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How To Test Your Soil

What’s up ya’ll? Hope your late August is going well! Hard to believe but this is really the peak of summer. I know your kids have all gone back to school, but I assure you, summer is NOT over.

If you have a warm-season lawn, you should keep pushing the fert! (or maybe you prefer this version) Whichever way your music tastes swing, your lawn is pushing mega roots and the soil microbes are going nuts along with them, making conditions ripe. These hot days are when the most progress is made. Keep her fed, frequently trimmed and properly irrigated and she will perform like a champ. Just look at my St Augustine (its Floratam) from this weekend’s video:

 That lawn hasn’t had any macro fert since very late May... ...Now I’m using the Bio-Stimulants to keep my lawn green down here in Florida where me and my bro’s all have fert restrictions…. But still, look how green it is. I keep it irrigated (the rain does) and it continues to push hard. Warm season grasses love to push growth in the hot months.

But as you will see this weekend, the lack of Nitrogen is starting to take a toll in some spots. Make sure to subscribe to the channel so you can see how I address it this coming weekend.

And that is part of what we are going to talk about today when we talk about soil testing, but for now, warm season grass friends just know: this is still go time for you. Be throwing down 1/2 LB/N every 4-5 weeks while temps remain over 85 during the day. For most of us, that’s well into September.

Cool season friends, no worries for you… your lawn is probably struggling right now, that’s normal. Even if you are irrigating properly (deep and infrequent) mowing properly, and keeping an eye out for disease and insects, you are still likely going to face challenges.

Good news for you is, the fall is almost here and that is when your Kentucky Bluegrass, Perennial Rye or Turf Type Tall Fescue is going to turn up the production in prep for winter. Between you and me, I think a cool season lawn can look its best in fall time, and Halloween is a good target date to get things thick and beautiful heading into 2019. Whether you are planning to aerate and overseed, or just keep on ferting, Halloween is a great target.

But what if you are starting from scratch, right now? What are some basics to understand?

No matter what your grass type, let’s start with a soil test:

Now for my example today, I’m starting with a fellow Floridian, Jeff P. He has fertilizer blackouts right now just like me, but he can still get prepared and start correcting his micro issues. Either way, this soil test could have come from any lawn, anywhere in the country and that is how we are going to address this today so it should apply to all of you. This is how I would address a lawn with this resulting test from Soil Savvy:

Ok so the first let’s set a couple things right.

  1. You do not have to correct ALL of the problems on the test in one application. This is a directional strategy - keep moving in the right direction with each additional application you do. Reason being, is elements in the soil respond to treatments just like the lawn does. As the soil becomes more healthy (soil organisms increase) more nutrients are unlocked naturally in the soil. This is one of the reasons I am endorsing Humates and Sea Kelp and other such Bio-Stimulants.

  2. The Soil Savvy test shows you what is currently available in your soil. This is different from conventional soil tests that show you everything in the soil even if it’s locked up and not available to plants. (see #1 above) You should plan to test at least 2x per year. Early spring when the ground is not frozen, and again just before Fall. Plot your results and adjust your program based on the data.

  3. Remember, N-P-K are the Mac-Daddy Macros, with Nitrogen being the one we pay most attention to as it is the one that pushes the fastest visual response when applied (N doesn’t stay active in soil long either, so it will probably always show up low, don’t be alarmed). Point is, the amount of N you need is 4 time greater than the amount of micronutrient Iron (Fe). I’m calling this out because you can see the recommended “parts per million” on the chart there and the macros are much greater than the micros. Make sure you look at that and understand it as you formulate your strategy.

You don’t have to add EVERY SINGLE one of these to your lawn. Boron for example, is needed is such small quantities, there is no need to try and add it to your soil. Remember, grass lives on the side of highways with no problems. The better strategy is to let your soil correct itself by keeping things properly irrigated, utilizing bio-stimulants (optional but recommended) and add organic fertilizers (Milo or Ringer or whatever you can find) to the lawn when you do apply.

MacroNutrients N-P-K

Based on Jeff’s report, once the fert restrictions are lifted at the end of September, definitely get some starter fertilizer down. Get something with a balanced N-P-K. I know the test itself recommends a 16-16-16 but that is once again, just directional.

You don’t have to run out and find a perfect 16-16-16 fert analysis. In fact, you probably can’t find that. But we can still get good info from the reco. See how they are recommending that 16-16-16 be applied at 2.75 lbs/1000 sq ft?

That is the data we need. What they are telling you is to get down:

  • .44 lbs per 1,000 sq ft each of N-P-K

That’s because, as you know: 2.75 x .16 = .44

That is just under ½ LB per 1000 sq ft of each of the 3 elements. It’s not a “1 and done” - remember, it’s directional. Keep headed that way and then retest. Almost like a doctor taking bloodwork every few months.

