How To Set Soil Ph For Lawns
The first step in good grass care is good soil. “You are what you eat” applies to plants too, and since the grass’ food is the nutrients found within soil, the quality of your grass yard’s soil is an essential part of lawn care. One of the biggest factors affecting the nutrients available to your grass is the soil’s pH.
Soil pH is the scale of alkalinity and acidity. Soil pH is scaled from 0 to 14, with 7 being neutral, less than 7 being higher in acidity and more than 7 being higher in alkaline, sometimes called “basic.” The balance of alkaline and acid in the soil is what allows various nutrients and minerals to dissolve or break down for the grass.
Most grass for lawns thrives in a soil pH between 6.5 and 7, with some types doing well in lower levels. So you can care for grass best with a neutral to very slightly acidic pH. To achieve this level for a grass yard, follow these steps:
To know what you need to add to your soil to get the right pH, you first need to know what the current pH is. You can either buy a home test kit or take samples from around the yard and send it off to your local or state soil testing lab.
depending on soil test results. Often, soil is too acidic and lime will help neutralize that and bring it back toward neutral. Common sources of lime are ground limestone or wood ashes. If your soil pH is too alkaline, you can make it more acidic with sulfur.
Your Ultimate Goal: Healthy Loamy Soil
It could take time and repeated soil amendments, but over time you will get the soil under your lawn where it needs to be. It will have a balance of air, organic material, minerals and micronutrients that help grass grow.
Give yourself, and the lawn, time. Plan to test the pH of soil for alkalinity or acidity, make amendments, and level and grade soil before seeding or sodding. The ideal soil is considered to be a loam, which is a mix of sand, silt and clay, according to Cornell Universitys Small Farms Program.
Loams take advantage of the balance of water holding and nutrient availability between the three.
When To Test For Soil Ph
It is a good idea to test the soil whenever you are planting a new garden bed or when growing a new plant variety that may have unique pH needs. Some experts recommend that gardeners test the soil every few years, especially if you have needed to amend the soil in the past. The materials used to adjust soil pH, such as elemental sulfur , or lime will break down over time, and additonal amendment may be required to keep the pH level at optimal levels.
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Sending Your Soil For Testing
The best way to test your soil is to send a sample to a Cooperative Extension Service or commercial soil laboratory .
Kits from soil labs provide instructions for collecting soil samples and a mailing container for returning the soil. The best time to test soil is in the spring, before you add any compost or other amendments, although you can test soil any time.
How To Test Soil Ph Without A Kit:
If you want to test soil at home, start by scooping some soil from your planting beds into a clean plastic container. For this test, a blended soil sample from all parts of your yard might work best, as it takes into consideration small variations within the entire yard. For example, soil from beneath a pine tree might be more acidic than that of an empty garden bed or recently filled-in lawn. Whatever your mix, just make sure you take some soil from the area where you plan to do most of your planting.
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Amend The Soil If Necessary
If your tests show soil that is alkaline or very acidic, you can blend in amendments to bring the pH into a suitable range for the plants you want to grow. Wood ashes or agricultural lime will help raise the soil pH, making it less acidic and more alkaline. Pine needles or elemental sulfur are traditional amendments used to lower soil pH and make it more alkaline.
But it can be quite difficult to gauge how much amendment is needed. At this point, you may want to invest in a laboratory test to determine the type of amendment required and the quantity needed. Your University Extension office usually offers services for testing soil, and the report you get will give you lots of detail on how to do it.
It is also possible to simply amend the soil yourself, starting with small amounts of acidifying or alkaline-building material. Test after each amendment, until you reach a fairly neutral soil pH.
Why Should You Care If Your Soil Is Alkaline Or Acidic
Knowing your soil pH is the key to understanding if essential minerals will be available to the roots of your plants. You will also know which soil amendments are best for your garden
Whats more, you will be able to determine if all the hard work you put in your yard or garden pays off. For instance, if the soil is too acidic or too alkaline, nutrients will have a hard time dissolving in water and reaching plants root systems.
As a result, plants outside the range for a particular crop will struggle and stress out, leading to poor harvest from one year to another. Most beginner gardeners will try to fix the issue by applying store-bought chemical fertilizers in a desperate bid to address what they believe is just a nutrient deficiency.
However, improper soil pH affects not just nutrient availability in soil but also vegetable crops to absorb the nutrients already present in the soil. So, instead of recklessly applying fertilizers to fix the issue and potentially causing fertilizer burn and other problems while youre at it, measure the soils pH first to see whether that is the real issue.
So, a quick amendment to achieve the best soil pH for your plants and seeds to thrive can be added just in time.
