Lab Testing For Lawn Soil
If you decide to conduct an official lab test, you must collect an adequate soil sample. Use a shovel to dig six to ten small holes in different areas of your yard. The holes should be six to eight inches deep. Scrape a one-inch layer of soil from each side of every hole. Collect the soil samples in a bucket, mix them together and wait until they are completely dry before sending them in to the extension service office.
If the soil is wet, it can affect the pH reading. Note that if your yard is not uniform meaning that it has different landscaped sections with various terrains or soil types you will need to conduct separate soil tests. Otherwise, you will not be able to receive accurate results for the different sections of your yard, and your soil amendments may do more harm than good.
The benefit to using a local cooperative extension service is that once you collect an adequate soil sample, they will do the rest of the work for you. Theyll send back a detailed report discussing your soil pH, the nutrients that the soil lacks and how much product to apply to achieve a healthier balance of elements. The report will also tell you how much organic matter is available in the soil. The only downside to this report is that it will probably use turf terminology and other jargon that may be difficult to understand, but simply call your extension service and they can walk you through the different numbers and figures.
How Do I Collect A Soil Sample For Testing
To get the most accurate results:
- Collect your soil sample from the area of the soil where the plant roots will grow. About 6 to 8 inches deep is good for most garden plants.
- Remove any roots, grass or mulch from the sample for the most accurate test result.
- On a budget? Collect soil from different areas of the garden and mix together into one soil sample. This will give you an overall idea of your garden soils.
- Trying to problem solve or fine-tune? Collect soil from individual garden areas and test each area separately. Make sure to name your samples and make a map so you can match the results with your garden!
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How To Conduct A Soil Test For Your Lawn
Youve heard us say it again and again because it remains true through every season: healthy soil is essential for healthy grass.
Whether youre laying new sod or planting seed, we always recommend conducting a soil test before spreading fertilizer or balancing the pH in your soil. We also recommend testing soil once a year, before you give your existing grass a dose of nutrients.
Today, we detail how to conduct a soil test and even provide a short video so youll be able to get the feedback you need to correctly amend your soil with fertilizer or lime.
You may be surprised and find your soil is deficient in just a few nutrients or that your pH is fine and you dont need lime. Our different grass types have different nutrient and pH requirements and a soil test gives you the feedback you need before purchasing soil amendments that may be unnecessary.
The Importance of pH
Even if you lean on the side of natural fertilizer options, its still important to consider the pH of your lawn. If the soil is too acidic or basic for your grass type, your lawn can suffer. This is especially problematic in the Southeast due to poor soil conditions. Do yourself a favor and conduct a soil test, even if its just to see if the pH needs some work.
Here are the steps youll need to follow to conduct a successful soil test for your lawn.
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How Long Before I Receive My Test Results
You should receive test results in about two weeks. The lab analysis takes three to five working days from the time samples are received. Remember, MSU recommendations are in pounds of nutrient needed, not pounds of fertilizer to be applied!
Your results will also include an area calculator that helps you determine how many square feet you need to apply fertilizer.
What Does A Soil Test Check Why Do I Need One
A soil test checks two thingssoil pH and available nutrients in the soil. That might sound a little bit like mumbo-jumbo, but knowing these things can help you a ton.
If soil pH is too low or too high, plants are unable to take in some of the nutrients provided to them in the soil. Get a soil test, and you can pinpoint exactly what your soil needs to balance out its pH. That means no more playing guessing games to figure out why your plants wont grow.
Tests also check for available nutrients. When you know what nutrients your soil is lacking, youre able to choose a fertilizer that fills in the gaps. Just think about all the time and money you can save by knowing exactly what kind of fertilizer your plants need, and how much to use.
And, just to drive the point home, soil tests are so quick to do. Itll take 10 minutes tops to collect your samples.
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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.
How Do I Correctly Perform A Soil Test In My Yard
To do a soil test, all you need is a testing kit, a garden trowel, and a bucket.