Now, if you can’t find that perfect fert (likely you won’t), then just know that getting down about 1/2 lb of those elements is important.  Maybe you get it by using 2 different ferts (don’t physically mix them together in the hopper).

For example, if you had Ringer Lawn Restore and Milorganite you could cover off on all 3 elements pretty easily and you’d keep the N rates higher which is what I recommend anyway, especially in growth periods. (Jeff’’s St Aug never goes dormant where he lives so it’s always a growth period).

So to go ahead and work towards correcting the Macro issues in the report, I’d first apply an application of Milorganite at 10 LBs/1000 sq ft.

Milo is a 6-4-0 analysis.

That would give us .6lbs N and .4LBs Phosphorus - a good start. You’re also getting iron which is what gives the lawn that dark blue look when you apply it. Bonus!

Next, about 4 weeks later (maybe 3), I’d hit it with Ringer Lawn Restore at 5lbs/1000 sq ft.

Ringer is a 10-0-6 which is going to bring us an additional .5LBs/N and a nice .3LBs/K.

So are you done? Nope. I recommend you keep on this rotation for 3-4 months or so… throw down light doses of Milo or Ringer every 4-5 weeks or so. Watch the lawn respond. Does it look good? Is it growing vigorously? If so, I’d call it good but still, test again just for the sake of the data. See what you come up with, but remember, this isn’t the only part of the strategy.

Next on the report, you’ll notice Calcium is quite low. There are any number of forms of Lime (Calcium Carbonate) that will provide a readily available source of calcium. Jonathan Greene’s Mag-i-cal comes to mind, it should be available at garden centers in most states.

Now, Lime also has the ability to raise pH which is a bonus for us here, but it takes A LOT of lime to raise the pH in lawn soil… sometimes hundreds of pounds per acre! So in this case, I am just telling you to add the lime as a way to get Calcium in the soil which the microbes will love! If the pH corrects a bit as a result, then that’s another bonus in the plan.

I’d recommend a lime application in the spring and early fall. Your rates will vary widely based on the product you get, feel free to Throw’er Down!

MicroNutrients

Finally, we get down to the Micros. Keep in mind these don’t have to be applied quite so often since they are needed in smaller quantities. And just like the macros, you don’t have to fill every bucket to the brim with each application. Once again, use the report to know what you need and make sure you get those elements into the soil. Of course for me, I like the 0-0-2 MicroGreene from Greene County Fertilizer. It checks several of the boxes for us including:

That’s a great balanced product and I can tell you that at rates as low as 9oz/1000 I’ve seen a nice visual response in my St Augustinegrass. It brings an interesting silvery-blue color that I have not seen when using other iron/micro-nutrient products.

Of course, as with most of the Greene County products, this is juiced with Humic Acid and the growth stimulating Coldwater Kelp (which is what makes me love RGS so much too BTW).

This is the ultimate product for anyone wanting to correct micronutrient deficiencies, but also for those who like to flex the dark green color of their lawn. It’s also the perfect Florida/Coastal blackout product.

In fact, large sections of my St Aug in the front are starting to really show pale from the lack of nitrogen (because I too live in a blackout zone) so this weekend I’ll be throwing down some 0-0-2 MicroGreene and RGS to boost the color back until I can fert again in October. If you are curious how to apply this product via a hose-end sprayer, stay tuned to the channel as I’ll be testing a new one as well.

I’d recommend you apply 0-0-2 MicroGreene at 9oz/gallon/1000 sq ft every 3-4 weeks in between your regular fertilizer applications. This will extend “extend the green between” and allow you to really flex the color profile during the season.  At the 9 oz rate, 1 gallon of 0-0-2 MicroGreene will cover 14,200 sq ft. (128 / 9 = 14.222)


Extra Color Boost Needed - Double Dark

Ok for those of you who really want to push the green and still help correct soil micronutrient deficiencies, consider the “Double Dark.”

This is a favorite cocktail from my menu and utilizes 0-0-2 MicroGreene and 7-0-0 Greene Effect together.

This one is really all about stimulating a color pop. On the back side, however, it will even out your micro-nutrient load which is good for everything else the turf is trying to do, namely photosynthesis. I was using this in between my regular fert apps in spring to extend the color pop and it’s worked nicely.

  • 9 oz 0-0-2 MicroGreene
  • 6 oz 7-0-0 Greene Effect

This one should be done from a pump sprayer or hose-end and keep it even and consistent across the lawn. Any areas you get too heavy on will be darker and if you miss any spots, you’ll be able to tell - so make sure you watch what you are doing here. This also makes a nice addition to your domination line if you want to get it just a little darker on the edges.

Note: There is a lot of iron in this so don’t add anything more than just the 9 and 6 oz doses.

Note2: This is not ok for summer Florida blackout apps. You should stick to only the 0-0-2 Micro.

With that, I hope this email has helped you in some way, and I’ll see YOU in the lawn!

AL