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How To Test The Soil In My Lawn

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How To Take An Accurate Soil Sample

How to Test Lawn Soil and the Soil Test Results

Knowing your starting point is the only way to know you’re feeding your lawn or garden what it really needs. Soil testing provides this information, but test results are only as good as the samples you give to the testing laboratory. By taking accurate samples, you can target your lawn or garden’s specific needs.

Here are five steps to take an accurate soil sample:

How Is Soil Testing Done

To test the soil from your yard or garden, start with a soil sample from your test area. If you use a professional testing service, follow their guidelines for gathering the soil into sample boxes. Fill out the required forms and send it all in. Some common soil analysis tests include soil nutrients and pH, organic matter and soluble salts .

For home soil testing, proceed as indicated below. The first two test focus on soil structure, the last three focus on nutrients and soil pH.

What Home Lawn Soil Testing Entails

To do home lawn soil testing, whether you choose to do it yourself or have someone else do the testing, you need several soil samples from the yard in question. You can either test several spots independently or mix soil from around the lawn to get a general idea of how the whole lawn is doing.

Samples should be gathered from two to three inches below the surface of the soil. Use a trowel or a spoon to collect the sample. Don’t touch it with your hands as residue from your body, particularly if you smoke, could alter the results. Put each sample in a separate jar and label it according to where it came from. For home lawn soil testing, it is a good idea to take a sample from each corner of the lawn, as well as a sample from the center and another from any place that is very different from the rest of the lawn, such as a sunny spot or a place that doesn’t drain very well.

Try to get any debris such as rocks or roots out of the soil sample, again without touching the soil.

Most soil test kits will ask you to combine your soil sample with water and allow it to settle for a period of time before using it in the test kit. Always read and follow the directions for the kit you buy. If you are sending your samples out to be tested, gather and store your samples as requested.

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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.

How To Adjust The Soil Ph

ABCs of pH: Why, How and When to Soil

If the soil pH reading is not between 6.2 and 7.0, use Jonathan Green MAG-I-CAL® or MAG-I-CAL® Plus to rapidly balance the pH and help the lawn grow greener and healthier.

  • If severely acidic Spread three bags of MAG-I-CAL® on the lawn
  • If very acidic Spread two bags of MAG-I-CAL® on the lawn
  • If slightly acidic Spread one bag of MAG-I-CAL or MAG-I-CAL Plus

Lawns grow best in soil that is slightly acidic to neutral. Learn more about how to test your lawn soil by visiting Jonathan Greens online store, or contact your nearest retail store for valuable lawn care advice.

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How To Test Soil For Disease Or Pests

Before sending a dozen soil samples to labs or spending a fortune on test kits, theres some investigating we can do. If the site in question has previously been a garden, you should consider what diseases and pests it has experienced before. A history of fungal disease symptoms can certainly help narrow down what pathogens you need to test for.

It is also true that healthy soil will be less susceptible to disease and pests. It is because of this, Dr. Richard Dick Ph.D. developed the Willamette Valley Soil Quality Guide with 10 steps to test the soils quality and disease resistance. The steps all require digging, prodding, or poking the soil to test for the following:

  • Structure and Tilth of the soil
  • Compaction
  • Determining Your Soils Nutrient Needs

    A soil test is a valuable tool in assessing the nutrient needs and nutritional balance of your lawn. By determining the soil nutrient levels, and pH, soil tests allow you to determine how much fertilizer and lime to put down. The University of Massachusetts Soil Testing Lab provides the following information.

    Why Test?

    • to save money and conserve energy by applying only the amount of fertilizer needed.
    • to protect the environment from contamination by runoff and leaching of excess fertilizers.
    • to identify soils contaminated with lead or other heavy metals.
    • to improve the soils nutritional balance.
    • to aid in the diagnosis of plant culture problems.

    When to sampleSampling can be done at any time but if pH adjustments are necessary, test as early as possible prior to planting. Avoid sampling soils that have very recently been fertilized.

