How Soil pH Influences Grapes

Hans Walter-PetersonWhen we talk about the influence of the environment on grapes, what we usually mean are things like air temperature, humidity, and sunlight — the things that influence the parts of the vine that are above ground. But the environment where the roots are located — the soil — can be just as crucial to successfully growing grapes. And one of the most important aspects of the soil environment is pH — the measure of how acidic or alkaline the soil is.

Nutrient problems in grapevines are often a result of soil pH, because the nutrients are bound up in the soil or are in a form that the roots are unable to take up. For example, in acidic soils (pH less than 5.5) high amounts of free aluminum and iron precipitate phosphorus (P) out of the soil solution, making P unavailable to the plant. High amounts of aluminum can also impact root growth by inhibiting cell division at the root tip. In alkaline soils (pH greater than 8.0), micronutrients like zinc, iron, and copper become less available to the vines, and it is not uncommon to see deficiency symptoms in these cases.

Proper Timing
The best time to influence the pH of a vineyard is before a single vine goes into the ground. The first option is to find a vineyard site with a native soil pH in the desirable range to begin with, and which needs no adjustment at all. The second option is to adjust the soil pH to a desirable level before the vineyard is planted. In most cases in the Eastern U.S., this will mean needing to raise the pH by adding lime. Unlike some nutrients, limestone does not move through the soil profile very quickly, and therefore the best option to change the soil pH down near the root zone is to apply the amendments to the surface and then use a plow to get the lime down deeper into the profile. Relying on the lime to move through the top 12 to 14 inches of soil and into the root zone on its own would take many years.

Even if the vineyard has a proper soil pH at the time of planting, it will be necessary to occasionally conduct soil tests to determine if it has changed over time. Soils will gradually acidify over time due to the removal of cations like calcium, potassium, or magnesium either by leaching or uptake by plants, acid rain, or the reaction of certain nitrogen fertilizers in the soil (e.g., urea and ammonium nitrate). We generally recommend that soil samples be collected every four to five years in a particular location, unless the grower is in the process of changing pH or nutrient levels. Soil pH is a routine measure that should be included in any basic soil analysis. These soil analyses generally cost around $15 to $20 per sample.

If test results indicate that an adjustment to the pH is necessary, most labs will make a recommendation for how much lime to add to the soil to achieve a certain pH (if that desired pH level is not clear, ask the lab what it is). This recommendation is based on the difference between the actual and desired pH level and the buffering capacity of the soil. The targeted pH level will depend on what varieties are being grown. Labrusca-based varieties are better adapted to more acidic soils, while hybrids and vinifera tend to perform better in more neutral pH soils. Soils with higher clay content or higher levels of organic matter will require more lime to change the pH than sandy or low organic matter soils.

Growers may need to adjust the rate recommended from their samples, depending on the material that they choose to use. Any liming material that is purchased should state the “effective neutralizing value” (ENV) that is used to determine the actual amount of that material to apply. The calculation is straightforward:
Actual lime required x Recommended rate (tons per acre) / ENV (as an integer) x 100

Having the soil pH in a range that is appropriate for the varieties being grown will go a long way to making the environment below ground hospitable for the roots, and can help to minimize the need for supplemental fertilizers. The best time to ensure a proper pH is before planting, by choosing a good site and making any necessary adjustments when it is easiest to do so. But regular soil testing will help to ensure that the soil pH remains in the proper range over the life of the vineyard.

Targeting Soil pH
Soil pH levels will range depending on the type of grape variety. Even if the vineyard has a proper soil pH at the time of planting, it will be necessary to occasionally conduct soil tests to determine if it has changed over time.

Type of grape variety and target soil pH:

