Needing Help With First Soil Test


Maco Services: “I’m asking for some help in stepping up my understanding of lawn/soil analysis and proper care for bermuda lawns.

“I’ve got a two-and-a-half-year-old bermuda lawn, laid over clay and lots of rocks with no real topsoil applied beforehand. I believe our builder interchanges the words topsoil and fill dirt. The last two years, I’ve cut it often (even through the winter), applied fertilizer on a generic Scotts plan and irrigated two to three times a week. I hand-pull weeds once a week. The lawn looks better than most, but I have a couple drainage issues and spotty growth in a few areas with little sun or water places that stay moist. In some areas, I have moss and algae growing on the grass. In some places I have full grass growth, in others, I still roll the sod up that was planted years ago. It’s a very bumpy lawn, and I laid down a soil amendment as a topdressing almost a year ago. A few places I’ve tried to level up with sand. I need to attack this in a uniform way, not spot-treatments like I’m going after.

“I am interested in starting an aeration, fertilization, overseeding plan, and am looking for some initial direction based on the recent soil test I completed. I was surprised by the lack of recommendations.

“Test reads as follows: soil pH, 7.4; Phosphorus, 38 pounds per acre (High); potassium, 150 pounds per acre (medium); magnesium, 538 pounds per acre (high); and calcium, 3,490 pounds per acre (high) (Wow, glad I didn’t add that lime I have in the garage!).

“Test recommended adding 8 pounds 13-13-13 per 1,000 square foot on spring growth, and 1 pound N at two-month intervals.

“So, chemically, it looks like I’ve got the nutrients, just need a better consistency of soil to hold moisture/drain better. My plan was to aerate in the next couple weeks (temps are low 90s right now) and topdress with something while seeding and fertilizing. I don’t know if I need to rent a slice seeder, I don’t think I have any thatch issues needing addressing. I mow often and mulch everything; don’t see a huge thatch layer.

“Insects-I have ants, as does most of Alabama. We’ve had heavy Japanese beetles the last two years that I spray our plants for, as they love our crepe myrtle, but never knew about grubs. I put down Grub-X in late August (I know a bit too late). I had a rough bout with worms eating the bermuda in late September/early August that made me spray down a Spectracide.

“I think I’m providing a lot of the data here. I’ve made one attempt at spot-seeding that failed miserably. I actually called Scotts asking for a refund because all it seemed the seed did was sprout weeds whereever I put it down. What seed should I go after that would blend with my bermuda? Do I have to identify which bermuda I have and track down the exact species?”

chaser2587: “Please do not aerate bermuda turf now. That window has already passed. You need to aerate May through August when the turf is growing vigorously. Places that get little sun and where the turf is thin would be better served as a landscape bed. The soil pH is too high, which is rare on clay soil. Bermuda prefers a pH level between 6.0 and 6.5. I’m also wondering about the fertilizer recommendation, Triple 13 for a bermuda lawn?

“May I ask, what height are you mowing at? When you tried to topdress with sand, what kind of sand did you use? Why are you mowing bermuda in the winter? Did you overseed last year?”

Maco Services: “I thought the fall was OK for aeration? I also was surprised with high pH in all clay mostly. I was about to put lime down just because I assumed it was low. It’s still growing very quickly here, mowing every four to six days.

“I cut at about 1.5 inches, unless I miss it for a week, then I slowly cut it down after a few days. I cut in the winter to mulch the leaves around, and also to keep it looking clean, mulching into the lawn every two to three weeks. Did I overseed? No.

“I took the samples from a manual aerator, and the plugs that came out looked almost solid clay with some dark soil transition to organic layer that has started to build in the top half-inch or so. I’ve only spot-placed sand, never the whole lawn. I’m even more confused now.”

DA Quality Lawn & YS: “Why mess with a soil pH that is just about neutral?”

chaser2587: “I can’t believe they would recommend triple 13. Did you specify you had bermuda turf on your form? They should recommend something high in nitrogen.

“Aeration now on bermuda turf would be pointless. Bermuda is a warm-season turf. Aerating a cool-season turf now would be good. Aerating a bermuda lawn does two things: reduces soil compaction and by breaking the rhizomes and stolons in bermuda turf you stimulate growth. Now is not the time to stimulate growth in your bermuda lawn when it’s about a month away from going completely dormant.

“As far as sand goes, I topdressed my side and front lawn all at one time with river sand for leveling purposes.”

Maco Services: “Oh, it specifically said bermuda lawn on the sample. I gave them my issues and age of lawn, everything. I’m thinking about sending a sample to another school to see what the result is.

We have almost solid clay/rock/slate yard, so my main interest is opening up the soil with aeration and a topdresser, maybe even repeating in the spring. Would you only topdress with sand or possibly an organic improvement?”

chaser2587: “You definitely should not aerate now. Look into aerating in the spring. May would be a good time. And then if you want to topdress with river sand for leveling purposes, do that in June. If you want to topdress with something organic I would look into compost, probably sometime shortly after greenup in the spring. But topdressing with compost will only add organics to the soil and will not help with the leveling of your lawn. The only thing you should be worried about this time of year with a bermuda lawn is getting your preemergents down for the spring weeds.”

Maco Services: “Got it. Consensus is to wait on aeration.

“On leveling, compost won’t help at all with my lumpy lawn? What if I went with peat or some sort of soil amendment? I was hoping I could improve level and organic levels in one step.

“As far as preemergents, I always thought that was a spring ritual. Can I put down Halts right now to help in the spring? Any need for overseeding now or wait?”

chaser2587: “Unfortunately, compost will not help with leveling your lawn. Compost will add some N and help add some organics to your soil. The best leveling practice for a bermuda lawn I’ve seen has been with river sand, and it’s best that you level/topdress with river sand all at one time rather than trying to do one spot here and there.

“Preemergents are a spring ritual and a fall ritual, as well. For the fall application you’re preventing springtime weeds like dandelions and especially annual bluegrass(Poa annua). The spring application is a prevention for summertime weeds like nutsedge and crabgrass. I try to go by the September 1st (fall application) and March 1st (spring application) dates.

“As far as overseeding, that’s up to you my friend. I’m ready for a break from mowing my lawn and I don’t want to be mowing the grass in 40 degree weather with the wind blowing 25 mph. But, I’ll be ready to get back at it about the time Christmas is over (although I’ll have to wait a few months). But, if you want to mow all the way through winter, then go for overseeding. Just remember if you do overseed, you will have that transition period in the spring.”