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, its 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 To Take A Soil Sample
Every lawn needs nutrients to thrive, but before you start adding fertilizer, lime, or other soil amendments, dig in and send a soil sample for a pH soil test.
Soil testing provides information about the soil that is necessary to manage the soil for good plant growth, says Jim Friedericks, Director of Outreach and Education at AgSource Laboratories.
Its like the sensor code reader used by a car mechanic. The warning light may or may not be flashing, but if you plug in the sensor code reader you will find out what is going on with the car and can plan to fix it.
If you plan to send the soil sample to a lab, check the lab for specific instructions as they may vary from lab to lab. The same goes for an at-home test. Read instructions carefully to be sure that your collection follows the at-home pH test kit of your choice.
That being said, most lawn soil sample collections will be about the same.
What youll need:
- Plastic bucket: Galvanized buckets can contaminate the soil sample.
- Shovel: Make sure its clean and has no rust.
- Hand Trowel: Make sure its clean and has no rust
Heres what to do:
How Often Should You Put Lime Down On Your Lawn
Questions often arise regarding the frequency of lime application. The indicators of acid-base balance begin to decline every 2-3 years.
It is with this frequency that liming should be carried out.
However, first, you need to accurately check the pH values. To do this, you can use special kits, or give a soil sample for testing.
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Why I Believe In A Lab
Professional lab tests offer much better specificity in their results. However, they can also be more expensive than a lawn soil test kit that will provide instant results.
A test done through a university lab, which is typically affiliated with the Cooperative Extension Service , can cost about $20 for a single test. The cost increases if more tests are requested.
A commercial lab test can easily cost upwards of $100 or more. They have benefits in that they give you more accurate readings and will tell you what to add to your soil to balance its numbers.
These labs primarily focus on agriculture, so its important to make sure that the lab is experienced with testing turfgrass as well. Turfgrass requires fewer additives because grasses are more efficient at taking in nutrients.
Soil Amendments For A Healthy Lawn
Once you have tested your soil and understand what it is made of, it is time to make some changes to improve it. Soil amendments can be used to improve soil structure, nutrients, and water retention.
Soil structure is the way individualparticles of sand, silt, and clay are assembled. Soil aggregation, or the coming together of soil particles, can happen in different ways, which then results in different types of soil structures. The movement of water through the soil varies greatly depending on the type of structure it has.Soil that is well-structured is key to ensuring that water, air, and nutrients can move freely and efficiently. A soil structure that has too much clay will easily be compacted, making it difficult for grass roots to spread and access moisture. A soil structure that has too much sand will be too loose allowing water to flow through without giving plants time to absorb the moisture.
Soil is a key element in plant growth, providing the three main nutrients plants need to thrive: nitrogen , phosphorus , and potassium . These nutrients are essential for plant development, so its important to make sure your soil is rich in them if you want your grass and other plants to grow strong and healthy.
Water retention is the soils ability to hold water. The rate of water flow can vary greatly depending on the type of soil its flowing through. It can happen very quickly, very slowly, or not at all.
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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 Kit I Use & 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. I use the MySoil Test Kit, which is available:
And if youre interested in taking the guesswork out of what to do next after you get your soil test results, consider Sundays subscription lawn-care plan. They test your soil for you and use local weather data to send you exactly what your lawn needs, when it needs it. Its pretty fool-proof you can .
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.
Faq About Testing Soil For Ph
Do DIY Soil Test Kits Work?
DIY soil test kits work, but theyre not always accurate. According to the University of New Hampshire, the most accurate soil tests are from a lab. Here are a few reasons why:Home tests vary in accuracy.Although we homeowners try our best, were not trained scientists, and some inaccuracy can be due to human error.Unlike lab testing, home tests dont typically come with next step recommendations for your lawn.However, lab testing may not be an option for everyone. If that case, you can:Skip the test for now and use a previous years soil recommendation.If this is your first time testing soil, use a home kit, but do some research about soil in your area. If your results are wildly different, you may want to consider retesting or using a different soil test kit.If youre using a home kit, you can use these fact sheets to help guide you:
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How To Test Soil Ph
A soil test kit will let you know if your soil has a low or high pH.
Jonathan Greens easy-to-use Soil pH Test Kit determines pH levels in just five minutes. The kit includes one test tube, one capsule of powder, and one pH range color chart to help you identify the results.
It is important to use either distilled water or rainwater when using this test kit in order to get accurate pH readings. Tap water has been pH-adjusted by municipal water authorities and will affect the reading.
Another great option is Jonathan Greens Pro pH & Moisture Soil Tester, which accurately measures soil pH and moisture levels to within 0.2 pH and a 10% moisture level in just two minutes. This high-quality professional tool is used by sod growers, golf course superintendents, sports field managers, and landscapers to determine the right time to add fertilizer and lime.
To use the pH Tester, start with enough soil. A coffee can tightly packed with about three cups of soil is a good sampling size. To get an accurate pH reading, the soil should be moist . Bone dry soil will not give you an accurate reading. If the soil needs to be moistened, spray it with a healthy amount of distilled water.
Don’t Guess Soil Test
Conducting a soil test is a great way to understand the current nutrient levels in your lawn and identify ways to improve overall soil quality. This can be done professionally, or you can do it yourself.