Plus, fungi are less likely to affects your plants if the soil is alkaline and dry enough . Soil is too acidic under pH 7 and too alkaline above pH 7. Most plants thrive in slightly acidic soil so reaching a balance is of the essence in gardening matters too.
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Interpreting The Results Of A Soil Ph Test
A pH test measures soil acidity or alkalinity. A pH 7.0 is considered neutral. An acid soil has a pH value below 7.0. Above pH 7.0 the soil is alkaline.
pH 3.0 – 5.0
- Very acid soil
- Most plant nutrients, particularly calcium, potassium, magnesium and copper, become more soluble under very acid conditions and are easily washed away
- Most phosphates are locked up and unavailable to plants below pH 5.1, although some acid tolerant plants can utilise aluminium phosphate
- Acid sandy soils are often deficient in trace elements
- Bacteria cannot rot organic matter below pH 4.7 resulting in fewer nutrients being available to plants
- Action: Add lime to raise the pH to above 5.0. The addition of lime can help break up acid clay soils
pH 5.1 – 6.0
- Ideal for ericaceous plants such as rhododendrons, camellias and heathers
- Action: Add lime if other plants are grown
pH 6.1 – 7.0
- Moderately acid soil
- A pH 6.5 is the best general purpose pH for gardens, allowing a wide range of plants to grow, except lime-hating plants
- The availability of major nutrients is at its highest and bacterial and earthworm activity is optimum at this pH
- Action: It is not usually necessary to add anything to improve soil pH at this level
pH 7.1 – 8.0
Not All Soil Is The Same
All lawn soils pose their own unique challenges, so the first step to a healthy lawn routine is understanding what your lawn soil is made of. A soil test will also indicate your soils current pH, macronutrients, and micronutrients that naturally exist in your lawn. Having this unique baseline data will tell you what to add to achieve the correct pH and nutrient levels with strategies like soil amendments, as well as help you choose the proper fertilizer.
pH is the amount of amount of acidity or alkalinity in your soil on a scale from 0-14 . The pH closely affects the availability of some of the macro and micronutrients and plant growth. An unbalanced pH can play a part in pests, such as weeds, gaining a foothold.
Macronutrients are nutrients that plants need in greater quantities, such as nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Macronutrients have the most impact on turf health and vigor.
Micronutrients are just as important to plant health. They are just needed in smaller quantities, like iron and zinc.
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The Ph That Turfgrasses Like
Most lawns and turf grasses thrive at a pH range of between 6.0 and 7.0. PH has an effect on plant growth, and important nutrients for plants tend to be available in soil when the pH is at those levels. With a very low pH there are risks of toxicity for aluminum and manganese as well as interactions between elements that reduce the availability as well, says Friedericks. Highly acidic soil can also directly damage roots.
How To Conduct A Soil Ph Test
- Working Time: 30 – 45 mins
- Total Time: 30 – 45 mins
- Skill Level: Beginner
- Estimated Cost: $20
As a home gardener, it’s important to test your soil pH. Certain plants can only access the soil’s nutrients if the pH is within a certain range. Not even the addition of generous plant food or fertilizer will help if your soil lies outside of a plant’s preferred range.
Technically speaking, a soil pH test measures how many hydrogen ions are in the soil. A pH less than 7 is acidic, 7 is neutral, and anything higher than 7 is alkaline. Acidic or alkaline soil isn’t necessarily bad it all depends on what you’re growing. Most plants can adapt to soil pH that ranges from 6 to 7.5, but some plants have distinct preferences. For instance, blueberries prefer acidic soil while asparagus tends to do best in alkaline.
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Checking And Correcting Your Soil Ph Level
Sometimes you may find your lawn is not performing very well or not responding to fertiliser and this could be to do with the soils pH.
Now pH is a measure of acidity and alkalinity and most lawns like to be in the 6 to 7.5 range for optimum performance. A pH in the right range of 6 to 7.5 is a bit like a plant with its mouth wide open, no food will go to waste here and it will all be eaten by the plant.
Adjusting the pH is easier on loamy and sandy soils than on heavy clays. If your soil is a sandy loam and you need to raise the soil pH by one unit add the equivalent of 150g of liming material per square metre. An adult handful is about 100g.
Heavy clay soils will require at least 250g to raise the pH by one unit. A super fine grade of lime works quickest and generally costs around $8 a bag.
For an established lawn, which may be lacking magnesium, mix 50/50 lime and dolomite as the liming material to get the right balance of calcium and magnesium. Dolomite is only available in one grade and costs around $8 a bag.
