Healthy Soils For Healthy Lawns
Ever wonder why two lawns, seemingly growing under the same conditions, on the same maintenance program, look and perform differently? The answer could well be found in the site soil where each individual lawn is planted.
If, for example, you’ve observed the left behind pieces of building materials, unused paint, glue, solvents, and other construction materials tossed out onto the soil before the sod is laid or the lawn seeded, you can imagine the challenge to young grass plants trying to find the right mix of nutrients, air, and water, to sustain healthy growth.
Lawn problems on newly constructed sites are very, very common. Not because the soil is bad, but because of the myriad types of trash and left behind materials on top of the soil, where sod has been installed or grass seed planted. It is not unusual, for new homeowners to have no alternative but to remove the turf, clean up the site soil and reseed or sod the area. So, soil, alone, is not the sole problem when it comes to developing healthy lawns. Still, soil can be an issue.
“Healthy soil”, sustains healthy plant growth and development. The optimum site soil should provide adequate drainage, microbial activity and be free from excessive compaction, in addition to at least some essential and plant-available nutrients.
A key to soil health is organic matter (OM). “OM” is defined as plant and animal residue in various stages of decomposition. Containing carbon and nitrogen for energy and protein, healthy soils literally feed important micro-organisms that, over time, break down organic matter, delivering nutrients to hungry grass plants.
By improving the physical, chemical, and biological characteristics of soils, well-decomposed organic matter also improves soil structure. So, it’s fair to say that decomposing organic matter in the lawn is a key catalyst in an ongoing process that nourishes and maintains plant functions. Soil functions can be impacted by numerous factors. Excess soil compaction, due to small soil particle size, foot and equipment traffic, for example, can force vital air and water from pore spaces between soil particles, choking out plant roots. Soil temperature and acidity or alkalinity, referred to as the soil pH, if too high or low, can slow or stop the microbial activity and the breakdown of both organic matter and fertilizers.
Maintaining optimum growing conditions in most home lawn soils, even where well-balanced topsoil was worked into site soil before planting, should include annual core aeration, once the lawn has been established. Core aeration removes physical soil cores from the top two to three inches of soil. This process improves air and water movement to plant roots and has been shown to improve microbial activity [helping breakdown excessive, choking thatch].
Regarding soil chemistry in the lawn, where soil pH [a measure of relative acidity in the soil] is too acid or too alkaline, amendments should be applied both at the time of seeding or sodding and annually to maintain a healthy balance in the soil. To reduce acidity, soils with a low pH can be treated with surface applications of lime; alkaline soils [with a higher pH, found mainly west of the Mississippi river] can be improved with sulfur to increase acidity. The bottom line, building a great lawn often involves more than simply pouring on the least expensive bag of fertilizer at the local big box store! To learn more about healthy soils, click here.
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