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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
At the suggestion of John, I'm starting a thread here to discuss the use of soil samples.

My personal research, mainly the result of reading on numerous lawn forums, is that getting the soil right is one of the major necessities of having the best lawn in the neighborhood. Obviously, the basics (mowing, irrigation, fertilization, etc) would take precedence as having perfect soil alone would not accomplish much.

This is my personal experience:

2014 - I maintained a HOC of 1.5" and watered the grass when it showed signs of needing it. True Green took care of the weeds and fertilizing. The end result was that I had a nice yard, but it wasn't much different than anyone else's in the neighborhood.

Here is a pic from June 25, 2014:



2015 - I discontinued True Green's services and I had Logan Labs analyze my soil. MorpheusPA analyzed my results and gave me a program to follow for the year. The link to that thread, is: http://forums2.gardenweb.com/discussions/2950556/i-want-the-best-yard-in-the-neighborhood. At that time I was still using a rotary mower, but the results were a huge improvement over the prior year. I can't remember for sure, but I think I maintained the HOC at roughly 1.5". It might have been closer to 1" though.

Here is a pic from June 27, 2015:



2016 - Life got in the way and I didn't have a soil test done. I was barely able to keep up with the mowing, but I was using a TruCut C-27 and maintained the HOC at .75" for most of the year before falling behind and going to 1". I started the year off with a balanced fertilizer and then used a high N fertilizer about ever six weeks for the balance of the year. I put down 300 pounds of Soybean Meal (100# per app - spread over 9.6k square feet) sporadically through out the season. The lawn looked better than 2014, but never as good as 2015.

So my questions would be:

  • Do you take soil samples?
  • If so, how often?
  • Do you use a local ag office, or someone like Logan Labs?
  • How important do you feel it is to manage the macro and micro nutrient levels?
  • How important do you feel OM is for a great lawn?
  • Is there anyone here that is proficient in analyzing soil sample results?

I have sent off samples again this year and will most likely have them "read" on another site unless someone here is capable of doing so. My intent for this thread is to start a discussion and in reality, I'm hoping to find a mixed bag of results. Perhaps one of us here with a high end lawn gets soil tests every year, and another has never had one done but still has exceptional turf.

Also, at this point in the life of the forum, I think almost everyone here has southern lawns since the "Cool Season" forum is still devoid of a single post. It could be that southern lawns (certainly Bermuda) are more forgiving. In TX, native Bermuda, will spring up anywhere and seems to require very little care to survive. The care necessary for Cool Season lawns may require a heavy level of soil management to produce excellent results.

*Post edited to add pictures :D
 

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Wes said:
  • Do you take soil samples?
  • If so, how often?
  • Do you use a local ag office, or someone like Logan Labs?
  • How important do you feel it is to manage the macro and micro nutrient levels?
  • How important do you feel OM is for a great lawn?
  • Is there anyone here that is proficient in analyzing soil sample results?
I don't take soil samples for my lawn.

I had one completed for my wife's vegetable garden with recommendations by my county extension center (OSU ag office). I received easy to follow written instruction to amend the soil for optimum growing conditions. Basically, a recommendation to add a balanced fertilizer (1-1-1) at the beginning of the year, then Nitrogen only fertilizer (1-0-0) the remainder of the year with amounts dependent on vegetable variety. Following these instructions gave us some of the highest veggie yields we've ever had!

I'm not opposed to soil testing or having someone with a background/education in horticulture interpret the test and recommend amendments. I just don't feel its necessary unless you have issues or concerns with your turf.

Macro/Micronutrient levels can be tricky, and there has been some discussion around the web about how important/unimportant these are for turf grasses (warm & cool season). The biggest issue that I've had with this topic, is the lack of evidence for or against Micronutrient management in Turf. With all that being said, I use an organic fertilizer (milorganite 5-0-2) on my lawn that includes some of the very same Micronutrients that you are referring too, and I like it.

OM is both good and bad depending on what you want from the lawn. The average homeowner looking for a healthy green lawn, OM is overall good. The added OM will help hold moisture, better control ground temperatures and promote healthy insect/fungus/bacterial levels. The amount of OM required to increase the % of OM in your lawn is very high. Adding 1 ton of compost per 1K of lawn would still only increase the OM percentage slightly, this can be a long (and expensive) process, but 100% doable over time.

However. The Homeowner interested in a sports field Bermuda lawn, OM should be managed at lower levels. This route requires more attention to input levels in the turf but allows the grass to be maintained at a much lower HOC with fewer scalping issues.

The answer to your last question is also tricky... Sure, I could look at your test and give you proficient recommendations for the season, but who is to say I know anything? If you feel it's needed, I'd rather send you to an educated professional like those used by turf managers all over the world and get you answers to the issues with your soil based on science.
 

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Great thread!

I'll add that I think it's really tough for homeowners to accurately compare results year to year and attribute which part of the changes were the result of soil amendments. There are lots of moving parts, so it gets really hard to see which changes are affecting what.

