Who tests or controls p.h.

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Who tests or controls p.h.

Post  rrubberbandman on Sun Jul 27, 2014 2:31 pm

Hello all,
Just wondering in the bonsai world who here could give some advice on p.h. levels.
Should I test or even be concerned?
Bryan

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Re: Who tests or controls p.h.

Post  JimLewis on Sun Jul 27, 2014 3:14 pm

Depends on what you are growing. Azaleas and some fruits need acid soils. Most will do fine in soil that approaches neutral from the acid side. A very few require alkaline soils; few of those will do well in Va.

Bonsai soil fertilized regularly with a standard houseplant fertilizer will generally do fine. There are a few who will quibble over minute changes in pH and take superhuman steps to make their soils just right, but their trees don't seem to do any better than anyone else's.

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Re: Who tests or controls p.h.

Post  rrubberbandman on Sun Jul 27, 2014 8:02 pm

Thanks Jim!

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Re: Who tests or controls p.h.

Post  coh on Mon Jul 28, 2014 12:03 am

There are also those whose trees struggle because they're using water with high alkalinity which can raise the soil pH significantly over time (alkalinity is at least as important, probably more important than the pH of the water).

Not everyone has "good water", though it seems most municipal water systems (most, not all) are good enough most of the time.

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Re: Who tests or controls p.h.

Post  rrubberbandman on Mon Jul 28, 2014 1:36 pm

Thanks.

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Re: Who tests or controls p.h.

Post  arihato on Mon Jul 28, 2014 2:36 pm

There is a goodand simple remedy for hard water. Fill as large a container (barrel) with water, get yourself a pantyhose, put one leg into the other, fill with good peat and let infuse for a couple of days. That will sweeten your water and lower the pH.

When I first started in Bonsai I did all kind of measuring tests also pH tests with coloured strips I got from the pharmacy, they are accurate enough for our purposes.

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Re: Who tests or controls p.h.

Post  Leo Schordje on Mon Jul 28, 2014 5:28 pm

If your municipal water supply is soft enough that fish don't bounce twice before going under, it is "good enough" for majority of trees used for bonsai.

As Chris "COH" suggested, total alkalinity is more important than the actual pH reading. Majority of municipal water suppliers are require to distribute an annual report for their customers. If the total alkalinity or the total dissolved solids gives a value of less than 400 ppm as Ca(CO3)2 or mg/Liter as Ca(CO3)2, calcium carbonate, you are in the "good enough" for most purposes range. The units of measure are not scientifically interchangeable but for practical bonsai use, they can be viewed as interchangeable. So if the report shows less than 400, I would not worry about using the water. In general all plants (including trees used for bonsai) excrete buffers into the water film around the roots tips that will buffer the local water film into the optimal pH range for that root to absorb water and nutrients. So by and large, pH is something you can largely ignore. The reports will usually show your municipal water is buffered to pH 7.6 - 7.8, this is done to prevent lead from leaching out of the pipes into the drinking water. The buffers used have a low total alkalinity, so it is easy for the plants themselves and the characteristics of the materials used in most bonsai media to overcome this buffer system, so don't worry about the pH reported in the municipal water report. It is the total alkalinity, or total dissolved solids that really mater. Even if your report shows a higher than 400 ppm or mg/l, don't panic, there are tricks. Post the higher results and some of us here can talk you through what you need to do.

If your water is "good enough" plants like azalea and other acid loving plants can be helped by choosing potting media that are known to buffer the pH down. Kanuma, pine bark and other components recommended for azalea mixes do this job, and with "good enough" water, this will be all you need for plants requiring mildly to moderately acidic soils.

You really only need to worry about pH for specialty trees, ones that would only be found in acid bogs, or if you do carnivorous plants. Most of these species are rarely if ever used for bonsai. So unless you are trying one of those, the recommendation to not worry about pH would serve you well.

I worked in a lab for over 30 years, and pH was one of the parameters I was routinely testing. Getting an accurate pH reading is not trivial. Every inexpensive pH testing method we tested had  serious shortcomings in terms of accuracy, precision & reproducibility. Cheap pH meters are not worth the money, regardless the advertisements and endorsements, they do not hold up to statistical studies of accuracy, precision and reproducibility. The threshold seems to be about $2000 to get a useful pH meter. So if you start testing pH, you will find you are adjusting perfectly useful water, because you had bad test results. Save yourself the headache. Use the lab reports from your local water supply. There is such a thing as a "useful approximation".

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Re: Who tests or controls p.h.

Post  Glaucus on Mon Jul 28, 2014 8:08 pm

I have azaleas with chlorosis. I do not know if it is caused by high ph, low ph, low iron, or something else.

I have plants put in the same soil mix that flourish.

Measuring pH of the soil is complex because a soil has no true pH. Only solutes dissolved in water have pH values.
Soil definitely affects pH, that is for sure. But when you measure pH of a soil sample, you measure the pH of the water, not of the soil particles.

You can measure how many H+ ions the soil releases.
If you use distilled water, H+ ions will be released.
For a more accurate measurement of how much H+ the soil can give off, a 3% KCl solutions is used. The ionic strength of this solution encourages the release of otherwise unwilling H+ bond in the soil.
The pH scale being logarithmic doesn't make it any easier.
And then there is the buffering capacity, weak acidic compounds in the soil, calciumcarbonate from tap water.

I used proper soil, assuming there are no contamination. Calciumcarbonate is reported to being low enough at below 200 ppm. Not sure if I have to acidify my tapwater or if I just have to use iron(II)sulfate or use more fertilizer in general, because I have been barely using any.

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Re: Who tests or controls p.h.

Post  coh on Mon Jul 28, 2014 8:38 pm

Glaucus wrote:I have azaleas with chlorosis. I do not know if it is caused by high ph, low ph, low iron, or something else.

I have plants put in the same soil mix that flourish.


These kinds of problems can be very difficult to solve. I have some plants that have been struggling with leaf problems (chlorosis, early fall coloring, etc) for years. Some people say I might be watering too much, but the roots look fine when I repot. I've tried different fertilizers, trace elements added to soil and sprayed on leaves, adding acid to my water, and other "cures" and the problems remain.

I've got a book on plant nutritional disorders and many of the symptoms of various deficiencies overlap. Not only that, sometimes excesses of certain elements can cause the same symptoms as deficiencies.

No real advice to offer except (1) check the roots (it may be as simple as over-watering), and maybe (2) change to a soil like kanuma that is known to be acidifying.

Good luck!

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Re: Who tests or controls p.h.

Post  rrubberbandman on Tue Jul 29, 2014 12:38 am

I am on a well (deep) which is routed around the filter/softener system. So its straight out of the ground......gonna get some tested here soon.
Bryan

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Re: Who tests or controls p.h.

Post  beer city snake on Tue Jul 29, 2014 6:24 pm

arihato wrote:There is a goodand simple remedy for hard water. Fill as large a container (barrel) with water, get yourself a pantyhose, put one leg into the other, fill with good peat and let infuse for a couple of days. That will sweeten your water and lower the pH.

i shoulda read this closer before trying it...

my wife came home wondering why i was standing in a bucket of water with my leg and a buncha peas stuffed into her pantyhose  Embarassed 





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Re: Who tests or controls p.h.

Post  Dave Leppo on Tue Jul 29, 2014 7:58 pm

I use well water - untreated -  for all my trees (~20) EXCEPT Fagus Grandifolia, to which I apply water collected from the dehumidifier drain, which I consider closer to distilled.

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