To test your soil, take these four easy steps:
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Serious Lawn Care People Test Their Lawns
Healthy soil is the foundation to a healthy lawn. Without conducting a soil test, you are unable to determine which type of fertilizer you need, whether your lawn needs lime or if any other essential nutrients are missing from your soil. The process of conducting a lawn soil test is not all that complicated, but you must decide between procuring the results yourself with an at-home kit or using a local cooperative extension service.
In any case, the test itself is only the first step in altering your soils composition. Follow the recommendations of your test results thoroughly by adding any suggested amendments. Even though testing your soil may be an unfamiliar additional step in your lawn care program, it is one of the most important procedures you should complete.
Why Should I Soil Test
- Know your soil. Soil testing is an important diagnostic tool to evaluate nutrient imbalances and understand plant growth.
- Understand. The most important reason to soil test is to have a basis for intelligent application of fertilizer and lime.
- pH. Testing allows homeowners to adjust soil pH to the optimum range , which makes nutrients more available for plant growth.
- Protection of our environment. Avoid contaminants that can enter our surface and ground waters by over-application of phosphorous or nitrogen fertilizers.
- Cost savings. Why apply what you dont need? Soil test results provide information about the soils ability to supply nutrients to plants for adequate growth and are the basis of deciding how much lime and fertilizer are needed.
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How Do I Lower The Ph Of My Soil
Part 2Using pH-Lowering Techniques
Part 2Acidifying the Soil
About Testing Your Lawn Soil
There are two types of lawn soil test kits:
- DIY tests that provide instant , and
- professional lab-based soil testing.
Picking the test you need depends on what youre trying to accomplish.
Soil Test Kits Ive Used & Recommend
There are many options for testing your lawns soil, but I prefer a lab-based soil test that will provide a detailed analysis of your soils nutrients and what it needs for your lawn to thrive.
And if youre interested in taking the guesswork out of what to do next after you get your soil test results, consider subscribing to one of LawnServs subscription boxes. Theyll test your soil and curate the products your lawn needs, mailing them to you with everything you need . Its pretty fool-proof .
Most lawn and garden stores have home test tools and kits. You can also get a pH tester for about $7 . A more complicated test to evaluate nutrient levels can be purchased for about $20.
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What Do The Test Result Numbers Mean
Some labs report soil test values as amounts of available plant nutrients, and others report extractable nutrients that will become available to the plants . Fertilizer rates are given in pounds of actual nutrient to be applied per 1,000 square feet.
The MP555, Soil Sample Information for Lawn and Garden form for MU soil testing laboratories is available online.
Figure 6. A soil test report from MU Soil and Plant Testing Laboratory shows the results of soil analysis and recommends fertilizer and limestone needs to improve plant health and productivity.
Limitations Of Soil Testing
Soil testing can let you know where your soil needs treatment or improvement. However, a soil test cannot do any of the following:
- Tell you which crop to grow.
- Prevent poor crops caused by drought, disease, insects, too much water, or other problems.
- Substitute for proper cultural practices.
- Replace good management.
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What Do Soil Tests Test For
Different soil tests test for different things. But almost all tests will test for pH. The correct pH is important and plays a big role in the soils ability to absorb nutrients.
Most tests will also test for the 3 main macro nutrients which are nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. These 3 nutrients are necessary for healthy lawns, plants, and vegetables.
How To Amend Soil
Once you find out which soil type you have you can determine the best soil amendment to make it more loamy or which plants/grass would grow best in your soil type. For any soil type, you should still add fertilizer and compost to keep the soil nutrient rich and balanced. On top of annual lawn and garden care, weve listed the various soil amendments in the infographic above.
For example, if your soil jar test shows you have silty loam soil you might choose to amend with ground and aged pine bark or composted vegetables. You can also cater your gardening to fit your soil type. For silty loam soil, water more than you would with clay soil but less than with sandy soil.
If you have sandy loam soil you can amend the soil with biochar or add mulch to help the soil retain moisture. Certain plants or grass types might also grow better in some soils than others. If your area is better for cool-season grasses, consider Fescue if you have sandy soil . For those with sandy soils in a warmer climate, Zoysia and Bermuda or grass types that do well with sandy soil.
Understanding your soil type will help you determine the right amendments to create a healthy lawn and garden. Do this simple mason jar soil test each spring to find your soil type as it might change slightly ever year.