    How to sample

  • Soils that are distinctly different as judged by appearance, crop growth or past treatment should be sampled separately.
  • Each sample submitted for testing should be a composite or mixture of 12-20 separate scattered samplings taken over a well-defined area.
  • Look your field or property over. Define a sample area based on uniformity of texture, slope, drainage, color, and past pest and fertility management.
  • Avoid sampling very wet soils. In soils where fertilizer has been placed in bands , do not sample directly in a band. It is best not to obtain samples very near the edge of the field or plot.
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    Determine What Your Soil Needs

    Now that youve tested your soil its time to determine what you need to do to adjust the soil pH, compactness and microbial life.

    • Too Acidic?Many people believe the best way to adjust acidic soil is to add limestone. However, limestone only solves half the problem and a lot of lime is needed to fully cover your lawn. Whereas traditional pelletized lime only contains calcium, Jonathan Green Mag-I-Cal Plus for Lawns in Acidic + Hard Soils contains calcium, sulphur and iron to naturally adjust the pH of the soil, while also loosening hard soil for increased absorption of nutrients and water.
    • Too Alkaline?If your soil is too alkaline having a pH above 7.2, then you will need to lower the pH. Jonathan Greens Mag-I-Cal Plus for Lawns in Alkaline + Hard Soils lowers the pH and loosens hard soils. The active ingredients in this product are sulfur and calcium sulfate dihydrate which balances soil pH, is important to cell development, and is vital to many grass plant functions. When soil is too alkaline and compacted, air, water and nutrients cannot get down to the roots, and the grass will not grow properly.

    Your soils microbial population is just as important as its compaction. Jonathan Green Love Your Soil fixes both- it naturally aerates the soil while stimulating microbial life.

    Shedding Light On Problems

    How To Test Soil pH In Lawns

    When a lawn is experiencing a problem with soil pH, it can cause several different problems. These include the following.

    Discoloration: Your lawn may be yellowing or just not as green as it could be.

    Lack of Thickness: When lawn health is struggling, your lawn will not be as thick as it should.

    Weed Pressure: When the health of the soil is poor and the grass is thin, opportunistic weeds are going to start to invade. Actually, some weeds prefer soil with a low pH and they will thrive in these conditions.

    Oftentimes in our region, soil tends to be too acidic. Its also not uncommon for it to be lacking proper nutrient levels. Over time, these levels can vary, which is why we perform a soil test each year. Even the amount of rainfall weve received can impact whether nutrients are depleted or not.

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    How To Take A Soil Sample

    1. Gather 3 to 5 samples from different parts of your lawn, each from 4 to 6 inches below the surface.

    2. Remove any grass, thatch or debris from your samples.

    3. Thoroughly mix your samples to ensure you have enough soil to test, as required in the kit.

    4. Spread over newspaper and allow soil to dry out, at least 24 hours.

    5. Follow the instructions listed on your soil test kit or send a dry sample to your local Extension office.

    The test lets you know about deficiencies needing correcting and how much the pH level needs adjusting. Extension service analysis will make recommendations for soil amendments to improve your soil.

    Soil Testing Your Lawn And Garden

    Create a baseline and adjust as needed for top performance.

    Soil testing in lawns and gardens is much the same as going to the family doctor for a general health checkup. It can call to your attention any major problems that need addressing, establish a baseline for future testing and should be done regularly.

    Its neither complex nor terribly expensive. Test costs will vary depending on the desired results you are looking for. A basic test for pH, Phosphorus and Potassium can be in the $25 $30 dollar range, more if you want to find out the percentage organic matter and levels of minor nutrients. Just one or a few samples may be all thats needed to evaluate a lawn or garden, says Richard Hentschel, University of Illinois horticultural extension educator. He recommends adding soil testing to your list of fall chores.

    In the fall, any inputs that have been applied during the growing season have reacted with the soil and will allow for a true reading of levels in the system, he says. You want to test early enough so if you need to make amendments, especially lime, they have longer to react with the soil profile before the next growing season. Though its fine to test in early spring as well, just be consistent.