After applying lime or dolomite make sure you water them well so that it moves into the soil. Testing the soils pH may seem like some mad scientific operation but it couldnt be simpler with one of the soil pH test kits. All you have to do is follow the instructions and it even tells you how to make the changes.
How To Adjust Your Soils Ph
Adjusting your soils pH isnt overly difficult, but it requires a careful understanding of the type of soil youre working with: sandy loam, silt loam or silty-clay loam.
Sandy loam soils have visible particles of sand mixed in with the soil. When you compress the soil in your hand, it will hold its shape but breaks apart easily.
Silt loam soil feels almost like flour when its dry, but wet silt loam forms a thick mud you can easily squeeze into a ball.
Clay loam soil is the finest of the soils and becomes extremely sticky when wet. Clay will also form a ball when squeezed, whether it is dry or wet.
Measure Your Lawn
Before you can make any adjustments, you must correctly measure the area of soil you plan to amend the pH, as you will apply the amendments based on square footage. You can get this measurement several ways with a tape measure, a measuring wheel or an online tool.
Raising Soil pH Levels
If your soil is acidic, the pH will generally fall between 4.8 and 6, and you will raise this applying a ground limestone to the soil. In the table below, youll see just how many pounds of ground limestone youll need per 100 square feet to achieve the pH levels your plants or lawn needs.
Lowering pH Levels
If your soil is alkaline, you must first determine what is causing the issue.
Like the limestone above, you will apply the acid-forming amendment at a rate measured in pounds per 100 square feet. Unlike acidic issues, adjusting alkaline issues does not vary by soil type.
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The Ph Balance Of Your Soil Matters
Lawns are naturally acidic and can become acidic over time. An ideal pH for soil is 6.5. However, a pH range between 6.2-7 is considered healthy for lawns. There are a number of reasons that cause pH imbalances. They include natural leaching, excessive irrigation, and nitrogen fertilizer to name a few.
In several regions throughout the US, lawns do not receive enough nutrients from native soil. For example, rainy climate regions are susceptible to acidic soil and can benefit from lime. Clay and sandy soils also tend to have a low pH, affecting lawn quality. The best way to test your lawns acidity and macronutrients are by using a simple pH testing kit sold at your local home improvement store, or creating your own at-home soil test.
What Does Lime Do To A Lawn
When you add lime to a lawn it will increase the pH level of your lawn and make it more acidic.
Youll have to choose from a selection of lime materials and decide which one you are going to use.
- Hydrated lime Should only be used if your lawn is extremely acidic as it will quickly increase the pH of your lawn like no other.
- Lime pellets are probably the easiest to apply but they are not the most effective way to alter the PH of soil.
- Pulverized lime is lime that has been crushed into a powder, the best option for pulverized lime is to spread it by hand as it can clog up any machine you use to apply it.
Before you apply any lime product to your lawn you really do have to check the pH level as adding lime to a lawn that is already alkaline or neutral it could be an absolute disaster and you dont want that to happen with your beautiful lawn.
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How To Lower The Ph In Alkaline Soil
- Sulfur: Plain elemental sulfur is probably the easiest and most common way to make soil more acidic, since its cheap, relatively safe, and can be spread on top of the soil. Since sulfur is pretty slow-acting, you shouldnt apply more than 2 pounds per 100 square feet at a time.
- Sphagnum Peat: This is a great organic solution, since sphagnum peat also adds organic matter to your soil and increases water retention. Simply work a 2 layer of sphagnum peat into your soil at least a foot deep. Larger areas will probably require a tiller.
- Aluminum Sulfate and Iron Sulfate: These two products are very fast-acting, but they can also be the most damaging by adding salts and elements that can build up in the soil. Be sure not to apply more than about 5 pounds per 100 square feet.
- Acidifying Fertilizer: Fertilizers that contain ammonia , urea, or amino acids can, over time, have an acidifying effect on the soil in your yard.
- Mulches and Compost: As organic matter breaks down, it tends to make soil more acidic. Regular use of organic compost and mulches will, over time, bring the soil pH closer to the desired neutral to slightly acidic level. The easiest way to lower your soil pH is just to keep heaping on the rotten stuff. Mother nature sure is smart!
Now You Know How To Use A Lawn Soil Test Kit
Getting a soil test done is essential to knowing how to support your lawn and help it thrive.
So many homeowners throw down hundreds of dollars worth of fertilizer every year without truly knowing what their lawn needs, and understanding the makeup of your soil allows you to take a more targeted approach, get better results, and save money.
Grasses are healthiest in slightly acidic soil with a pH level between 5.5 and 6.5. A soil test lets you cater to your lawns specific needs to keep it strong, healthy, and something you can be proud of .
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