Natural Resources: The pH of Watering the Garden

August is National Water Quality Month. For gardeners, the quality of their water—and its impact on their plants—can be measured with a simple device. When the tester is working correctly, measuring pH is easy.

One of the handiest tools in a gardener’s tool belt is the pocket pH meter or tester. Within seconds, the meter’s display reveals the acidity or alkalinity of water and soil via the pH reading, indicating if nutrients are feeding into plants. For gardeners investigating why their plants are not thriving, the pH reading is, quite literally, a litmus test.

Priced around $100 or less, the handheld pH meter is also a worthy investment. Except, that is, when it begins to malfunction. Sluggish readings that take 15 to 30 seconds to register, erratic measurements that fail to stabilize, blatantly incorrect values, or no pH display at all, are complaints common to users of pocket pH meters. Further, gardeners using rainwater or treated wastewater to irrigate plants may find that the performance of their pH meter declines rather quickly. Why?

Regardless of the type of pH meter, the problem can typically be traced back to the electrode itself. Single-junction electrodes are much more prone to problems and shorter lives than their double-junction counterparts. Read more

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