Balancing Your Soil
The groSMART Lawn & Garden Team has one primary objective…..guiding our customers to achieve balanced soil that will enable them to have a healthy lawn, productive garden and beautiful landscape. Doing so can be a complex and challenging undertaking often requiring remediation over the course of several years as well as an on-going commitment to annual maintenance.
Balance Goes Well Beyond Fertilizer
Obtaining soil balance is the single most important factor in regard to soil fertility and having a healthy, thriving lawn and garden. To achieve maximum plant health there must be a mixture of well-balanced minerals, high organic matter, humus, humic, fulvic and carbonic acids, good aeration and bountiful microbial life.
There are many components to a healthy soil, and they are all important. Healthy soil consists of a balance of both microorganisms and minerals, with organic matter and other nutrient sources.
Your Soil is Alive – The Microbes Need Attention
The biology or life in the soil is at its healthiest when the nutrients are plentiful and balanced, and there is sufficient oxygen and water. In addition, vibrant microbial activity will result in healthier and more productive plants with the vitality to fight-off disease and survive adverse conditions during the stressful times imposed by summer’s heat and winter’s cold temperatures.
The topsoil region is the most vital portion of the soil profile; holding about 70% of the life and 70% of the organic matter. In a typical soil, below 6 inches plant roots are feeding on mostly soluble nutrients since the micro-organisms are not able to thrive due to insufficient oxygen levels. It is critical to maintain the organic matter content in soils for them to remain balanced and healthy.
Some Much to Do – What’s Most Important
While all of the nutrients are important with each playing a very distinct and key role, there are a few primary variables required to have balanced soil with the fertility required to support all that’s planted around the house.
So what are the key concerns for the average homeowner who is not a soil scientist (nor wants to be), has limited time and wants the best value for his/her hard earned dollar?
We recommend focusing on the following best practices. And unless you see poor plant performance you will have excellent “green thumb” results if you give attention to:
Soil pH is the amount of acid or alkaline in a soil. Most plants require a neutral pH or a soil that is balanced. Typically a soil’s pH can range from 4.0, which is extremely acid, up to 9.0, which is very alkaline. A balanced soil is 7.0, which is equivalent to pure water.
The pH is critical because if out of range/balance the plant can’t take up, or take full advantage of the nutrients in the soil – both those there naturally as well as those you might add. Get the pH right, keep it there and all things being equal the plant will thrive.
The proper pH is well-known for improving microbial activity, soil structure, and nitrogen fixation. It also can correct calcium and magnesium deficiencies, and increase nutrients available for plant uptake.
But optimal pH levels are often plant specific. For instance turf type tall fescue thrives when the pH is in a range between 6.2 and 6.8. On other hand your blueberry bushes are happiest in a more acid soil with a pH range of between 5.2 – 5.5.
The best way to test a soil’s pH value is to conduct a groSMART thinkSOIL soilANALYSIS – Don’t Guess….Do a Test!
- Organic Matter %
It is critical to maintain the organic matter content in soils for them to remain balanced and healthy. If the percentage is below 2% you have insufficient level of organic matter and should consider adding a compost top dressing incorporating it in spring and fall via plug aeration.
- Oxygen, Water and Nutrient Penetration
All critical but often difficult to achieve, especially in soils with high clay content. The best way to help getting all into a place where the plant can take them up is by plug aeration which breaks the soil surface by essentially digging small holes in the lawn.
- N – P – K
Nitrogen (N), Phosphorous (P) and Potash (K) are all needed ingredients to achieve soil balance. Of course nitrogen is a key player in plant growth and vigor but always in moderation and applied in the right season. In most instances Phosphorous (P) is naturally found at adequate levels and will be released when the pH is in the proper range.
But for newly sown grass or when transplanting a newly purchased tree or shrub an additional amount of P will aid in germination and overall root development.
Once again doing a groSMART soilANALYSIS will provide a clear view of the phosphorous levels and if low or if renovating the lawn it should be applied by application of a time release fertilizer where the middle number in the analysis is higher than the N or the K.
There are a vast number of variables that must be taken into consideration in the search for “balanced” soil. Many of those variables are environmental, seasonal and based on the type of soil you have in your part of the country (and even varying between areas of the same state). Keeping your soil in balance will be best achieved if you regularly test your soil. From there keep the pH in the proper range, maintain a good level of organic matter in the top of the soil profile, plug aerate every fall (for the lawn of course), water regularly and based on the your soil analysis add N, P, and K as called for in the results.