Other sites hit really hard the idea of yearly soil testing, and if you have the money, then why not? However, very few of those advocates have Bermuda lawns. Bermuda will grow in pure sand with enough input, so working on the proper inputs should come before perfecting a few parts per million of a deficient nutrient. I think the theory is that if you can eliminate any soil issues, that leaves just the homeowner inputs as a variable. I disagree and tend to turn it around: soil tests should be one of the last things to eliminate because the homeowner inputs are so hard to get right consistently. Put it at the pinnacle of the pyramid, if you will.

Improper watering, wrong HOC, and scalping due to infrequent mowing, even with the use of a PGR, tend to be the biggest hurdles for us homeowners. Mess those up, and the lawn will look like something is wrong. The answer isn't more soil input, but improvement on the basics. I love the idea of getting a soil test when you first get into lawn care, to see where the P and K levels in your lawn are. Like the hippocratic oath: Primum non nocere (first, do no harm), don't put out the wrong fertilizer that is simply adding to a problem. If your soil isn't to far out of balance, I would recommend working really hard to get everything else right first: mowing, HOC (which takes planning a year in advance), watering, herbicide use, and not breaking the 1/3 or even 1/4 rule. Once the lawn looks nearly flawless, your skills are such that you can't improve much more, and the lawn still looks like something is lacking, then maybe further soil amendments are needed. However, 90%+ of us are probably not there yet.
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
Redtenchu said:
However. The Homeowner interested in a sports field Bermuda lawn, OM should be managed at lower levels. This route requires more attention to input levels in the turf but allows the grass to be maintained at a much lower HOC with fewer scalping issues.
Could you expand on this? I think I understand where you are going, but I'm here to learn... and hopefully contribute where I can.

Are you referring to OM % being lowered by using sand to smooth the lawn? If not, I don't know that I understand how having a soil higher in OM would necessarily equate to more scalping issues.

On the other hand - earthworms have been known to create problems for me in the early spring when they surface. The little mounds they make turn fairly hard when they dry but over time they break back down. I believe the high amounts of calcium in my soil creates a strong bond between the soil particles and makes it hard as a rock (maybe a soft rock) when it dries.
 

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Wes said:
Are you referring to OM % being lowered by using sand to smooth the lawn? If not, I don't know that I understand how having a soil higher in OM would necessarily equate to more scalping issues.
Yes, we are on the same track. I'm referring to the overall firmness of the soil with regard to OM%.

When cutting at very low HOCs (0.100-0.375 Inches), the soil density can have a major impact on the actual HOC vs the bench HOC. A soil with less OM will be firmer, have less effect on the HOC. A soil with lots of OM will allow the mower to "sink" into the soil and give inconsistent HOC changes with each pass.

This video is actually about roller selection, but at 3:30 he begins to show how the HOC is changed by the rollers used on your mower. He uses a piece of foam to represent the playing surface. This same effect happens from your soil profile. So, If you will, we want a thinner piece of foam for lower HOC to lessen these HOC effects. This is one of the reasons Golf courses and other sports fields are constantly top dressing the playing surface with sand. ~ I hope that makes some sense.

 

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Wes said:
On the other hand - earthworms have been known to create problems for me in the early spring when they surface. The little mounds they make turn fairly hard when they dry but over time they break back down. I believe the high amounts of calcium in my soil creates a strong bond between the soil particles and makes it hard as a rock (maybe a soft rock) when it dries.
Earthworms can definitely be annoying. I take a large push broom over the most affected areas before running the mower, but I don't normally have an issue with them turning hard like you're describing.
 

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Tifgrand—7,500 sq/ft—Baroness LM56
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What Red is talking about, really only affects you when you are cutting your lawn below .500". The lower you go the greater the effect of "spongey" turf. I for one am going to start incorporating more sand into the soil profile to help alleviate this issue. Also having all that OM on the top layer of the soil can actually prevent water and nutrients from getting down to the roots. All I am saying is that if OM is do great for everything why hasn't the USGA and other sports field managers/scientist recommended building up the OM in the soil? Everything I have read on the subject recommends removing as much organic material as possible.

With all that being said, If you are mowing high with a rotary mower then yes, I can see the advantages of adding OM to the soil and letting it work itself down into the root zone but that could take decades to happen. On another note, from my casual observations from being on various lawn forums over the years, I have RARELY seen an all organic lawn in the South, I don't know whether it is the high temps down here or what but it just doesn't seem to work on the scale it does up North.
 

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This is basically what I shared via PM, but in the interest of posterity...

I don't do a soil test every year, and when I do it is mostly just to make sure I don't have any severe deficiencies. Bermuda is a resilient turf that responds well to balanced fertilizers, and I am in the camp that says it may actually perform better over the long haul with less organic matter.