State extension services, such as those at the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension, offer soil testing for a small fee. You send in soil samples, and they will send back results. Typically soil testing results will provide information about the nutrients in the soil, the pH level, and the amount of organic matter present, along with recommendations for amendments.
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Lawn Not Responding To Fertilizer Is A Sign It Needs Lime
So your lawn is looking unhealthy and you have added fertilizer to it and normally after this process you see a burst of healthy growth.
But this time you have added fertilizer and the lush green grass that normally grows after this procedure isnt happening or at least not as much as usual, this could be a good sign you need to add lime to your lawn.
Lawn fertilizer works best when the soil is at a neutral pH level, this is because most fertilizers are designed to release the nutrients that are already in the soil.
If the pH of your soil is at the wrong level for your fertilizer it wont be able to release the healthy nutrients that are basically locked and dormant in soil that has a pH level that is too low.
You may still see some benefit of the fertilizer but nowhere near the full extent you expect to see.
The problem with this sign that youre lawn needs lime is you need to be using a fertilizer that you regularly use as if you use a new type of fertilizer you wont know how much growth to expect from its application.
How To Test Your Soil
First, take a minute to appreciate garden soil. It is not dirt, which is what you sweep off your floor. Garden soil is made up of minerals, organic matter, air and water in a matrix that provides the ideal conditions for plant roots to provide fuel for plants to grow and thrive.
You can test your own soil using a basic soil test kit from The Home Depot. Inexpensive, easy and accurate, soil tests provide a wealth of knowledge about whats going on under your feet, including the levels of pH, calcium, lime, gypsum and potassium. For a fee, your local County Extension Service will test your soil as well.
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How To Tell If Your Lawn Needs Lime
If you notice all of the above signs on your lawn, then it needs to be limed. The liming process helps reduce soil acidity and also encourages grass growth.
After determining whether lime should be applied, the soil pH should be tested. To do this, you can use one of the methods that were described earlier.
How To Collect A Soil Sample
University of Minnesota Extension
If your lawn has areas that range over various types of terrain , you should request a separate sampling kit for each area. Otherwise, the lab may recommend doses of fertilizer or soil amendments suitable for one area but not for another.
Test results will tell you what you need to add to your soil. If you have an acceptable lawn but are looking to improve it, you may spread the recommended materials over the lawn surface. If your lawn requires restoration, you should aerate the turf with a core cultivator after you have applied the amendments to the surface.
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Lime Treatment If There Is No Influence Of Fertilizers
Quite often, gardeners notice that soil nutrients do not reflect positively on the condition of the lawn. Indeed, in the process, the quality of the lawn deteriorates, and it begins to look unhealthy.
As you know, every gardener makes sure that there is a beautiful and lush lawn in the yard. After all, the aesthetics of the entire yard depends on it.
To stimulate growth, various kinds of fertilizers are often used. If the acidity is high, even a large amount of fertilizer does not help the grass bounce back.
An acidic environment blocks the ability of plants to collect nutrients.
If you additionally add amaranth, then the acidity increases even more. If fertilizers do not give any results, you must do the lime treatment.
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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Lime Treatment Against Weed Infestation
Some types of weeds prefer to develop on acidic soil. The most obvious sign that the level of acid in the soil has increased is the growth of dandelions.
This species is considered the most common and aggressive.
If you notice that these types of weeds have begun to appear more and more on the site, you have to urgently apply lime. This quickly removes dandelions and other types of weeds from the lawn.
Do It Yourself Lawn Soil Kits
While an at-home kit is cheaper and faster, it also provides less precise results which you must decipher on your own. An extension service, which is typically a state university lab, will provide a much more detailed report of your results. The official report will also include instructions about how much of each amendment you need to add to your lawn.
The consensus amongst most gardeners is that professional lab tests are worth the investment if your lawn is suffering, especially if you have never conducted a soil test before. At-home kits will only give you a general estimate of the nutrient levels and pH of your soil. For this reason, many gardeners prefer to use at-home kits solely as a method to monitor progress, rather than as a first measure of your soils status. Gardeners might use an at-home kit a year after administering the suggested amendments from a professional lab test.
Electric vs. Chemical Soil Test Kits
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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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When Should You Test
It is a good idea to sample a lawn or turf area in the spring or early fall, says Friedericks. This will allow time to make the fertilizer and lime applications either in the spring as needed or to use the results from the fall sample to plan for the year ahead.
- Chill out. Follow the recommendations from the soil pH testing report, but be patient. It could take a year or more to see the results of a lime application, for instance.
- Split the application. Spread the recommended application into two or three applications over a couple of months. Water the lime into the soil.
- Season accordingly. Also, split nitrogen applications over the spring and summer to avoid leaching loss and to keep the grass healthy.
Apply phosphorus in the spring to help establish a strong, well-rooted plant. Applying some of the potassium in the fall can also help the grass create a good store of energy in the roots to improve overwintering.
- Its a do-over. Keep on top of any problems after the initial test. Experts recommend that you take a soil sample and test soil pH every three to four years.
- Dont soak the samples. Dig your soil samples when it is neither too wet nor too dry, so you get a representative sample. Dry the soil completely before you place it in the soil sample bag or box.
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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 .