Why soil testing methods will help promote the health and  fertility of your soil and lawn.

There are several soil testing methods that anyone can utilize.  The method you utilize is not so much of importance as it is that you actually have your soil tested.  It is important to understand the composition of the soil in your yard.  Afterall, the foundation of a healthy lawn is the soil it is growing in.  The soil is vital to the development of your lawn’s root system.

Understanding the type of soil you have will save you a lot of time, money and aggravation.    

A soil test eliminates all of the guesswork.  It will tell you what your soil has and what your soil is lacking.  You will learn vital information such as the soil’s pH level as well as the amount of phosphorous, potassium and organic matter it contains.  You will also learn the percentage of sand, silt and clay.  Knowledge is powerful.  You will gain the foresight to know what ingredients you need to add to your soil to ensure growth of a healthy and beautiful lawn.

From Soil Testing Methods to Planting Grass

Soil Testing Methods - Taking your soil sample

The results you get from your soil test are only as good as the soil sample that is taken.  The best and most accurate results are achieved by taking a total of 4-6 samples from your front and back yard.  Make sure the equipment you use to take the sample is clean.  Using a piece of equipment that has rust or chemicals will taint your soil sample and give you inaccurate test results.

The following is a step by step process for actually taken the sample.

  • Early March is the perfect time to take your soil sample.
  • Use a core sampler, trowel or a shovel to take your soil sample.
  • Remove the top 3 inches of soil, at a minimum, before you take your soil sample.
  • Take your 4-6 samples of the soil.  Each sample should contain approximately one pint of soil. It is okay to mix the soil samples together into one container.  However, if you have one area of your yard in particular that causes problems keep that sample separate from the others.  If this is the case, you may want to have that sample tested separate from the others.
  • Take a few cups of the mixture and put it into a container to send the soil to the lab or to use your home soil test kit.

At a minimum a soil sample should be taken before you plant a new lawn, reseed a lawn or renovate a lawn. However, it is a good idea to take a soil sample and have it tested every few years.

Soil Testing Methods - What are the different methods available to me?

There are several alternatives you can choose from:

First, a home soil test kit can be purchased at your local garden center.  This is the least expensive option.  The home soil test kit will only tell you the pH level of your soil.  While this is useful information, it doesn’t give you the entire picture that you really need to know.

Second, your local agricultural extension office or a local university will usually perform a soil test for you.  Typically the fee they charge is low for this service.  This is the option that I have used in the past.

Lastly, a private lab can be found on the internet or through your local yellow pages.  This is the most expensive option.

The information that you receive from your agricultural office, university or private lab is much more comprehensive.  Typically it takes 3 weeks to get the results back.  The report provides information about your soil as well as recommendations on what your soil needs.  It also provides details on the amounts of lime, sulfur, fertilizer or organic matter that you need to add to your soil.

Soil Testing Methods - What information is provided on the soil test report?

  • Soils pH level -  pH levels range from 1 – 14. This explains if your soil is acidic or “sour soil” (<6.7), alkaline  or “sweet soil” (>7.3) or neutral (6.7-7.3).  If your soil is acidic, you need to add lime.  If your soil is alkaline, you need to add sulfur.  No pun intended, but the root of many lawn problems such as weeds has to do with the soil’s pH level being out of whack.
  • Measures the levels of nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium, calcium and magnesium in your soil.
  • Sodium Level -  Too much sodium can reduce the growth of the grass plant because of the plants inability to take in enough nitrogen.  Gypsum will typically help lower sodium levels by adding calcium to the soil which allows for better drainage.
  • Organic Matter -  This dictates your soil’s fertility.  Top dressing the area with compost is a good way to add organic matter back into your soil.  Read more about how to compost here.
  • Water Holding Capacity - The amounts of clay, sand and silt in your soil as well as the amount of organic matter impact the soil’s ability to hold water.  Clay soil drains slowly and sandy soil drains quickly.  Adding organic matter back into the soil helps alleviate this problem.

Researching the different soil testing methods available to you and deciding which is best for you is of the utmost importance.  Knowing the conditions of your soil before you plant a lawn, reseed your lawn or renovate your lawn will prevent a big headache for you down the road.  As we all know, prevention is the best practice to avoid future problems.

From Soil Testing Methods to Lawn Care Home Page

Basic Soil Test Kits

Digital Soil Test Kit

Electronic Soil Test Kit