  • Natives: 5.5-6.0 pH
  • Hybrids: 6.0-6.5 pH
  • Vinifera: 6.5-7.0 pH
Topics: ,
Fruits Stories
Business PlanningTake Climate Change — Please [Opinion]
June 30, 2015
It’s a difficult issue because people tend to think of it in terms of something tangible — like the weather. Read More
FruitsHighlights From The Ohio Produce Growers And Marketers Summer Tour [Slideshow]
June 30, 2015
American Vegetable Grower magazine made its way to the Ohio Produce Growers and Marketers Association (OPGMA) Summer Tour & Field Read More
BerriesRainy Weather Causing High Risk For Phytopthora In Berries
June 29, 2015
With the rainy weather the Midwest has recently received, the conditions for Phytophthora diseases increases. An increased risk for oomycetes, Read More
Apples & PearsWildfires Damage Washington Fruit Businesses
June 29, 2015
More than 1,000 people have been forced to evacuate as a fast-moving wildfire swept into Wenatchee, WA, on Sunday night Read More
Farm ManagementMarketing Tips From GenNext Growers
June 29, 2015
Whether your business is in its beginning stages of development or is already established and in need of increased visibility, Read More
USDA organic logo
Farm ManagementThe ROI On An Organic Checkoff [Opinion]
June 29, 2015
Organic agriculture is more profitable for farmers than conventional agriculture, according to a recent study published in the Proceedings of Read More
Crop ProtectionStay A Step Ahead Of Weeds
June 26, 2015
Weed control can be a tricky and costly task made all the more difficult by herbicide resistance and the push Read More
The Latest
Photo of New Guinea flatworm found near Coral Gables, FL
CitrusSouth Florida’s Newest Pest Has Significant Ooze Factor
July 2, 2015
The infamous New Guinea flatworm, one of the ‘world's worst invasive alien species,’ might have found a new home. Read More
Farm ManagementPMA Advocates For Improvements To Proposed FSMA Mandato…
July 2, 2015
This week the Produce Marketing Association (PMA) submitted comments on behalf of its membership to FDA regarding the proposed Mandatory Read More
CitrusFlorida’s Young Farmers Working To Bridge Generation Ga…
July 2, 2015
Leadership conference to give GenNext Growers tools to become better agvocates. Read More
Business PlanningTake Climate Change — Please [Opinion]
June 30, 2015
It’s a difficult issue because people tend to think of it in terms of something tangible — like the weather. Read More
FruitsHighlights From The Ohio Produce Growers And Marketers …
June 30, 2015
American Vegetable Grower magazine made its way to the Ohio Produce Growers and Marketers Association (OPGMA) Summer Tour & Field Read More
Apples & PearsWildfires Damage Washington Fruit Businesses
June 29, 2015
More than 1,000 people have been forced to evacuate as a fast-moving wildfire swept into Wenatchee, WA, on Sunday night Read More
Farm ManagementMarketing Tips From GenNext Growers
June 29, 2015
Whether your business is in its beginning stages of development or is already established and in need of increased visibility, Read More
USDA organic logo
Farm ManagementThe ROI On An Organic Checkoff [Opinion]
June 29, 2015
Organic agriculture is more profitable for farmers than conventional agriculture, according to a recent study published in the Proceedings of Read More
Crop ProtectionStay A Step Ahead Of Weeds
June 26, 2015
Weed control can be a tricky and costly task made all the more difficult by herbicide resistance and the push Read More
Fumigating strawberries
FruitsThere’s More Than One Way To Nix Nematodes
June 25, 2015
Compare and contrast these five nematicide products to find out what's the best fit for your farm. Read More
money down the drain
CitrusGovernor’s Budget Veto Likely To Shutter UF/IFAS …
June 25, 2015
A $180,000 increase, plus another $720,000 in funding for program gone in the stroke of a pen. Read More
FruitsHow To Make Social Media Work For You
June 25, 2015
I have a confession to make. I enter a lot of contests. I’ve won gift cards to local restaurants, locally Read More
Farm ManagementIndustry Experts Sound Off On Climate Change
June 24, 2015
Growers and stakeholders share their thoughts on what they see is happening in the environment, and what you might be dealing with in the future. Read More
blue orchard bee
CitrusPlight Of Pollinators Presenting Sticky Situation
June 24, 2015
Growers, beekeepers, and the ag-chem industry urged to work together to protect pollinators and plants. Read More
CitrusCalifornia High Heat Warning Issued
June 23, 2015
The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) is advising all employers to protect their outdoor workers from the Read More
FruitsStudy Shows Positive Impact Of Crop Rotation On Soil, L…
June 22, 2015
A study authored by Michigan State University (MSU) Department of Plant, Soil and Microbial Sciences assistant professor Lisa Tiemann is Read More
FruitsBeware Of Reservation Scams For The Great Lakes Expo
June 22, 2015
Company is sending emails and placing phone calls looking to book rooms for the upcoming expo. Read More
non-gmo label leafy greens
CitrusResearchers Ready To Testify Before Congress About GMOs
June 22, 2015
UF/IFAS grad students seeking to field questions relating to the GMO regulatory processes, food labeling, and product safety. Read More