Why should you know how to do a soil test? Well, the reasons may vary by individual, but one thing's for sure. Whether you are a DIYer, a lawn enthusiast, a general handyman, or a full-on lawn professional--an accurate soil test can be a handy tool in your belt.In a typical season, I'll often get calls from customers who need assistance with seeding. One common factor among these customers is not always that they just need seeding, but also that the reason is that they tried it themselves and failed.
Now, there are some best practices that you can follow to better your results when seeding. That being said, some necessary procedures will limit your results if neglected. Of course, having determined that the customer is following proper cultural practices, we can figure that the next logical step is a soil test.
I don't advise that you wait until there are problems with the yard to perform a soil test. However, it is a great way to diagnose potential struggles in the lawn, and knowing how to do a soil test is the first step.
On the first mention, you may not know where to start with getting a soil test done, but it's a pretty simple process! When learning how to do a soil test, the first step is choosing a facility and getting your kit. For most home-owners, you could consider going through your local extension office for a sample bag/form or go online. The MySoil company provides an accessible option for soil testing to new hobbyists and home-owners alike.
If you are a professional in the lawn care industry and will likely be doing more soil tests in the future, there are more affordable options. A number of independent labs can provide detailed analysis, but they typically charge for the service. Try checking with local pesticide/fertilizer suppliers to see if they offer free testing options and recommendations. I prefer to go through our product dealer directly. They provide free testing and give specific recommendations based on the results. This simplifies our ordering process. As a bonus, your revenue is not eaten up by the analysis cost if you charge for the test.
The process consists of collecting the sample, filling the container provided for the test, and mailing it for analysis.
Anyone who knows how to do a soil test can tell you that there isn't just one way to take a soil sample. Collecting a sample for soil testing is a simple process that can be approached from different angles depending on how thorough you'd like to be. One approach may be to separate areas of the lawn into their own samples. This is an excellent approach for determining if different areas of the lawn have different needs. The drawback to this method may be the cost if you are paying for your testing.
When diagnosing a customer's yard, I tend to stick to a single soil sample. I will draw my sample from areas of the lawn that seem to be afflicted by similar ailments. I will walk the yard thoroughly, examining symptoms as I go just in case I catch something I overlooked on my initial examination. As I locate problem areas of the lawn, I will collect a core or two from each site.
When collecting the soil sample, use a soil probe (whether purchased or home-made) to plunge into the soil and pull a core from the ground. You'll want to gather your sample from about 6-8 inches on average to be sure you are collecting from the root zone. I'll typically make a note for myself stating the sample's depth just in case.
Something I've done to keep my samples consistent and collect efficiently is to paint my soil probe using my depth measurements. This allows me to quickly plunge to the appropriate depth and pop out the soil section I need into the bucket.
Keep in mind that you should handle your specimen appropriately as you learn how to do a soil test for the first time. As you go, keep your cores gathered in a bucket or container to be transferred later. Depending on the sample kit you've been provided, you may be looking at around 15 soil cores to get a full sample. Once you feel you have enough soil to test, simply take the soil you've collected, and mix it thoroughly. This is to improve the sample's consistency and get a good average result for that individual sample.
Be sure to use gloves when possible, as some sources suggest that your hands' oils can disrupt the test results.
When the sample is mixed, remember to remove excess rock from the batch, transfer your soil to the container sent by your testing facility and mail it to be assessed. Most testing facilities seem to have a turnaround of about a week once the soil sample is received. This will, of course, vary by facility and part of the season. Spring and early fall tend to be popular times for soil testing, so production may be backed up, resulting in a slower turnaround.
Now that we know how to do a soil test and we have our results, the next part is pretty simple, really. Depending on what source you've chosen to test your soil, you should have received your tailored lawn recommendations based on the results. Most soil testing facilities will incorporate recommendations for amendments to help you get your soils back to ideal. But, suppose you don't see them right away. In that case, you can reach out to the facility for recommendations directly or find a local professional. There are plenty of resources available to help you decipher your results and build a solution to any problem areas you've pinpointed. If all else fails, don't be afraid to shoot me a message online. I'd love to help you out!
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