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How To Test My Lawn Soil

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What Will I Find Out From My Soil Sample

How To Do a Soil Test On Your Lawn – Soil Savvy Test Kit

Home Lawn and Garden Soil Test Mailer results will determine your soil type, pH, level of organic matter and provide you with a reading for nutrients including phosphorus, potassium, calcium and magnesium. The results will also provide a recommendation for nitrogen and will determine how much lime should be applied based upon the type of plant you specify.

Soil probe used for taking soil samples. Photo credit: Rebecca Finneran, MSUE

Select The Proper Test

Several different soil tests are available at the Extension Soil, Water, and Forage Testing Laboratory. These include tests for routine nutrients, micronutrients, boron, detailed salinity, lime requirement, texture and organic matter. After taking the soil sample, select the appropriate test to obtain the desired information.

The routine test determines the soil pH, salinity, nitrates , and levels of the primary nutrients available to plants. The routine test will provide the basic N-P-K fertilizer recommendation for selected crops. This test meets most application needs.

The micronutrient test estimates the levels of zinc , iron , manganese and copper in the soil that are available to plants. Conduct this test for specialty crops, in soils with high pH on which corn or sorghum is being grown, or to provide general guidelines for troubleshooting deficiencies.

The boron test determines the level of water extractable boron in the soil. Conduct the test where clover, alfalfa or other legumes are grown on sandy soils or when soils are being irrigated and water quality is of concern.

The lime requirement determines the amount of lime needed to raise the soil pH to a desired level. This determination is needed on very acidic or acidic soils where alfalfa or other legumes are grown.

How To Test Your Soils Ph Level

  • Keeping your lawns pH in balance is a key part of any lawn maintenance program
  • The best time to fix your pH is before you install new turf but can still easily be done afterwards
  • Testing your pH every now and then will help determine any underlying problems

If you are looking to install a new lawn or your lawns been down a while and not thriving as well as it did years ago, then its a good time to look at your pH levels. pH stands for the potential of hydrogen and is a scale of acidity from 0 to 14. A pH reading tells how acidic or alkaline a substance is, where more acidic solutions have lower pH and more alkaline solutions have higher pH. Acids have a pH that is less than 7. Alkalis have a pH that is greater than 7. Substances in the middle that arent acidic or alkaline are known as neutral and usually have a pH of 7. So, with that quick science lesson out of the way lets look at how your soil pH affects your lawn.

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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:

  • Be sure the soil has warmed to at least 55 degrees, and that it is at least somewhat moist, but not soaking wet.
  • Dig a hole one foot across and one foot deep. Place the soil on a tarp or piece of cardboard.
  • Sift through the soil with your hands as you place it back into the hole, counting the earthworms as you go.
  • 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

    About Testing Your Lawn Soil

    How to Take a Soil Test

    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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    Why Does Soil Ph Matter For Your Lawn

    Soil is a combination of minerals, micronutrients, and bacteria. These components work together to decompose organic matter and grow plants. Well-balanced soil pH is imperative to a healthy lawn and garden.

    Nutrients in the soil must break down before plants roots absorb and use them. Soil pH affects how well nutrients can dissolve, making this measurement essential for successful plant growth.

    Healthy soil contains a combination of the top three plant nutrients nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, or NPK. Soil with a high pH is depleted of nutrient availability, which leads to poor growing conditions for grass.

    Before you learn how to test your lawns soil pH, you must know which levels work for grass.

    The SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry says a pH range of approximately six to seven promotes the most readily available plant nutrients. Soils with a pH level below four are high in metallic compounds and interfere with the growth of some plants.

    Youll need to consider different measurements if you plan to grow a broader range of shrubs or flowering plants. Some plants thrive in highly acidic or alkaline soil.

    Examples of plants that like high pH soil: Examples of plants that like low pH soil:
    • Lavender
    • Potatoes
    • Conifers

    Unlike the plants above, grass thrives in neutral soil with a pH level between 6.5 and seven.

    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.

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    Soil Testing For Other Elements

    The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs always soil test for phosphorus, potassium, magnesium and soil pH. However manganese, zinc and organic matter tests are also available for a fee.

