When you are growing a lawn, the most common questions I receive are usually based around what fertilizers to apply and when. Or simply, “Where should I start with all of this lawn stuff? I’m lost!” What is often forgotten in the world of lawn care is a simple soil test. Every video that I’ve ever made on the topic gets very little for views or traffic in general. It’s not the pretty stripes or lawn renovation insights that so many want to learn about, and I get that. But what I want you to remember is that the grass you are growing has to be supported by the soil it is growing on. That soil is of utmost importance in growing a great lawn. The steps to complete a soil test are actually very simple! This video details that step by step process.
Soil Testing Procedure
I used a lab called Waypoint Analytical. They have locations across the country and one specifically in Iowa where I can send in my results and receive them back very quickly. Cost at my location is under $20 for a complete soil test.
What Does This All Mean?
I am lucky to live in a state like Iowa (believe me, I never thought those words would come out of my mouth as a native Minnesotan….sorry Hawkeye fans) in that the soil here grows crops (and lawns) pretty easily. I like to call the soil “black gold” as it contains a lot of organic matter and can naturally sustain plant life for growing. Many of you out there are not so lucky. Despite the great soil I am working with, I myself still need to be aware of a few key things in the soil and this where a soil test helps out in so many ways.
- I need to know the pH. A lawn grows best with soil pH in the range of 6-7. It is not to say that a lawn cannot grow outside of this range, because it definitely can and will, but that 6-7 range is ideal. The pH of my soil is just over 7 and despite being outside of the ideal mark, I have a great lawn. So, don’t get discouraged if you see a number that is low or high, but understand there are certain things you can do to move this number closer to ideal. For lawns below 6, lime is something that can be applied to help raise the pH. For a lawn higher than a 7, uses of fertilizers based in ammonia (ammonium sulfate is one I use) or using elemental sulfur can help to lower the pH.
- After learning the pH, you can better formulate a game plan. Many people apply lime to a lawn because they have heard they need to or they keep applying a fertilizer high in a certain nutrient when it is possible the soil already contained plenty of that nutrient without adding more. After reading this you are now starting to see why it’s very helpful to know the details before applying anything in your lawn at all.
- You will be better understand your macronutrients. Macronutrients that we will talk about are typically the big 3 – Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Potassium. Nitrogen is needed every season as the main way to feed the grass. Nitrogen in the soil fluctuates during the season and most of the time will not be included on a lab soil test because of this. It will need to be part of the program every year. There are certainly many cases where homeowners will not fertilizer the lawn at all and most of the time, that will just mean it does not thrive like it should. Speaking again of my soil, there’s lawns all around me that never receive a bit of fertilizer in a year, and they still grow every spring and fall during our cool season grass peaks. However, if improper mowing practices also enter that mix, then a weed filled and thin lawn is what I see day in and day out.
- You will better understand your micronutrients. These are the nutrients listed and needed in very tiny amounts, yet play a vital role in your lawn as well. Iron is one in particular that can play a part in making your lawn a deeper shade of green. In a soil test like mine, I have sufficient iron but I have a pH over 7. This higher pH is not allowing some of the nutrients to be used as efficiently in the soil and iron is one of them. To combat this, I like to apply a chelated iron source to bring out more of a dark green in my lawn.
My Soil Test
This Sounds Like Gibberish
If you are reading this and it all sounds like gibberish, then believe me when I tell you I did not understand or grasp the concepts of soil at first, either. To this day I am still continuing my education in this side of the lawn world, but now more than ever I recognize why soil testing matters. My good friend John Perry has a great video that further dissects how to read a soil test and I think he does a great job of spelling out the info very clearly. Do check out his video. Remember, repetition is the key to learning. 🙂
One thing you might also notice from this test is that my phosphorous level is very high. Before soil testing a few years ago, I had put down a lot of phosphorus by using Milorganite regularly, as well as a lot of starter fertilizer during renovations. This seemed to be working fine in my lawn, but after testing I realized that continued use of that phosphorus would cause issues in the future. Mainly, on a higher pH soil the nutrients can already have a tough time being available to the plant, but a high phosphorus level can further “lock up” these nutrients and make them unavailable for plant use.
Had I continued to throw down phosphorus, I would not be helping my lawn at all and could actually be preventing the lawn from being the best it could be. Just one more example of how a simple soil test changed my thinking and helped to guide my plan going forward.