Soil is the last thing people think of when managing their turf health, but it makes a world of a difference.
Soil may not be the first thing that comes to mind when your turf is failing to thrive. Go research common lawn problems like yellow or bare spots. The first things that come up are fertilizers, weeds, thatch and other similar topics.
If you feel like you’ve tried everything and your lawn still isn’t looking healthy, the answer may be more simple than you think. Soil is the foundation of any garden, including a lawn. If your dirt has a major problem, no amount of chemicals, mowing or raking is going to solve it.
Fortunately, there are many things you can do to enhance the foundation you already have. There’s always the option to buy or mix your own new soil. Keep reading to learn how to troubleshoot your soil problems so you can get your lawn into top shape.
The Four Types of Soil
Soil works on a spectrum that we can divide into three major types: Clay, silt and sand. There is a fourth type, called loam, and is a mixture of the other three.
Your local soil will be a combination of one or more of these types. Where you fall on the spectrum influences your lawn’s health. Like most plants, lawns prefer loamy soils, so it is in your best interest to adjust your’s to be closer to loam.
Clay particles are extremely fine and will stick together in clumps when wet. Clay is dense and high in nutrients. It can be challenging to grow in because it drains so slow. It also takes a long time to warm up and is difficult for roots to penetrate.
Sandy soils, also known as “light soils,” are easily penetrated and cultivated. They warm up fast during the summer and drain quickly. They also lack nutrients, are often acidic, and can dry out too fast.
Silt is common near river deltas and has particles that are in between sand and clay in size. Silt soils are usually very fertile, drain well, and hold moisture better than sand. On the downside, they, like clay, can become compacted.
Loam is the optimal soil type for most plants. Loam is a mixture of sand, silt, and clay, so it has the benefits of each while minimizing the drawbacks. It is fertile, drains well, and is easy for roots to penetrate and absorb nutrients from.
How To Determine Your Soil Type
Soil types can vary a lot depending on your county, neighborhood or even your individual yard. There are so many factors to determine what type you may have. It’s difficult to make a generalization for the entire middle Tennessee region. The best way to find out what kind of dirt you’re dealing with is to conduct some tests.
Test 1: Make a Mudshake
Mudshakes are a simple, easy soil test that anyone can do over the course of a couple of days. Mudshakes are a good first step in assessing your ground. They can give you insight into where your soil lies on the soil type triangle.
To make a mudshake, simply get a glass jar with a lid and fill it about two-thirds of the way with water. Add enough soil to almost fill the jar, and then add a small pinch of laundry detergent to help the dirt separate. Seal and shake the jar to allow the soil to mix well with the water and laundry detergent. Wait a few days until the soil completely separates into three layers.
The clay will be on top, followed by the silt, and on the bottom, there will be sand. Take a ruler to measure each section, and then convert it into percentages. Compare it to a soil triangle, and you’ll see your soil type.
Test 2: Do an Official Soil Test
After you’ve established your basic soil type, it’s time to get into more detail. To measure important dirt elements like your pH and nutrient levels. To do this, buy and conduct a regular soil test from the gardening store.
Other Important Soil Factors To Consider
Some lawn owners may have problems associated with an extreme soil type. However, many have a loamy ground that is decent for growing grass but are still running into issues. This means that the only thing left to worry about is the more detailed components. The following are a few factors that can make or break the health of your lawn.
pH is important for your lawn and garden’s health. Most turf grasses prefer a slightly acidic soil, so for best results, it’s important to keep your soil pH between 6.5 to 7.0. Remember, higher numbers indicate alkalinity. Lower numbers indicate acidity, with 7 being neutral.
Standard soil tests should come with a pH test to let you know where your soil currently stands. From there, you can add lime to raise your pH or sulfur to lower your pH. Both are widely available at gardening stores.
There are dozens of micronutrients grass needs to thrive. Most of these can be supplied naturally with adequate soil health. There are three important macronutrients that may be more difficult to come by:
Your soil test will let you know how your dirt is faring with each of these nutrients. It will show you what your current nutrient ratios are. This will guide you in picking the best fertilizer. Once you know this information, you can do a couple of things. First, you can either buy individual fertilizers that target specific nutrients. The other option is to buy a fertilizer that premixes the three elements.
These fertilizers contain certain ratios of the three nutrients. Some examples could be 3-1-2 or 4-1-2 for nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, respectively.
You can also try other fertilizers that target micronutrients, such as kelp fertilizer. You can also add compost, worm castings or manure to your soil to increase micronutrients.
Compost can be a powerhouse for providing your lawn with both the macro- and micronutrients it needs to become thick and healthy. It can also enhance soil’s ability to keep nutrients and deliver them to your turf’s roots. It can also improve your ground’s ability to regulate pH and moisture. Also, it prevents the soil from compacting.
Don’t let overzealous pest control practices fool you. Having small creatures in your dirt is, in general, a good thing. Soil-enhancing creatures, like earthworms, nematodes, fungi, bacteria and arthropods play a crucial role. They help in cycling nutrients and creating nutrient-rich organic material for your grass.
Some of these creatures can also cause damage to your grass. Don’t worry though, the ratio of beneficial organisms far outnumbers the detrimental ones. You can ensure a healthy ratio by avoiding pesticides and other harmful chemicals. You can also add plenty of compost and fertilizer to your soil.
How To Improve Your Soil
There are several approaches to making your lawn soil healthier. The approach you choose will depend on the soil problems you’re currently facing. For example, you may be dealing with a lack of nutrients. In this situation, it may be best to sprinkle things like fertilizer, compost, and manure on top of your lawn. Aeration is a great thing to try if you have compacted soil that doesn’t absorb nutrients very well.
If you’re dealing with something more difficult there are more extreme courses of action to take. Something like compact, dry soil that doesn’t seem to absorb anything you put on it. In this case, it may be worth it to dig up your entire lawn, or at least dig up the worst offending patches. After digging it up, till your ground. While tilling, add things like compost, topsoil, or fertilizer. Do this until it seems loose, moist, and rich, and then start over from scratch.
Call In the Experts
If you’re not sure what to do, you can also always call in a professional to see what’s best for your situation.
With 25 years of experience providing lawn and landscaping service in Nashville, Turf Managers will be able to assess your lawn’s needs. We will then go forward with a care plan to make it healthy and green by the next season.