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Brandon Rushing


How To Know if Your Soil Is Healthy

You don’t have to rely on luck to have a lush, green lawn

Nothing is more frustrating than looking out at your yard and seeing bare patches, weeds and brown grass when what you were hoping to see is a lawn that’s green and lush.

Oftentimes, the problem is a lack of proper nutrients.

If your soil is lacking in phosphorus, for example, your lawn won’t grow as vigorously as you would expect it to. 

But too much phosphorus results in stunted growth. And phosphorus isn’t the only nutrient your lawn needs either… It needs nitrogen and potassium too. It also needs some organic matter… but again not too much.

It can all get a bit confusing, so you might be tempted to just buy a bag of fertilizer, cross your fingers and hope for the best.  

But even that can be confusing. Do you get 16-4-8…10-10-10…15-0-15…? And what do those numbers actually mean? (See our post on how (and when) to fertilize your lawn.) 

To fix the problem you need to do a little digging (literally) and figure out exactly what your soil needs.  

You need to get your soil tested!

What will a soil test tell me?

A soil test will tell you a number of things about your soil’s composition, such as:

  • The pH level of your soil. Soils generally range from an extremely acidic pH of 3 to a very alkaline pH of 10, with most plants preferring a slightly acidic pH of 6.5. The sweet spot for cool-season turf grasses like we have here in Northern Virginia is between 6.5 and 7.
  • The level of macronutrients in your soil, specifically nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. This is what determines how much commercial fertilizer you’d use, as the numbers on the bag refer to how much of each is included in the mix. If your soil needs nitrogen and potassium, but not phosphorus, for example, you could get a bag labeled 15-0-15.
  • The level of secondary and micronutrients in your soil, such as calcium, magnesium, sulfur, and other trace elements. It’ll also tell you if your soil contains harmful levels of other elements, like lead, aluminum, and salts.
  • Your soil’s texture. This refers to the amount of small (clays), medium (silts), and large (sands) size particles in your soil. Soil texture matters because it determines how much water, nutrients and organic matter your soil can retain, which affects its fertilization requirements. 
  • How much organic matter, also referred to as compost, is in your soil. Compost is “black gold” for gardeners and should represent 5% of your soil’s composition.

How do I test my soil?

You can pick up a soil test kit at most libraries. Kits are free, but you’ll have to mail it to Virginia Tech and pay a fee for processing. This is something we do for each new customer as part of our service.

The process is simple:

  • Your kit should have a core aerator tool to make it easy to take a sample, but if it doesn’t you can use a shovel. The important thing is to make sure you dig down six inches. You need a sliver of soil that goes from the surface all the way down to the six-inch mark.
  • Put the sample in a bucket and collect several more samples from different areas around your yard, adding them to the bucket as you go.
  • Remove rocks, roots, thatch and any other materials from the samples and mix them all together.
  • Put the soil in the container provided and mail it off to be tested.

Once you get the analysis back you can determine the proper amount of fertilizer and organic matter to add to your lawn.

One of the first things we do for new clients is a complimentary test of their soil. From there, we know what to recommend to get their pH up to the proper level, which is usually a combination of lime and micronutrients.

Your soil needs regular testing to stay healthy

Testing your soil isn’t a “one and done” proposition.

Once you get the kind of lawn you can really sink your toes into — you want to keep it that way! So it’s a good idea to get your soil tested every three years to make sure the nutrient levels haven’t changed and are still in balance.

Conditions are always changing, and it’s the only way to know for sure if your soil is lacking certain elements — just adding lime every year is no guarantee that your pH level is optimal.

If you’d rather not test your soil yourself, check out our Lawn and Garden Care Programs and give us a call or book a consultation

The lawn care specialists at Brandon Rushing will test your soil for you and create a lawn care plan that’s right for your soil — and give you a lawn you can be proud of!

Written by Brandon Rushing, Founder & President

Posted on: September 15th, 2022