    Manganese soil tests: The availability of manganese is greatly determined by soil acidity. There is an equation that combines soil pH with manganese and therefore is used to determine a manganese soil test value. Soil tests can be unreliable if not adjusted for pH. Manganese toxicity can occur in very wet soils rarely is there a deficiency in turf. Poor aeration causes an increase in the availability of manganese.

    Zinc soil tests: The availability of zinc is highly dependent on soil acidity. There is an equation that combines soil pH with zinc and therefore is used to determine a zinc soil test value.

    Organic matter tests: These tests are not helpful in determining requirements for nitrogen fertilization.

    Micronutrient soil tests: Plant tissue analysis is done in several laboratories for several micronutrients. OMAFRA only tests for manganese and zinc.

    Nitrogen soil tests: At the present time there are no known nitrogen soil tests. The nitrate form of nitrogen, which is most available to crops, is very difficult to determine what proportion of soil organic nitrogen that will become mineralized and available for crops. The OMAFRA nitrogen recommendations are based on the intensity of turf management desired e.g. low, medium or high maintenance use.

    How Why And When To Test Your Soil

    How to Test Lawn Soil and the Soil Test Results

    Soil testing is an important practice for anyone trying to grow healthy and productive plants.

    MU Extension offices across the state processes thousands of soil samples every year and MU Extension Specialists are always happy to help you understand your soil test results. Soil testing is an important practice for anyone trying to grow healthy and productive plants. Blindly applying fertilizer can result in excess salt build up in soils, as well as nutrient excesses that can inhibit plant growth. Once you add fertilizer to your soil, it cannot be removed. Soil testing helps guide fertilizer usage so that plants receive only the amount of nutrients they need to thrive. Applying appropriate amounts of fertilizer is also an important part of environmental stewardship. Fertilizer runoff from urban landscapes contributes to algal blooms, which can cause fish kills in our rivers, ponds, lakes, streams and oceans. The most notable example of the effects of fertilizer runoff is the massive dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico where no fish can survive. Everyone lives in a watershed, and in the St. Louis metro area every drop of runoff ends up in the Missouri or Mississippi river.

    When you receive your soil report , youll likely have some questions. You may find your answers in one of the articles below:

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    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.

    Identify The Areas Of Your Lawn With Similar Characteristics

    Your lawn is diverse and likely doesnt have the same chemistry across the board. Identify areas where the characteristics are the same and take samples from each of these areas.

    Some examples are:

    • Shady Areas
    • Areas where youve had grass problems in the past

    Youll need to take samples from each of these areas to get the best results. Clearly label your bags and note where each sample came from for your records.

    Dig down to 4 inches in the soil and make a small hole.

    Scrape a sample from the edge of the hole, remove roots and organic matter.

    Place the soil in your plastic bowl or bucket once its clean.

    Dig in a zig-zag pattern and select 2-3 other places in this area to dig to ensure you get a good mix. When you have 3-4 samples from each area, mix them together.

    Let the soil dry out if its damp.

    Fill the mixed sample in your soil test bag up to the fill line.

    Clean out your plastic container and wipe off that trowel to repeat this procedure in testing the other key areas of your lawn.

    Package up your bags of soil and send them off to the lab for testing.

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    How To Test Your Lawns Soil Ph

    If youre interested in lawn care, youve probably heard the term soil pH. Youve also probably heard that you should regularly test your lawns pH level to check for imbalances.

    Soil pH is a crucial component to track when measuring the well-being of your lawn. Like fertilizer levels and water drainage, pH significantly affects how well your grass grows and flourishes.

    This lawn care guide will cover the basics of soil pH to help you maintain the greenest grass on your block.

    Keep reading to find out:

    • The importance of balanced soil pH
    • How to test your lawns soil pH
    • The best lawn treatment for pH imbalance
    • How to maintain a neutral pH in your yard

    The Soil Analysis Report

    ABCs of pH: Why, How and When to Soil

    The soil analysis report should come in the mail about 10 days to 3 weeks after submitting the soil sample to be tested. For faster results, some labs are set up for viewing reports online. Check with the lab or extension office to see if they offer that service. Click here for easy instructions on how to collect a soil sample.

