How to Test the Soil in Your Yard

The health of the soil in your yard is one of the largest determining factors in the health of your landscape. So knowing how to check the balance of your soil will allow you to adjust your lawn maintenance plan to give you a thriving, healthy lawn.

What is Soil Testing?

Soil testing involves taking a soil sample and testing the soil’s chemical make-up. This can give you a better idea of the pH level, which is used to determine how basic or acidic it is. It can also give you a better understanding of the nutrients in your soil, so that you can adjust your fertilization to make sure that your grass receives everything that it needs.

Why is Soil Testing Important?

As said, soil testing allows you to know what, if anything, you need to adjust to give your grass the best chance at strong growth. Too much or too little of a certain nutrient, like nitrogen or calcium, can have detrimental effects on growth—too much nitrogen and you will find you get excessive leaf growth with little or no flowering or fruits; too little calcium can leave some plants at risk of rot or other disease.

What Does pH Tell Us about the Soil?

As mentioned,  a soil test also measures pH. As a reminder, pH is measured out of 14, with 7 being neutral, and anything above 7 indicating basic soil, while anything below 7 indicates acidic soil. If your soil is too basic, then your plants may struggle to intake the nutrients, even if the soil is full of them. If your soil is too acidic, then toxic mineral solubility will be increased, meaning your grass will be at risk of absorbing toxic elements which can poison growth. Ideally, your soil should be between 6.0 and 7.0, though the exact number depends on the type of grass in your yard.

New Construction Soil Conditions

For all of our builders out there, soil testing has another key purpose, which is providing you with the information about the composition of the soil to determine the viability for foundation support. This testing should be done by licensed soil engineers who will be able to tell you how strong/ weak the soil is, what the exact composition of the soil is and ultimately whether it would be a good idea to build in that location.

How to Collect a Soil Sample

Collecting a soil sample is an easy but important task to complete if you’re planning on doing a home test or sending it to a soil lab test. To do so:

  • Dig around 6 or 8 inches deep and remove around a cup’s worth of soil. (If you are planting in a defined area, then that is your sample).
  • For a full yard, repeat the process at varying spots around your yard and garden, mixing all of the different soil samples together to give you a good idea of the overall health of your soil.

This will give you your soil sample which you can then use for your DIY test, your home soil test kit or sending to the lab.

DIY Soil Testing

Rather than use a home test kit, there are a couple of different DIY salutations available to determine your lawn pH.

Vinegar and Baking Soda

The first test uses vinegar and baking soda to give you a rough idea of whether your lawn is acidic or basic. The instructions for this test are as follows:

  • Get your soil sample, and place a couple of spoonfuls of soil in two separate containers.
  • To one, add ½ a cup of white vinegar, and to the other add some distilled water and then ½ a cup of baking soda.
  • If the vinegar soil fizzes, your soil is basic, and if the baking soda soil fizzes, then your soil is acidic!
  • If neither soil reacts, then you’re our lucky winner as your soil is as neutral as can be!

Red Cabbage Test

Red cabbage is nature’s great pH tester, and is even used in some labs around the world today. If read correctly, this test can provide a much more accurate reading of your soils pH. To carry out this test, all you will need is some red cabbage leaves and distilled water:

  • Simmer 4-6 cabbage leaves in a saucepan of distilled water for around 10 minutes.
  • Remove from the heat and allow to sit for up to 30 minutes until the liquid is a nice purple/blue color.
  • Filter out the water, and place 1 cup of cabbage water in a bowl per sample you want tested.
  • Add around two teaspoons of soil to your cabbage water, stir, and allow to sit for around 30 mins.
  • The neutral purple/blue will change depending on the pH of your soil.
  • The redder the water, the more acidic, whereas the bluer the water, the more basic.

How to Change Your Soil’s pH

Having completed your test and received your results, most of us then will need to work to get the soil back to neutral. Before anything though, make sure that you know the optimal soil pH for whatever you are trying to grow. Certain plants and grasses love heavily acidic, or basic soil, so don’t go changing it if you don’t have to!

If you find that your soil is too basic, then you will need to add some acid to neutralize. The easiest way to go about this is to add acidic fertilizer, which will likely contain large amounts of ammonium sulfate or sulfur.

If you need to increase the pH of your soil to make it less acidic, then you can potentially use wood ashes, but the most common additive is to use lime treatment. Lime comes in a variety of different forms and has multiple different application methods, but is a very commonly used base.

Professional Soil pH Tests

If you’d rather get a complete and extremely accurate view at the health of your soil, then a professional soil test will be in order. Labs can provide you with a complete picture of the health of your soil and help to develop a personalized fertilization and lawn care treatment plan, which will give you the best tools moving forwards. BOG Lawn is proud to offer this professional service as part of our lawn care services, as well as personalized lawn care treatments.

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