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Soil smarts: tests by the experts 5/11
(This article is adapted from the May 2011 Consumer Reports magazine.)

If you are planning to restore your lawn, create a new garden or re-plant in the same place, your success will depend on whether your soil contains the proper mix of nutrients. Experts recommend that you test the soil in your lawn every three years to determine whether your yard has gone “sour” or “sweet,” that’s industry parlance for a heavily acidic (sour) soil with a lower pH level, or one that is heavily alkaline (sweet) with a higher pH level.

A pH between 6.5 and 7.0 is best for most turf grasses. For other crops a pH between 6.2 and 6.8 may be desirable. The numbers can range up to 14. A pH imbalance will rob soil of nutrients, and getting the right pH level will increase the effectiveness of any fertilizer.

Recommended soil tests

There are several kinds of home soil test kits, but when Consumer Reports last tested several brands they returned inaccurate or inconsistent results. Watch a video on soil test kits.

Instead of using a home test kit, you should have your soil analyzed by the pros—a lawn service, a private lab, or your local cooperative extension services, whose tests cost as little as $15 apiece. On the basis of the soil analysis, you’ll learn about your soil’s pH and whether you need to add lime, sulfur, or other nutrients.

You can find state-by-state listings of cooperative extension services from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In addition, you can visit the Cornell Cooperative Extension Service website where your specific questions can be answered by experts.

Related links

Easy composting. 9/10

Lawn & garden guide.

The facts on lawn fertilizing.
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