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Two important soil factors need to be
considered when planting a lawn or any crop for that matter. These would be the ratio of the three types of soil you have and the pH and nutrient level of your soil.
Both of these factors can be determined through soil tests.
Testing your soil is as important for the success rate of
your lawn planting as anything you could do.
To receive the best results
and the most benefit for the time and money spent on your
lawn endeavor, you simply should TEST.
Just as a blood test indicates your deficiencies, soil
tests provide the information that you need to grow. Tomatoes for example require a certain acidity
to get that "farm fresh" taste.
Your local state or county extension
offices are paid by the public to help in give you all kinds of
information on how to take these samples and for a small charge
they give you a detailed and most times written recommendations on
the amounts needed to be added and suggested fertilization rates for
houseplants to lawns to pastures and everything in between.
This test will provide you with
information such as the pH of your lawns soil and the amount
of various nutrients needed or in abundance in the soil. The
laboratory can even recommend solutions if you provide the
crop or grass type growing in your soil sample.
Make sure your test is from
a wide range of your lawn's soil, by obtaining samples from all
over your lawn area. This will provide a more complete
picture of the health or deficiency of your soil -- Get a sample
that is at least 6 inches in depth. Either use a core sampler
(often loaned out by your extension agent) or take a hand trowel
to dig a sample of soil from all depths.
Types of Soils - Composition & Texture
All soils are composed of a mixture
of Clay, silt and sand... Your exact soil
composition will most likely be described as a mixture of two or
more of these components. Soil is a mixture of air, water
and soil particles. For best growth of your grass this
mixture must be the right balance. The texture of your soil
is determined by the mix of the three basic soil components:
- Sand -
Soils with particle sizes ranging from 2.0 to .05 mm.
- Silt -
Soils with particle sizes ranging from .05 to .002
Soils with particles sizes smaller than .002 mm.
Loam - Loam is the ideal
soil mixture, consisting of 40% Sand, 40% Silt and 20% Clay.
A loam soil will seem crumbly, in comparison to a clay soil that
is very tight. The best soils for grasses are loamy soils
with a 40-60% sand component, a 20-30% clay and a 20-30% silt
Organic Matter - Organic matter
is plant and animal residues, soil organisms (microscopic), and
living plant roots. Organic soil also includes humus matter
which is highly decomposed organic material. Good lawn soils
should have at lest 2% of organic soils. Organic soil matter
helps your plants by supplying usable nutrients and nitrates for
growth. Organic matter also helps in establishing a soil
with various crumb sizes (composed of 3 types of soil) of 1 to 3
mm. This is the best soil structure in which air, nutrients
and water can grow healthy grasses.
For lawn purposes your
concern should be with how the soil makeup affects water drainage
and air availability in the soil, more than fertility. You
may need to improve sandy soils by adding organic matter (heavy
soils) and clays or clay-loams. For a clay soil, you should
add organic matter (light soils) and a sandy loam or sand.
The organic matter may be materials such as peat, manure, old sawdust, straw, seed hulls and other materials. You should
thoroughly mix the organic matter with your soil to a depth of 5-6
inches. You may need to add extra nitrogen if high quantities of organic
matter are added so as to replace the nitrogen that will be utilized in decomposing
these materials in your soil. Fertility can be improved through
the addition of fertilizers and lime (sulfur if alkaline).
Testing Soil Composition & Texture
It is also important to know the texture of the soil you are
planting. You can determine this yourself with this simple test
KITCHEN SOIL-TEST RECIPE: (yes
gardening is like cooking)
This is a 2 day process:
1 quart jar
1 cup soil (air dried) 1 marker
1 teaspoon plain (non-sudsing) detergent
H2O - Water (enough for 2/3 jar)
One child to help you do this correctly - if handy
Add all ingredients in the jar except your child:
(1): Give to
your child assistant and tell her/him to shake hard for 2
minutes and let sit for 1 minute and mark the level that has
settled to the bottom of your jar this is the sand.
(2): Let settle
for another 2 hours and mark this level, This will be your silt
(3): Leave the
last layer to settle for 2 days. Mark this level which will be
your clay level .
Measure the individual levels and you can
determine your percentage makeup of soil.
Loam is a 40/40/20 mix and is the ideal growing
medium. Amendments can be added to make small areas more like the
ideal with organic additions to top soils being added. Some
sandier soils may need to be mulched to hold in moisture in
seeding and after some plantings. Too much clay makes the soil too
compact and will have to be loosened to let moisture and additives
get to the roots.
The pH rating simply means how much acid (acidity) or alkaline (alkalinity) is present
- See our Sulfur & Lime page for detailed information on soil pH.
The pH range is
0-14.0 with 7.0 as the mid-point, meaning 1/2 acidity to 1/2
alkalinity. Each plant has a level it will tolerate, past that
level the will look sickly and generally not grow at all in some
situations. The basic pH test only gives the acidity/alkalinity
level of the soil and is one of the easiest ways to improve the soil.
Liming raises soil pH and sulfur lowers soil pH - see Soil Tests & the use of Lime or Sulfur for detailed information.
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