Lawn Patrol: Take the pH Test

Testing your soil's pH level is an important first step in a lawn makeover.
Test Soil pH

Test Soil pH

A healthy lawn needs soil with a balanced pH level- usually between 5-7 depending on the type of grass. If the pH level is too high (alkaline), you can add sulfate with a broadcast spreader. If your pH level is too low (acidic), you add lime the same way. Be sure to read the directions on additives to make sure you don’t over/under treat your lawn. Once adjustments have been made, water the lawn and test the soil pH again in 30 days.

Photo by: Flynnside Out Productions

Flynnside Out Productions

By: Paul Cox
Related To:

A friend of mine recently posted to his Facebook page that, now that Labor Day has come and gone, he had tucked away his seersucker suit for the season and closeted his white shoes until Easter.

I thought, “Who in their 30s wears seersucker?” Maybe more than I initially would guess? But then he also wears bow ties. And we do live in Atlanta.

Even for those of us who don’t shop in the Matlock section of Macy’s, the flipping of the desk calendar past Labor Day means the process of saying goodbye to summer and welcoming fall has begun. Neighborhood pools generally close for the year about now, and school-age kids likely have just finished breaking in their new teachers. And for those who have — or want to have — a lawn with cool season grass such as fescue, it’s nearly time to spread seed or lay new sod.

There’s an extremely important first step in the process of a lawn makeover that Gary Peiffer, an agent with the DeKalb County Extension Office in Georgia, says many of us unfortunately leave out: Testing our soil for its pH level.

Soil pH is the measure of a soil’s level of acidity or alkalinity, and it affects how well grass can pick up nutrients from the soil. Check with your extension agent on the best pH level for the grass in your area.

“PH is going to determine how well your grass will grow,” says Peiffer.”PH is the key factor to just about everything.”

In addition to learning the pH level, taking a soil sample will give a pretty good indication of your soil’s texture and structure. Does it include too much clay? Is your soil extremely hard?

Based on what you find when digging into the soil, you could decide to till the soil and work in some organic material before laying down new sod or seed.

There are at-home soil pH testing kits available, or your local extension office should be able to analyze the soil sample you take from your lawn. Peiffer recommends taking samples from a minimum of 10 spots in your lawn, adding that you should dig at least 4 to 6 inches deep (the depth you’ll want your lawn’s roots to grow) and provide the extension office with a clean, dry soil sample. Also, identify what type of grass you plan to grow.

In addition to explaining the results of the test, your extension agent will be able to advise you on how to amend your soil so it’s prepared for that new grass.

If you’re hiring a landscape company to put in a new lawn, don’t assume they’ll take a soil sample and test it. Ask whoever you hire to do a test before they pull up to your house with a truck load of sod. Skipping a soil test could be an expensive mistake. Your costly new sod could die, or you could waste money on fertilizers.

“You need to start off right or you’re just wasting your time,” says Peiffer. “A lot of people balk at the price of a new lawn when they should be putting their money into the soil preparation, really.”

Starting with properly conditioned soil, then giving the sod long waterings, will give your new cool-season lawn the best chance to develop a deep root system — between 4 to 6 inches — so it can survive that warm, dry, seersucker-suit wearing weather next year.

Next Up

Keeping Grass Out

Control stray grass growth, and you'll save hours of time maintaining your planting beds.

Pump Up Your Grass with Pinstripes

Try this cool striping effect when mowing your yard.

5 Reasons Not to Mow Wet Grass

Learn why mowing a wet lawn isn't a good idea, plus get tips on what you should do if you absolutely must cut the grass.

How to Aerate Your Lawn

Lawn aeration encourages deep roots, resulting in a healthy lawn. Learn how to give your grass a breath of fresh air with these aerating tips.

Removing Lawn Thatch

Thatch causes trouble for your lawn when it exceeds 1/2 inch thick. Cutting through and removing thatch will improve your lawn's health.

Cutting Edge Lawn Care

Three unusual lawn trends have some homeowners leaving their mowers in the garage.

Beneficial Clover in Lawns

Paul James shares his top three reasons for loving clover.

Winter Lawn Care

Learn what you should do over winter to keep your lawn looking great next spring and summer.

Plugging and Sprigging a Lawn

Learn how to start a brand-new warm-season lawn or patch an existing one using plugs or sprigs. 

Mowing and Trimming a Lawn

Mowing and trimming -- especially when done properly -- improve the health and appearance of your lawn, reduce its need for water, and lessen maintenance time.

Go Shopping

Spruce up your outdoor space with products handpicked by HGTV editors.

Follow Us Everywhere

Join the party! Don't miss HGTV in your favorite social media feeds.

Related Pages