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Soil Test & Analysis – What to Expect and Why

By: Michael Brantley – Client Relationship Manager

Soil tests provide Lawn Dog with key information to better understand what is happening under the surface of your lawn. The soil tests help indicate nutrient deficiencies and pH levels of the soil. The tests also dive pretty deep into other potential limiting factors that could be keeping your turfgrass from reaching its full potential such as Cation Exchange Capacity (CEC), Organic Matter, and how saturated the soil is in several different nutrients.

There are about 17 essential elements required for plant growth: carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, magnesium, sulfur, iron, manganese, zinc, copper, boron, molybdenum, chlorine and nickel. I know that’s A LOT, but each one of these plays its own very important role in how your grass looks!

The 3 most important nutrients for plant growth are:
  • Nitrogen, which is responsible for a strong root system and plant growth. It is also one of the main nutrients that gives your grass that healthy, deep green color we all love! Nitrogen is almost always present in the soil, but it may be in a form that the plant can’t use- adding the proper amount ensures that the grass always has a supply to use when it is needed.
  • Phosphorus is responsible for assisting with the growth of roots (the most important part of the plant) and helps your grass withstand environmental stress and harsh winters. Just like nitrogen, phosphorus is almost always present in the soil but may be in a form the plant can’t use.
  • Potassium is the nutrient that gives the grass its strength, helps the root system retain water, and helps with getting your grass growing strong in the early spring. Potassium acts like a plant “health booster” which helps fight against soil disease and fungus.

What is Soil pH?

Soil pH is how we measure the acidity and alkalinity in soils. The optimal range for the pH when looking at Tall Fescue turf types is between 6.0 and 6.8. If we have a pH that is coming in on the high side, or alkaline (above 6.8), there will need to be applications of sulfur applied at a recommended rate that is given to us by the soil analysis. If we get a low reading on the soil’s pH, acidic, we will need a lime application to raise these numbers up. We must be patient when adjusting the soil’s pH because this can take several seasons to fix depending on how far off the pH is.

Cation Exchange Capacity (CEC)

This is the part where we can get really scientific, but we will keep all of the technical details to ourselves for now. (If you want a more in-depth explanation of this, feel free to call into the office!) CEC is the soil’s ability to hold on to essential nutrients while providing a buffer against soil acidification. In other words, the higher the soils CEC, the more nutrients the soil can hold on to!


Soil tests & analysis are one of the most important steps in having a beautiful and healthy lawn. This helps you get to the root (pun intended) of any issues that your lawn may be having and be able to treat them effectively. How can you provide a treatment without a proper diagnosis? That’s one of many reasons why we offer a soil test & analysis with each of our lawn care packages.

Have more questions or interested in getting an estimate? Fill out the form below or call us at 618-307-6679!

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