When I do submit a soil test it is to my university county extension office. They provide several documents on how to submit a sample, how to read the report, and how to interpret the numbers on the report:


I have found this to be adequate for my needs. They use the Mehlich­-3 soil test method and recommend fertilizer rates that optimize plant growth and replenish macronutrients. They print the extractable levels of micronutrients on the report, but only suggest corrections to a few of them if an extreme condition exists. This is due to limited information available on plant response to most of the micros. They recommend that plant tissue and soil analyses should be used together to assess the need for application of most micronutrients. Tissue tests would be something I would only consider if I had taken my lawn as far as I could go and something was still off. Unfortunately, I'm still at the level where I think the appearance of my yard would benefit more from an extra cut each week than adjusting micronutrient levels.

I know there are people on other message boards that read soil tests and will provide intricate plans for correcting nutrient levels, and I'm not saying it doesn't help, but I just don't feel like it is necessary to have fantastic looking bermuda. All that said, there is definitely not a single correct path when it comes to lawn care.
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
This is all great info... especially regarding OM and the HOC. I noticed last year when I began mowing with a reel mower at the lowest setting (3/8") on my TruCut, that I would get a definitive line on each pass. At first I thought this might have been due to the gradual sloping of my yard - especially in areas where I have small hills.

It should be noted that these "hills" don't typically have a significant slope. Based on what I have seen on golf courses, the slope should not be the only cause of the uneven cut. I had not considered the fact that softer soil would actually allow the roller to sink a little more from one pass to the next. My only solution had been to go back and cut in a different direction, but that still would leave small lines between each pass.

I am planning on sanding the yard for the first time this year - assuming time and finances allow (new baby coming at the end of June). It will be interesting to see how much this improves the quality of cut. I have seen the difference it can make in others lawns, but I always attributed this to "leveling" and never considered how the lack of "sponginess" could help.

I'm learning so much here!
 

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Discussion Starter · #10 ·
For what it's worth, the heavy amount of moderation on ATY is frustrating. Had I not already paid for soil samples, I wouldn't even bother with it there. Morepheus was previously helping people on gardenweb.com, but someone there pissed him off and he left. He appears to only be helping on ATY now.

I say all this, not to create drama here, but simply to vent someplace that I feel safe doing so. Well, also to say, I probably won't worry about a soil test next year. I'll go with the overall information I can gather from everyone here. It doesn't seem like many here are using soil tests and all have lawns that I covet, so why go through the frustration and spend the money?
 

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As I mentioned earlier, I think you can have a fantastic looking bermuda lawn without relying on a specific person to interpret your soil tests. I never cared for the idea of painting myself into that corner.
 

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I'd recommend Texas A&M Agrilife Extension for soil testing and soil amendment recommendations for the state of Texas. I haven't used them myself (obviously) but I would feel much better having sent you to someone with a degree in the field of horticulture. This same lab does soil tests for farms growing wheat, corn, apples and yes... even Bermuda Sod farms!

If these Texas farmers are trusting their livelihood on the recommendations from this lab, surly you can trust them with your lawn.

It wouldn't make much sense to have your soil test interpreted by someone that flies or repairs cargo airplanes or engineers natural gas sites...right?
:nod: :nod: :nod:

With all that being said... I will still not be getting a soil test this year, just buying more Milorganite!
:mrgreen:
 

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I probably have the lowest OM% of anyone on the site and my lawn performs nicely. I do have to keep my P and K levels up and manage them preseason and post season. I typically drop Milo and slow release balanced fertilizer early in the season along with some gypsum in unison with aerating. Once it really heats up, I keep the Bermuda happy with monthly granular N,timely mowing, and periodic verticutting.
During the growing season, I keep the Paspalum happy with occasionally sips of iron, micros, and light doses of Calcium Nitrate, all of them in liquid form.
 

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Tifgrand—7,500 sq/ft—Baroness LM56
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southernguy311 said:
I probably have the lowest OM% of anyone on the site and my lawn performs nicely. I do have to keep my P and K levels up and manage them preseason and post season. I typically drop Milo and slow release balanced fertilizer early in the season along with some gypsum in unison with aerating. Once it really heats up, I keep the Bermuda happy with monthly granular N,timely mowing, and periodic verticutting.
During the growing season, I keep the Paspalum happy with occasionally sips of iron, micros, and light doses of Calcium Nitrate, all of them in liquid form.
I would be curious to hear more about your experiences with liquid fertilizer?? Maybe start a new thread about it? It's something I've always wanted to dabble in😀
 

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Mightyquinn said:
southernguy311 said:
I probably have the lowest OM% of anyone on the site and my lawn performs nicely. I do have to keep my P and K levels up and manage them preseason and post season. I typically drop Milo and slow release balanced fertilizer early in the season along with some gypsum in unison with aerating. Once it really heats up, I keep the Bermuda happy with monthly granular N,timely mowing, and periodic verticutting.
During the growing season, I keep the Paspalum happy with occasionally sips of iron, micros, and light doses of Calcium Nitrate, all of them in liquid form.
I would be curious to hear more about your experiences with liquid fertilizer?? Maybe start a new thread about it? It's something I've always wanted to dabble in😀
Same here. I'd like to hear more.
 
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