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
UF/IFAS developmental biologist Dennis Gray looks at the progress of grapevines in a vineyard.
Crop ProtectionResearcher Using ‘Precision Breeding’ To Create Disease-Resistant Winegrapes
May 20, 2015
Breakthrough would mean significant savings on pesticide and fungicide sprays. Read More
Expansion groundbreaking for Southwest Florida Research and Education Center
CitrusSouthwest Florida Research And Education Center Embracing New Expansion
May 20, 2015
A 7,000-square-foot addition to the UF/IFAS facility will house labs and offices for potential new faculty members. Read More
storm clouds
CitrusSouth Florida Rainy Season Could Wind Up On Drier Side
May 20, 2015
National Weather Service anticipating El Niño to play a hand in possible below-normal conditions. Read More
Food SafetyProduce Safety Alliance Offers Course To Become A Certified Trainer
May 20, 2015
The Produce Safety Alliance (PSA) has announced dates for their first two Train-the-Trainer courses this June. The first of the Read More
GrapesMatthew Fidelibus To Be Recognized For Extension Work
May 20, 2015
The American Society of Enology and Viticulture (ASEV) recently announced that Western Fruit Grower™ magazine contributor Matthew W. Fidelibus, of Read More
Apples & PearsGrants Available For Farmworker Education
May 19, 2015
Grants are available for farmworkers and their families interested in attending adult educational programs through the Washington Apple Educational Foundation Read More
Fruits$10 Million Available For California Water Conservation Program
May 19, 2015
Applications for the California Department of Food and Agriculture’s (CDFA) California State Water Efficiency and Enhancement Program (SWEEP) are now Read More
The Latest
Operation Outdoor Freedom participants
CitrusFlorida Proud To Be Home Of The Brave [Opinion]
May 25, 2015
Operation Outdoor Freedom invites wounded service members and veterans of the U.S. military to enjoy recreational activities in state forests and on private lands. Read More
FruitsQ&A With Penn State’s New Young Grower Alliance Coo…
May 22, 2015
Erin Dugan recently joined Penn State University extension as a specialty crop innovations program manager and Young Grower Alliance coordinator. Read More
FruitsHow To Start A Young Grower Association
May 22, 2015
You have recently returned to your family’s business. You have friends and family you can tap for their knowledge and Read More
Expansion groundbreaking for Southwest Florida Research and Education Center
CitrusSouthwest Florida Research And Education Center Embraci…
May 20, 2015
A 7,000-square-foot addition to the UF/IFAS facility will house labs and offices for potential new faculty members. Read More
storm clouds
CitrusSouth Florida Rainy Season Could Wind Up On Drier Side
May 20, 2015
National Weather Service anticipating El Niño to play a hand in possible below-normal conditions. Read More
Food SafetyProduce Safety Alliance Offers Course To Become A Certi…
May 20, 2015
The Produce Safety Alliance (PSA) has announced dates for their first two Train-the-Trainer courses this June. The first of the Read More
Fruits$10 Million Available For California Water Conservation…
May 19, 2015
Applications for the California Department of Food and Agriculture’s (CDFA) California State Water Efficiency and Enhancement Program (SWEEP) are now Read More
CitrusBad Weather Or Not, Preparation Always On Radar For Flo…
May 19, 2015
You cannot prevent a natural disaster from taking everything you have, but you can lessen the blow if and when it happens. Read More
FruitsGreen Fruitworm Numbers High In Pennsylvania
May 19, 2015
In their latest insect report, David Biddinger and Grzegorz Krawczyk, tree fruit entomologists discuss the timing of pest control applications Read More
FruitsUSDA To Invest $21M To Help Growers Cope With Drought
May 18, 2015
USDA’s National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) will allocate $21 million for growers and ranchers to apply conservation practices in the Read More
BB Hobbs Inc. warehouse in Plant City, FL
CitrusBB Hobbs Bolsters Business In Central Florida
May 18, 2015
Irrigation specialists celebrate opening of new branch warehouse in Plant City. Read More
Disease ControlHow To Control Disease During Rainy Weather
May 18, 2015
The recent warm, wet weather conditions are prime for fungal and bacterial diseases, says Annemiek Schilder of Michigan State University Read More
FertilizerBioWorks Launches New Fertilizer And Biostimulant
May 15, 2015
BioWorks, Inc., launched ON-Gard, a new organic fertilizer and biostimulant. ON-Gard is a 100% plant-derived product with organic nitrogen and Read More
CitrusHouse Votes To Stop “Flawed” Waters Of The United State…
May 15, 2015
The U.S. House of Representatives approved this week bipartisan legislation that requires the withdrawal of the Waters of the United Read More
CitrusPointers On How To Save Money, Increase Sprayer Efficie…
May 15, 2015
Using clean water when calibrating a pesticide sprayer and carrying extra nozzles for quick repair of simple problems in the Read More
Wes Roan of Lipman Produce talks with participants of FFVA's Spring Regulatory Tour.
CitrusFlorida Farming Show & Tell Earns Regulators’…
May 15, 2015
FFVA's annual Spring Regulatory Tour allows those who write regulations controlling water, crop protection chemicals, food safety, and more an opportunity to see production practices firsthand. Read More
CitrusUSDA Announces $11.9M In Assistance For Organic Certifi…
May 14, 2015
Following on the heels of the USDA’s announcement of record growth in the organic sector, the USDA’s Agriculture Marketing Service Read More
CitrusBeekeepers Lost 40% Of Bees In 2014-15
May 14, 2015
Beekeepers across the U.S. lost more than 40% of their honey bee colonies from April 2014 to April 2015, according to the latest results of Read More