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Soil Evaluation

What's My Soil Type?

Soil evaluation is the first step in the process of having a healthy lawn. Knowing what type of soil you have now is key in determining what work is ahead to improve your soil to the level required for ideal gardening conditions.

The Gloves Come Off

I'm an avid gardener, and at some point in almost all of my gardening chores, I find that my gloves have come off and my hands are dirty and my heart is happy.

To get a good handle on what type of soil you have, it's time to handle the soil directly - no gloves!

Take a good fistful of soil from the top 12 inches, in an area that doesn't include roots and plants. Moisten it slightly, and squeeze between your thumb and forefinger.
  • Sandy soil is naturally gritty, and has poor water retention. It will not form a ribbon when squeezed.
  • Heavier clay soil will easily form a ribbon. Clay soil is prone to compaction and usually has poor drainage.
  • Loam soil will form a short ribbon of less than an inch long. It's neither gritty nor smooth and is the ideal gardening soil type.

What is pH?

pH is the measure of acidity or alkalinity. Pure water is neutral, with a pH close to 7. Solutions with a pH less than 7 are acidic and solutions with a pH greater than 7 are basic or alkaline.

This is based on a scale of 1 to 14, 1 being the most acidic, as already mentioned, 7 is neutral, and 14 is alkaline.

Grass prefers slightly acidic to slightly alkaline. Lawn soil testing in a range between 6.5 and 7.5 is what you're hoping for.

Lawn Compaction

An important part of healthy grass plants is getting oxygen and nutrients to the roots. When the soil becomes hard and dense, this process suffers and the plants are weakened.

Heavy foot traffic areas are likely to suffer from compaction. You can test it by pushing a screwdriver into the ground. If it goes in without much effort, your soil is not compacted. If, however, you have diffculty pushing in the screwdriver, your soil is compacted and you'll need an aeration to correct the problem.

We've seen many compacted lawns where the problem has been ignored. The lawn will be thin because the soil simply can't support the turf growth.

Lawn Thatch and Roots

Another indicator of the condition of your lawn is the depth of thatch and the health of the grass roots.

A simple way to check is to cut out a patch of grass 5 to 6 inches deep, that you'll return when you're done.

Getting To The Root Of Things

Soil evaluation is seen in the condition of the roots. Healthy roots will be about 4 inches deep. If yours aren't, it could be a sign of soil compaction, not enough topsoil, frequent and shallow watering, or too much nitrogen fertilizer. Most of these conditions are a reflection of the soil itself.

A Little Thatch

A layer of dead grass that sits just above the surface will naturally biodegrade, which is good as it will add valuable nutrients to the soil.

If you have more than 1/2 an inch, it can stop water and nutrients from getting to the soil and might attract chinch bugs.