The Simple Soil Test


The single, most-important step in any lawn care program is a soil test. In the days of fertilizer bans and IPM programs, the best information to have in your corner is the specifics of what your client’s soil is made up of, and what it lacks. The soil test can determine the nutrient content and composition of a soil sample, as well as contaminants that could be harming the soil, and therefore, the turf. Healthy soil can fend off insects and pests, as well as disease.

Everywhere you look lately, another city, town or county has passed a fertilizer ban in an effort to keep runoff out of the waterways. Phosphorus and nitrogen are the main concerns, but are certainly not the only ones. There are also other elements on the forefront of controversy. Pinellas County in Florida is one of the most recent places to approve a ban, which is in effect from June 1 until September. Officials cite the overuse of fertilizers, which results in residue washing into the waterways during the rainy season and causing algae to bloom, and that reduces the level of oxygen in the water, killing fish. Overuse is the key word. A simple soil test will indicate exactly what the soil needs, and would prevent a random application of fertilizer to “green up” a lawn. Some ordinances, like the one in Calhoun County, Mich., state that if a soil test indicates the soil is lacking phosphorus, then enough fertilizer can be applied to bring it up to a sufficient level to grow healthy turf. There is also an exception where a lawn is being newly established.

Whether you offer your clients traditional lawn care services or an organic program, a soil test needs to be done to determine what needs to be added, or not added, to give your clients a lush, aesthetically pleasing lawn. The soil pH is the main piece of information you’ll find out with the test, but you can also find out how much organic matter is in the soil, along with how much potassium, calcium and magnesium is available to the plant, and more. On page A6, Patrick White takes an in-depth look at soil testing: how to do it, what it tests for, what the pH really means and what to do with the results. Find out where you can send your soil samples to be tested and how to interpret the facts and figures you get from the lab.

The next step is what to do with the results. Now that you know what the soil needs to make the ideal growing environment for the turf, how do you develop a maintenance program? The soil amendment product focus on page C1 is a good place to start. It features products you can use to improve the soil’s make-up, which will make the turf grow better—and that will give you one satisfied customer.

Amy K. Hill