Every now an then soil needs a bit of a boost. How can you tell when your soil needs some help?
Soil is more complicated than it looks. Lawn and garden plants need at least 17 essential elements for healthy growth: carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, magnesium, sulfur, iron, manganese, zinc, copper, boron, molybdenum, chlorine, and nickel.
Plants get a few of these — carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen — from air and water. But the rest they get from the soil. If the soil doesn’t have enough of these nutrients, you need to add them.
How do you know? That’s right — soil testing. Here’s a look at what a thorough soil analysis does and why it’s important.
Why Should You Consider Soil Testing?
Soil testing is the only way to accurately determine what is going on with your soil makeup.
Your soil might need nitrogen, phosphorus or potassium. Its pH might be off, so you might need to add limestone or sulfur.
A soil test will tell you what you need to know. And just because your neighbor has a certain type of soil, it doesn’t mean you do, too. Soil quality can vary greatly from house to house and even within the same yard.
When Should You Test?
The best time to test soil is in the spring, before you add any compost or other amendments. But you can test soil any time, as long as the ground isn’t frozen.
It’s a good idea to test your soil every few years. And it’s especially important if you’re planting in soil for the first time or if your grass isn’t growing as well as it should.
What Do Soil Tests Measure?
One of the most important things a soil test will tell you is your lawn’s pH level.
Your lawn pH is the measure of soil acidity or soil alkalinity. In basic terms, it’s how sweet or sour your lawn is.
A number shows pH on a scale from 0 to 14. A neutral reading is 7. Any reading below 7 represents an acid soil, and the lower the number, the more acidic the soil. Any number above 7 indicates an alkaline condition. The higher the number, the more alkaline your soil.
The pH of the soil determines what nutrients are available to the lawn. If the soil pH is above or below the recommended range, nutrients may not be absorbed, or too many nutrients may be absorbed.
Fertilize all you want, but if the pH is wrong, some of the nutrients in the fertilizer never make it to your grass. That’s just a waste.
The good news is you can alter your New York or Connecticut landscape’s soil to create a more balanced pH.
If your soil has too much acid, you can add lime — a soil amendment made by grinding limestone — which reacts with water and releases calcium that neutralizes the acid and raises the pH of the soil.
If your soil is too alkaline, you can lower the pH by adding aluminum sulfate, iron sulfate, and powdered sulfur.
Other Valuable Soil Tests
In addition to measuring your soil’s pH, laboratory tests often check for plant nutrients in three categories:
Major nutrients — nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium
Secondary nutrients — sulfur, calcium, magnesium
Minor nutrients — iron, manganese, copper, zinc, boron, molybdenum, chlorine
Nitrogen gives your lawn that nice green color you crave. The other nutrients affect the health of the roots. Lab tests usually come back in about two weeks, then you can make a treatment plan for your lawn based on what it’s lacking.
But don’t be in a hurry. If your lawn is lackluster because it’s missing essential nutrients, it won’t transform overnight. Plan on a couple years of a good fertilization plan before you get that lush green carpet.