fully grasp all of the details.

    Bookmark   April 5, 2014 at 9:46AM
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alan haigh

BR, It is the lack of university based guidelines that stress the value of sulfuric acid over pelletized sulfur that is bothering me. I believe every person is susceptible to the exaggeration of the significance of their own anecdotal "eureka moments" (I don't think I'm at all unique in this).

I hope some others here who have successfully adjusted their pH with pellets try to enhance their productivity with sulfuric acid, but leave some plants to pellets so we can get a wider sampling in different situations.

For a small planting pellets are easier, aren't they?

    Bookmark   April 5, 2014 at 11:29AM
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drew51 SE MI Z5b/6a

Seems to me you have 6 of one or 1/2 dozen of the other. I use both. Sulfur is sulfur. Actually I add sulfur in 4 different ways. Pellets, acid, Holly-tone (really the same as pellets) and Ammonium sulfate.
I have to watch the beds, as it is easy to get too low. If that happens I can use tap water and regular fertilizer.
I don't use Sulfuric acid often, and when I do I use battery acid, the weaker stuff. I just happen to have some for batteries. I use rainwater, and try to reserve enough just for the blueberries. If I get low, only the blueberries will get the rainwater.It probably has ton's of sulfur in it too!

    Bookmark   April 5, 2014 at 12:24PM
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bamboo_rabbit(9A Inverness FL)


There are tons of guidelines that stress the use of Sulfuric Acid as the best choice......they are just geared toward professional growers. I think the reason there is not the same for home growers is worry over some careless person hurting themselves using the acid. Isn't really too hard to understand.

I have done exactly the test you want......I grow BB's in 3 beds all with the exact same conditions. When I tried the acid I only used it on 1 bed. Not only were the results fast they were amazing.

Almost never is easier better. In it's simplest form a trashcan of treated water, can add your fertilizer to it as well and dipped and applied to plants. Pretty simple and very fast. Your thinking on it is wrong btw.....for a small planting the acid is very easy. It is when you get a bunch of plants it becomes harder. Who wants to carry around 50 buckets of treated water when the hose is right there...

    Bookmark   April 5, 2014 at 10:44PM
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