Soil Testing 101

Before you spend a lot of money to lay down sod, spend a little bit to have your soil tested. Then you'll be sure you're providing the best environment for your new lawn to thrive.

A do-it-yourself kit from a garden center will give readings on pH (how acidic or alkaline your soil is) and the levels of crucial nutrients— nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus. But for the most accurate and complete results, have your soil tested by your county extension service or state university. They'll analyze a sample from your yard and send you a report, like the one shown at right, detailing the soil's pH, texture, and nutrient levels, and recommending how to correct any deficiencies. And it only costs about $15.

Soil can be tested year-round, but it's best done in the spring or fall. To collect a good sample, dig at least five holes, 6 inches deep by 2 inches wide, in various spots in your yard. As you go, avoid or remove any grass, weeds, thatch, or roots. Mix all the samples together, then put about 2 cups of the mix into a zip-seal bag and send it to the lab.

The more information you give with the sample, the more useful its recommendations will be. Note what kind of turf grass you'll be using; whether the yard gets lots of shade, sun, or foot traffic; or if the soil has been recently disturbed due to construction. Just don't wait until the last minute to have a test done. It takes about two weeks to get the lab's results, and then you'll need some more time to correct the soil, if necessary, before your sod goes down.
—Ashley Womble



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