    Understanding the soil analysis report can be difficult. The testing labs use industry terminology to describe the results without any explanation as to what the terms mean.

    This page should give you a much better understanding of what is on a soil test sheet. You will probably still have a lot of questions, however. Most labs will provide a phone number or email to contact the lab supervisor. After reviewing this page you will be able to discuss the lab results more intelligently when you call. That is a big advantage.

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    How To Treat Acidic Soil

    If your lawn is too acidic, add the following products to neutralize the soils pH.


    Use a granular lime product on your lawn to balance acidic soil and increase soil pH. Apply lime during fall or winter to neutralize the ground by the growing season.

    Limestone is high in calcium carbonate, which has low water solubility. So, even if you water the soil after applying lime, it wont absorb fully.

    After liming, work the top few inches of the earth with a rake or hoe to get the best results, mixing the product down into the dirt. Apply slow-release lime pellets to maintain pH in a naturally acidic lawn.

    Wood Ash

    Wood ash is the powdery dust left behind after wood combusts. Wood ash is high in calcium carbonate, a common liming material that increases soil alkalinity.

    Spread wood ash around your lawn and garden to neutralize acidic soil. Wood ash generally takes longer to produce results than limestone, so its a less popular quick fix method.

    However, you can regularly apply wood ash to acid-prone soil to maintain a balanced pH level.

    When To Carry Out A Soil Test

    You can test at any time you want to be honest. Just remember that you could get misleading results if done within 3 months of a lime, fertiliser or organic matter application.

    They can cause changes in soil moisture level, plant growth and microorganism activity which in turn affect soil nutrient level.

    In saying that however, most soil tests are carried out in spring and its probably a good idea to ask your local agronomist of the best time to test in your area. This just means you can continue with absolute certainty.

    Many homeowners also carry out a soil test when they move into their new house. It can save lots of money on purchasing plants that will simply not grow well, or at all, in that particular soil. By carrying our a simple DIY soil test, they will know what plants are suitable and will thrive rather than struggle, saving time and money.

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    What Is Soil Ph

    Soil pH is a way to measure the amount of acidity or alkalinity in your lawn, garden soil or anything else. It is measured in pH units on a scale from 0 to 14. Extreme acidity is at the low end of the scale, extreme alkalinity is at the top end. Soil at the midpoint, number 7, is neutral soil, neither acidic nor alkaline.

    The p in pH stands for potential. The H is for hydrogen. While the science of pH gets complicated, everyone is familiar with things that are more or less acidic. Pure water is a neutral 7. Materials such as baking soda are alkaline. Alkalines have less hydrogen ion concentration than pure water, and much less than acidic items such as orange juice.

    So pH can be defined as the level of hydrogen ion activity in a substance, including soil.

    You may have naturally acidic or alkaline soil. There are many localized exceptions, but as a general rule, soils in the Eastern and Southern United States tend to be acidic. The Midwest tends to be more neutral, while soils in the Southwest and West tend toward alkalinity. The level of acidity originates from three main sources: rain, microbial activity, and nitrogen fertilizers.

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    The Lawn Soil Test Kit I Use And Recommend

    How to Test Your Lawn Soil

    Every spring I use to get a lab test done on the soil in my lawn. At around $30 I feel its a fair price, because I receive detailed lab results, including the levels of all micronutrients in my soil and recommendations on what products to use to improve my lawns health and appearance. This is all available in a convenient online dashboard.

    The lawn test kit comes in the mail, and then I dig up soil from a few locations around my property, mix it together and mail it to the lab in the provided packaging. Its simple, convenient, and offers the best value Ive found.

    I highly recommend it and consider it the best $30 I spend on my lawn every year.

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    What Happens When Soil Ph Is Too High

    When a plants soil pH increases, which is what would happen when its foods pH is too high, the plants ability to absorb certain nutrients is disrupted. As a result, some nutrients cannot be absorbed properly. The soils high pH prevents the iron present in the soil from changing into a form the plant can absorb. In short, it basically deprives plants of important nutrients. Do yourself a favor and fertilize the soil so that the pH will always be as close to neutral as possible.

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