Stop worrying about your grass and start worrying about your dirt. As a professional turf grass manager, I am actually fairly uninterested in turf. I spend all of my time managing soil. I know that by creating fertile soil, my customers will have the nicest lawns in town.
Managing dirt is a complex task that even people with degrees in Soil Science will admit having more to learn. Volumes of books and scientific articles have been written on the subject and I would never be able to disclose everything you would need to know in this article. However, I do hope to reveal enough information to convey the importance of soil to you in growing quality turf.
There are three important factors to consider when evaluating your soil: Soil Texture, Nutrients and Chemistry. Each of these factors needs to be evaluated independently and actions taken to create the ideal growing environment for your turf.
Soil is a mixture of sand, silt and clay. The percentage of each element determines the type of soil your lawn has. Ideal soil is composed of 40% sand, 40% clay and 20% silt. In Kansas City, the ideal soil texture is usually nothing but a dream as we have a much higher percentage of clay. However, this can be improved. First, you have to determine your soil makeup. This requires getting your hands dirty. Take a handful of dirt and roll the soil in your hand until it’s about the size of a golf ball. Then, gently squeeze the soil between your thumb and index finger. Sand feels gritty, silt feels more like talcum powder and clay feels slippery. Now squeeze the ball in your hand. If it crumbles, it has a well-balanced texture. If it holds its shape, it has a fair amount of clay. And if you can roll it into a snake, it has more clay than you want. This method can only act as an indicator. A soil test performed by a qualified laboratory will give you more accurate and scientific results. However, if your soil has too much clay, you will need to alleviate the problem with aeration and topdressing or completely renovating the area and adding organic matter.
Soil holds nutrients which are then used by the turf to grow thick and lush. Evaluating the nutrient status of your soil is an important step in developing a quality turf. The best way to find out what your soil needs to nourish healthy turf is to have it tested by a professional laboratory. This can either be done by our local extension office or at a private lab.
Any fertilizing done by a homeowner or professional without a soil test is a shot in the dark at best. Short term results can be gained. However, you will not get the long term results desired by most homeowners. Additionally, you will be wasting nutrients as you dump excess nutrients on your lawn just to assure all your bases are covered. A soil test will cost you less than $20 and will give you benefits many times that. A good soil test will give you quantities of Organic Matter, Available Phosphorus, Exchangeable Potassium, Magnesium, Calcium, Iron and Soluble Salts. Based on these results, a knowledgeable professional will be able to create a nutrition program for your lawn.
In addition to soil nutrition and texture, a good soil test will also provide you with information about the chemistry of your soil. The process of transferring the nutrients into soil requires a complex chain of chemical reactions that can only happen if several elements are in balance. The most important of these is pH. In Kansas City, our soils tend to be alkaline and need to be amended with Lime to provide an ideal growing environment. How lime and other chemicals react with the soil requires knowledge of cation exchange sites, particle attractions and base saturations. All of these come into play just to grow the grass you like to look at from your window.
This month, when you see your neighbors playing in the dirt making muddy snakes and dirty golf balls, you will know they are on their way to having a beautiful lawn.
|Published on October 20th, 2008||Posted by Jeff Hamons|