I know, you probably think I am nuts for asking such a question but the reality is that 95 percent of us have “SOUR” soil. Sour soil… I’m definitely off my rocker now. Actually, “sour” soil refers to soil that is not balanced. Having properly balanced soil could be the difference between a show lawn, as in “Citizens Bank Park”, or crabgrass city!
Are you confused yet?
Get comfy, pour another cup of coffee and grab a notepad! I’m about to get really scientific!
Once again as your resident Landscaping Expert, I’m here to provide information on the one area of lawn and garden care that 95% of homeowners overlook.
Who ever heard of testing their soil and what am I testing for?
The main purpose that professional landscapers test soil is to determine the Ph(Potential of Hydrogen) of the soil and the quantity of available nutrients. Ph is rated on a scale of 1-14 with 7 being an optimal or NEUTRAL reading. Ph that is lower than 7 is Acidic and Ph that is higher that 7 is considered alkaline. Whether your soil is acidic or alkaline determines the usefulness of nutrients in the soil. Primary soil nutrients are Phosphorus, Potash, Manganese, Iron, Calcium, Sulfur, Copper and Zinc.
Now let me say that in English…
When your soil’s Ph level is too high, your grass won’t grow and your plants could die! When your soil’s Ph level is too low, your grass won’t grow and your plants will die! That’s about as simple as I can say it. Don’t panic! It doesn’t mean that all plants or grass require a perfect Ph Level. In fact, most plants such as Roses, Turf Grasses, Fruits, Vegetables and Sunflowers like slightly acidic soil(6.5 to 7) while Hydrangeas, Rhododendruns, Hollys, Dogwoods and Tomatos like more acidic soil(5.0 to 6.0). On the opposite end of the scale Lilacs, Iris’, Weigela and Figs thrive in Alkaline soil. I hope I am beginning to make more sense.
Soil testing makes life easy for landscape designers. We test the soil as far in advance as possible so we know which plants will thrive in any given job site. Soil acidity is easily modified with any number of remedies. When homeowners request a certain type of plant in their landscape and the soil conditions don’t agree, we have 2 choices…
Choice 1. Use different plants
Choice 2. Correct the soil.
Correcting soil may sound like an intimidating task but the truth is that most soils are easily corrected. Correcting acidic soil usually requires readily available amendments such as lime, bone meal or oyster shell compost. Alkaline soil is easily adjusted using peat moss, aluminum or iron sulfate or sulfur.
Correcting soil conditions does take time. Reasonable expectations should range from 6 to 9 months. I recommend soil testing as early in the year as possible… like NOW, for instance! I further recommend renovating lawns in the late summer or early fall. Test NOW, apply amendments in early March and your soil will be primed and ready for that new grass seed by September!
What about the other nutrients in my soil? Does a soil test tell me about those as well? Absolutely! The other main advantage to soil testing, other than Ph, is testing for the presence of valuable nutrients that plants and turf need to thrive. The soil test provides detailed information on the amount of Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Potash, Manganese, Iron, Calcium, Sulfur, Copper and Zinc presently in your soil. It’s important to test for these nutrients so not to over fertilize . Over fertilization and over liming are common ways to throw off your Ph not to mention waste money. Conversely, if you soil is lacking a specific nutrient, the Soil Test Report offers precise instructions on correcting deficiencies with specific product data and application rate in pounds per 1000 square feet.
I hope you are convinced that soil testing is a great idea. I recommend testing your soil every year and right now is a great time. Starting tomorrow, stop by the Rutgers University Cooperative Extension Center in Cape May Court House(Directly in front of Atlantic Cape Community College on Court House-Dennisville Road), pay the $15.00 fee, per kit, and get started. If you live outside of Cape May County or even outside of New Jersey, look up the Extension Center of your state university. Its a good idea to grab 2 test kits. The first test kit will be for the lawn and turf areas and the second for your planting and garden beds. Each kit contains detailed instructions on gathering the samples. I feel it’s my civic duty to provide a few pointers from my professional experience. I like to send as dry a sample as possible. Avoid taking samples after a rainfall. Ideally, collect samples after 3 rain-free, sunny days.
1. Use a garden trowel with a ruler stamped into the shovel blade and a small bucket. Before you even consider putting your trowel in the ground, thoroughly scrub the trowel and bucket with clean tap water(no soap, no steel wool) and let dry.
2. Pick 10 areas from your lawn spaced as far apart as possible. Dig to a depth of 6 inches and place that dirt to the side. Dig and additional 2 inches and place this dirt in your sample bucket. Fill in each hole so not to create a tripping hazard, and proceed to the next spot.
3. Once you have collected samples from the 10 different spots in your lawn, thoroughly mix the dirt in your bucket and fill the sample bag as full as possible. Your lawn sample is now ready to ship to the lab.
4. Repeat the same process as above for your garden or planting bed sample except dig to a depth of 10 to 12 inches. A deeper sample is needed as many tree and shrub roots extend considerably deeper than turf grass roots. It’s no problem if you prefer to use a bigger shovel, make sure you its clean and dry.
5. Sample kits will have the address to the lab inside the instruction package. Take your samples to the post office and make sure to add sufficient postage.
You’re Done! Expect to wait anywhere from 3-5 weeks. At that time, you will receive a detailed analysis of your current soil conditions, an accurate Ph reading and a full write up on recommended remedies and application rates.
If the thought of a soil test sounds like something you are interested in but don’t have the time, patience or desire to do the test yourself, I am here for you. My fee is $125 for picking up the test kits, collecting the samples, mailing the samples, then a sit down with you to analyze the results and generate a plan, if needed. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, call me at 609-898-9136 or text 609-722-1814.
It’s a dirty job, but somebody has to do it!!!
See you out there!