    Sampling The Garden

    In a 10X10 garden, for example, you want to move in from the corners and sides and take several samples. You might take soil from 3 to 5 areas in a garden this size to combine into one sample, he says.

    Sampling The Lawn

    Helpful links:

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    Who Is Jonathan Green

    Since 1881, Jonathan Green has specialized in beautiful lawns. Six generations of the Green family have worked to perfect our genetically superior grass seed and our family of lawn and soil care products. Jonathan Green products will transform every aspect of your lawn to help it thrive like never before, and, with our New American Lawn Care Plan, you will find it easier than ever to care for your lawn.

    Apply Fertilizers As Recommended By Soil Test

    How to Take a Soil Test

    All fertilizer recommendations given in a soil test report are based on the amount of nutrient to apply for a given area. Lawn and garden recommendations are given in pounds per 1000 sq. ft. From the given recommendations it is necessary to select an appropriate fertilizer grade and determine how much of this fertilizer to apply to the garden area. Numbers on fertilizer bags indicate the exact percentages of nutrients by weight: 100 lb of 5-10-10 fertilizer contains 5 lb of nitrogen , 10 lb of phosphate , and 10 lb of potash . Because it is difficult to achieve the exact amount of all recommended nutrients from the garden fertilizer blends available in the market, it is important to match the nitrogen requirement.

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    Why You Should Get A Soil Testing Service

    Only by way of performing a soil testing service by a qualified lawn expert can you genuinely determine if certain problems with the soil are preventing your lawn from reaching healthy and sustainable growth. A soil testing service for lawns can indicate what steps need to be taken in order to help lawns grow and thrive. The soil testing service results develop future lawn care treatments, the right composition of fertilizer to use, and more. Even for lawns that seem to be growing well, lawn soil testing services can often predict when future problems may crop up. In this sense, a soil testing service for lawns can act as a prevention tool and not just as a way to diagnose current problems.

    Soil Tests That Indicate Nutrient Levels

    More complicated tests also assess your yards nutrient levels, which usually include the big three: nitrogen, phosphorous, or potassium.

    But the reality is that nitrogen levels can fluctuate very widely. As a result, some tests wont include that number in the results. Its an essential nutrient, however, and is one of the key nutrients that makes your grass green.

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    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.

    Your Ultimate Goal: Healthy Loamy Soil

    How to Test Your Lawn 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.

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    What Is A Soil Test

    Soil test results tell you if your garden or lawn is deficient in any of the nutrients or conditions plants need to thrive. A standard test might include soil pH, salt content, available nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, magnesium, sodium, sulfur, copper, iron, manganese, boron, zinc and heavy metals. Soil test kits can be purchased from a lab, extension office, university or online retailer, and vary in price depending on how many elements are included in the test. Search soil testing near me to find options in your area.

    Note: The consensus is that at-home soil tests that are not sent to a lab for analysis are less likely to give accurate results .

    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.

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    Types Of Soil Test Kits

    Not all soil test kits are the same. Different products provide different readings and data for you to better understand your soil.

    Instant-read probes: These soil testers feature a probe that you push into the soil to get data instantly. The display typically has a dial, and the device usually doesnt require batteries. Most models provide basic information such as light exposure, pH, and moisture content.

    At-home lab test: At-home kits are a great choice for little scientists-to-be or gardeners who are looking for a more hands-on testing option. Most kits include indicator strips that can be used to test soil pH. Some at-home kits also enable you to check the nutrient composition of your soil.

    Mail-in lab test: This type of test requires you to take a soil sample and mail it to a lab for analysis. There is a waiting period involved, but mail-in results are typically very accurate. Expect to receive data on soil pH and nutrient composition. The results dont include information on light exposure and moisture content, however. Some mail-in kits can also provide you with region-specific planting suggestions and advice on how to remedy any deficiencies in your soil.

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