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Soil Test : The Worm Test
Worms are great indicators of the overall health of your soil, especially in terms of biological activity. If you have earthworms, chances are that you may also have all of the beneficial microbes that make for healthy soil and strong plants. To do the worm test:
If you find at least ten worms, your soil is in pretty good shape. Less than that indicates that there may not be enough organic matter in your soil to support a healthy worm population, or that your soil is too acidic or alkaline.
The Spruce / Jayme Burrows
How To Perform A Soil Test
When our plants or trees are in trouble, our first instinct is to reach for a hose to hydrate them or lay down fertilizer and hope for new growth.
But problems with plants arent always about whats going on above groundsometimes we have to dig deeper. When the soil isnt in good shape, it can really affect the plants health. In fact, it’s estimated that a whopping 80% of problems with plants can be traced back to unhealthy soil!
Thats why its so important to test your yards soil. A soil test gives you all sorts of valuable information about the best way to care for your plants. Below, find how, and why, to do a soil test.
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How Do I Take A Soil Sample
- Determine which one lawn or garden area you would like to test. Dont combine these soils.
- Using a spade or trowel, collect 10 random soil samples from the area and place in a clean pail.
- Each sample should be a slice of soil as deep as the plant roots go .
- Remove plant debris, roots and thatch from the sample.
- Combine the 10 random samples in the pail, mix thoroughly and remove approximately 1 cup of mixed soil. If the soil is wet, spread it on paper and allow it to air dry overnight before filling the sample bag. Do not use artificial heat as it will skew test results.
- Fill the re-closable plastic bag included in the Soil Test Mailer with your dry soil and seal carefully.
- Place bag inside the white, postage-paid envelope and put in your mailbox for pick up.
For more information on a wide variety of smart gardening articles, or to find out about smart gardening classes and events, visit the Gardening in Michigan website.
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Soil Test : The Squeeze Test
One of the most basic characteristics of soil is its composition. In general, soils are classified as clay soils, sandy soils, or loamy soils. Clay is nutrient-rich, but slow draining. Sand is quick draining but has trouble retaining nutrients and moisture. Loam is generally considered to be ideal soil because it retains moisture and nutrients but doesnt stay soggy.
To determine your soil type, take a handful of moist soil from your garden, and give it a firm squeeze. Then, open your hand. One of three things will happen:
Now that you know what type of soil you have, you can work on improving it.
The Spruce / Jayme Burrows
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What Will A Soil Test Measure
A good soil test will evaluate the basic texture of your soilsand, silt, or clayand determine its aciditythe pH level. The available amounts of nutrients, including magnesium, calcium, phosphorus, and potassium, will be calculated and recommendations will be made for raising each to the correct levels for optimum plant growth. Armed with this knowledge, you can make the proper improvements. Too much of a good thing can be just as harmful as too little so let your soil test be your guide.
General Purpose Fertilizers Vs Specialty Fertilizers
I want you to think about fertilizers in two categories, general purpose and specialty.General purpose fertilizers should ALWAYS be used in your program and should be the primary fertilizer you use, no matter what your soil test shows.This is because first off, general purpose fertilizers are what almost all manufacturers make for us. I buy fertilizer off the shelf at Ace and Lowes too – just like you do. In this video, I am using a Weed/Feed I got at Lowes and the analysis is a 20-0-6.These ferts will almost always contain Macronutrients Nitrogen and Potassium. They also have micronutrient Iron in most cases.These ferts are put together like this because those elements are generally needed for green, healthy growth. In fact, this is primarily what most professional lawn companies use in their mixes as well. They never soil test, they just use general purpose fertilizers like these.Brian in Long Island will probably treat his lawn with fertilizer 6 or 7 times this season – about every 5 weeks. So my recommendation to Brian is to use a general purpose fertilizer on 3 or 4 of those applications.He has cool-season turf and I like to push those hard right from the start of the season so he should use the Gen-Purp-Fert for the first application of the year for sure. Gen-Purps will have high nitrogen and remember, Nitrogen drives the bus – its the mega pusher we need for max green. Here are some pics of gen-purp-ferts:
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