The Q&A Archives: Lye or baking soda to raise soil pH?

Question: My wife is an avid gardener, but she's allergic to lime, wood ash and basic slag, so we haven't been able to raise the pH in our garden for two years. Can we use lye or baking soda to raise the pH of our soil?

Answer: Although both will work, I'd recommend using baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) before lye (sodium hydroxide) to raise the pH of your soil, because lye is very caustic and hard to handle. To determine how much baking soda to add to your garden, multiply the lime recommendation by 1.5. Once the pH is in the desired range, maintain it by adding manures and organic matter yearly. Large quantities of baking soda may be costly, so check with a local grocery store or baker for wholesale suppliers.    One word of caution about using either baking soda or lye in the garden: You should have a soil test to determine if the calcium levels are normal before adding large quantities of these sodium  rich materials.  Too much sodium can clog up the soil structure, but adequate calcium levels will counteract this effect, says Jim Adams, soil scientist at Auburn University in Auburn, Alabama

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