Friday, April 16, 2010

Soil Testing

One of the most important lawn projects any homeowner takes on is fertilizing. With a recommended application of 4 times per year, the process is time consuming if you do it yourself or expensive if you have your landscaper do it. So what’s the most important factor in a successful fert program? The pH level of your soil. Fertilizer works best when the soil pH is 7.0. New England is known for having acidic soil, especially where oak and pine trees grow. So how do you figure out the pH level of your soil and how do you fix it? The answer is soil testing; not a service you hear a lot about, but one that can make all the difference in your landscape.

Soil testing provides the best lime and fertilizer recommendations, which will help you protect the environment from runoff and leaching of excess fertilizers and save money and conserve energy by recommending the amount of fertilizer you actually need. Overall, it is essential to improving the nutritional balance and overall health of your yard.

When should I test my soil?
Soil sampling can be done at any time. If you are planning a new landscape project, you should test your soil a few months in advance. This will give you enough time to put the recommendations into action. Industry guidelines recommend sampling any established areas once every three to four years.

How do I test my soil?
  1. You can test your soil on your own; UMASS Amherst Soil and Plant Tissue Testing Laboratory offers several different testing options. Learn more at Expect to pay $5-$15 per area for the test. Results are typically sent out within 2 weeks.
  2. Your landscaper can test your soil for you. They will send it out to a group like UMASS, but they will manage taking the samples, sending them out and getting the results back to you. Expect to pay up to $30 per area for the test.
  3. On a single property, the soils can be distinctly different. For example, your yard is most likely comprised of a lawn, a vegetable or flower garden and shrub/tree areas. For each unique area, take at least 8-10 subsamples and combine them to make one sample. If one area of your yard seems healthy and another has bare or yellow areas, sample those areas separately even if both are lawn grasses or flower gardens, etc. You will need one cup of mixed, dry soil per area for the test.
  4. Don’t sample any soil that was recently fertilized. You are trying to get the most accurate data regarding the natural pH and nutrient content of your soil and a recent fertilizing will distort your results.
  5. When testing soil from planted beds, take the sample from the top 6-8 inches (below the mulch). When testing established turf areas, take the sample from the top 3-4 inches.
What now?
Soil test results show your soil’s pH, nutrient and mineral content and advice on how to use lime and fertilizer to cultivate a “well rounded” soil.

Overall, soil sampling is just the first step in the right direction to attaining a healthy and bountiful landscape. Healthy plants and turf grass are also a result of proper watering, good drainage, adequate light and air circulation, proper mowing techniques, dethatching/over-seeding (when necessary) and prevention of soil compaction.

For more information about soil testing or any of our services, call us at 508-881-4136, send us an email at, or visit our website at

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