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Soils 101 - Importance of Understanding Your Soils

Growing turfgrass is not rocket-science. It is easy to do and when done correctly, there is nothing better to compliment your homes landscape , and for our environment, than a beautiful green lawn . Achieving your dream lawn begins with a soil test. The soil test is a measure of soil fertility and is very inexpensive . The standard soil test provides the status of phosphorous (P) , Potassium (K) , Magnesium (Mg),pH , cation exchange capacity , lime requirement and base saturation. Additional tests are also available for iron (Fe) , zink (Zn), manganese (Mn), soluable salts and nitrates .

Why do you need to soil test? - Soil fertility fluctuates throughout the growing season each year. The quantity and availability of mineral nutrients are altered by the addition of fertilizers, manure, compost, mulch, lime and sulfur , in addition to leaching. Furthermore, a large quantity of mineral nutrients are removed from soils as a result of plant growth and development. The soil test will determine the current fertility status . It also provides the necessary information needed to maintain the optimum fertility year after year.

How frequently should you take a soil test ? Here at Green Velvet, we take soil samples every 3 years . This is perfect for turfgrass, but if you are growing plants that are heavy feeders , such as in a vegetable garden , you may want to sample more frequently.

How do you take the Soil Samples ? I have attached a sample soil test bag from CLC Labs showing the easy steps involved in soil testing. The test results are only as good as the sample taken. It is extremely important to provide a representative sample to the testing lab so that a reliable test and recommendations can be made for your entire lawn. A good representative compost sample should contain 10-15 cores or slices of your soil . Each core or slice should be taken at the same depth and volume at each site . Sample at random in a zigzag pattern over the area and mix the samples together in a clean plastic bucket .
Separate soil samples should be taken from areas in your lawn with distinctive soil types or turf performance.

How do you prepare soil samples for submission ? After contacting your soil testing lag and obtaining your soil test kit and appropriate forms to fill out, just break up the clumps of soil and air dry the soil at room temperature. When the soil is dry , mix well and crush soil lumps to the size of rice or smaller. Take about one pint of the composite sample and place it in the soil sample bag and send it off to the testing lab with the proper forms filled out. It is important to tell your testing lab what plant you are testing the soil this case , we are talking about turfgrass in your home lawn.

How long does it the soil test take? Once your testing lab has received your soil samples, it usually takes about two weeks to receive your soil report back from the lab. If you have told the testing lab what plants you are growing in the soil they just tested , the testing lab should provide you with some recommendations.

Next week we will begin discussion on about how to read your soil report , including discussion on what is Cation Exchange Capacity (CEC) , and Proper pH - what to do if you need to try and change your pH using lime and Sulfur. We will also talk about the importance of Macronutrients ( Nitrogen (N) , Phosphorus (P) and Potassium (K) Finally , in the weeks ahead, we will talk about micronutrients such as Boron, Copper, Iron, Magnesium, Maganese and Sulfur , and the importance of Organic matter in your soils . Lots to talk about in "Soils 101" in the next few seek of January.

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