PPLM Soil Sample FAQ Series, Part One:
Professional Soil Analysis
A soil analysis is testing performed on a sample of soil taken from a property. In addition to its usefulness in farming, turf management is a growing branch of agriculture that utilizes soil analysis data to perfect fertilizer programs for local service areas. For more and more professional lawn maintenance companies like PPLM, a soil analysis is being built into fertilization programs as a valuable and eye opening service.
A core of soil collected as part of a lawn’s soil sample.
Consider the process of going to the doctor’s office when you’re feeling unwell. If all the doctor does is look at you from across the room and ask you a few questions, they are limited to qualitative data. They may get an idea of what is wrong, but their recommended treatments will likely be to address your symptoms, and they will have to make an educated guess as to the cause of your illness. However, if the doctor performs an exam and tests such as bloodwork, they will have much quantitative data to pinpoint what is making you sick and can address the cause as well as the symptoms.
The same principle applies to a lawn. When turf is feeling unwell, asking a professional fertilization company to fix it is not as easy a task as it may seem. Like the doctor, an educated guess can be made and the symptoms observed can be treated, but so much more can be gleaned from quantitative data. A soil analysis in this way is the turf management equivalent to bloodwork. Soil evaluation of a property gives professionals and homeowners alike the data they need to best identify where there is room for improvement.
A mix of soil inside a bucket that has been collected as a soil sample.
What is the Purpose of Getting a Soil Analysis?
A yearly soil analysis is very useful when it comes to monitoring the progress of your soil nutrients and chemical values. The levels of soil acidity, soil macronutrients, soil micronutrients, cation exchange capacity, nutrient ratios, and organic matter content are all measurable variables that directly impact the health and appearance of a lawn. These levels can vary and change based on the geological composition of the soil, the amount of decaying organic matter from the environment, the amount of rainfall and pollution in an area, and many other external factors.
A bagged soil sample that is ready to be sent to a lab for testing.
The quantitative information from a soil analysis:
● – Sheds greater light on what parts of the puzzle might be missing in a lawn’s soil composition and fertility
● – Gives professional applicators the chance to better customize a property’s fertilizer program
● – Clues a homeowner in to what’s involved in the care of their lawn
Because these levels can differ widely between yards based on so many uncontrollable variables, a soil analysis is an irreplaceable tool in determining whether these key soil levels are where they need to be to support a healthy lawn.
An example of a property’s soil analysis results showing deficiencies in pH and several nutrients.
What Time of Year is a Soil Analysis Done?
Professional turf management companies generally collect soil samples for soil analysis in the beginning of the year before the first round of spring fertilizer. This is the point at which the nutrient levels in your soil are most at rest and therefore provide the most accurate data for the overall quality of your soil. For clients that sign up mid-season for a fertilizer program, some companies like PPLM will still try to do a soil sample then so that the program applied to the lawn can be customized from the start.
With each round of fertilizer, nutrient levels fluctuate up and down as they change. Nutrient levels go up from input which is influenced by fertilizer applications and environmental factors. They then go down with nutrient output which is influenced by absorption of nutrients by turf and other plants or leaching from soil, among other factors. A soil analysis is most insightful when soil nutrient levels are resting at a lower point that hasn’t been skewed by artificial input from a recent fertilizer application.
A professional applicator from PPLM collects a soil sample for a property in January.
Who is Taking my Soil Sample?
For homeowners who are taking on the “Do It Yourself” method of soil sampling to receive a soil analysis, there are many resources available on how to do this correctly for the best success. If a professional turf management company is collecting and submitting a soil sample, a trained member of their team will be collecting the soil sample. With PPLM, a soil sample is always taken by a trained member of the PPLM fertilization division to make sure that it is handled by someone who is familiar with the property and the needs of an accurate soil evaluation. Upon arrival, the team member visiting a property rings the client’s doorbell to let them know that the team member is walking the yard and to see if you have any questions.
PPLM’s co-owner and head of the fertilization division Brandyn says “cheese” while taking a soil sample for a service property.
How is a Soil Sample Collected?
Most DIY soil sample collection methods that are recommended involve using a small hand shovel to dig up a section of soil. Professional turf management companies uses quality metal soil probes to collect cores of soil instead, and these probes are available to purchase at most lawn and landscape retail stored. No matter the tool, cores should be collected from an even range of your lawn areas to have a balanced sample for soil analysis.
Soil sample cores that are collected are taken at a specific range of depth that is most impactful to turfgrass, usually three to six inches from the surface. The top inch should be discarded since this is mostly non-soil material such as turf, thatch, or decaying material that would skew the results of the soil analysis. Collected cores are usually mixed in a bucket before being transferred to a container such as a sample bag for submission.
A professional soil probe pushed into a property’s soil at the proper depth.
Does a Soil Analysis Cost Extra?
The cost of a soil analysis is determined by how many and which values are being tested for the soil evaluation, where the soil test is being performed, and whether or not the soil sample was taken by the homeowner or a professional turf management company. With some professionals like PPLM, a soil analysis will already be included in a client’s service program to keep costs simple and make sure that this valuable service is performed. In general, a low-end cost for a basic soil test ranges from $10-$20 for DIY homeowners. A professional soil evaluation in which a turf management company pulls a soil sample, submits it, and interprets the soil analysis for the homeowner ranges from $20-$50 or more in value.
A soil sample is poured into a bag to be submitted for analysis at a lab.
A professional soil analysis is a valuable tool in evaluating nutrient density and soil composition for a homeowner’s lawn. In the coming installments for this four part soil sample FAQ series with PPLM, we will consider the basics of interpreting a soil analysis, the value of corrective treatments based on soil evaluation results, and how a soil analysis can change for a property over an extended period of time. A soil test is a useful and affordable tool, but having a trained and experienced professional helping a homeowner interpret it and make adjustments to a fertilization program is guaranteed to make all the difference for a lawn’s success.
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● – Tailored and Detailed Fertilization Programs
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● – Aeration and Overseeding
● – Mosquito Control
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● – Plus More…….
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