It starts with a simple soil test and it ends with a gorgeous lawn…
Chances are, you’re reading this because you have a house, and you’ve probably heard that every house needs a good looking garden, and what makes a good looking garden: great soil. Like TV husbands in the ’50s, good soil makes for sturdy, handsome lawns that will pretty much stick by you so long as they’re well fed. But here’s the thing: soil (and marriages) tend to require a little more work than you first realise. The secret: learning about one another.
By learning as much as you can about your soil, you’ll be in a seriously good position to make decisions on what needs to be done in order to make it the perfect place for your lawn and plants to grow healthy and thick. Of course, there is a fair bit to wrap your head around, from the texture to the composition, the drainage to the acidity, and let’s not forget ye olde mineral density. But learn this stuff (which isn’t rocket science) and you’ll avoid soil-slash-lawn-based disappointment further down the line.
And in that spirit, here are four ways to test your soil:
Test No.1: Your Main Squeeze
To start with the basics, let’s look at soil’s most basic characteristic: composition. To break it down for you, there are 3 main types of soil. There are clay soils, sandy soils and loamy soils, and here’s a quick synopsis to help you tell the difference:
Clay soil: rich in nutrients but sucks at draining.
Sandy soil: epic at draining but sucks at absorbing nutrients and moisture.
Loamy soil: is pretty much a god walking amongst mere mortals because it’s able to keep hold of nutrients and moisture, but doesn’t stay too soggy in doing so. It’s a right dreamboat.
Anyway, to know what sort of soil is in your backyard, grab a handful of moist soil from your garden and give a good old squeeze. Once you’ve done that, open your hand and look at what’s happened. Your soil will have either a) held its shape until you poke it, which is when it crumbles, b) held its shape and remained that way even when prodded or c) fallen apart as soon as you opened your hand.
A is that loamy good stuff, B is clay and C is sandy — and now you know that, you can start improving it.
Test No.2: Percolation For The Nation
One of the most important superpowers a lawn can boast is good drainage. This is because poor drainage can mean your grass and plant roots drown and too much drainage can mean your grass and plants aren’t able to stay hydrated. So, here’s how to test it:
- Get a trowel and dig a hole roughly six inches wide and a foot deep.
- Now fill your hole with tap water and let it drain…. completely.
- Once drained, fill the hole with water again.
- This time, keep track of how long it takes for the water to drain.
- If the water takes more than four hours to drain, you have poor drainage (top tip: you don’t have to literally watch it drain — you can set a timer for 3 hours and pop back to see how the water-in-hole situation is getting on).
Test No.3: Do The Worm (#Scotty2Hotty)
If you wanna just how healthy your soil is, go chat to your earthworms. They’re like the doctors of your undergrowth; physicians that specialise in biological activity. To put it simply, if your soil is full of earthworms, then there’s a 90% chance that you also have everything you need (read: beneficial microbes and bacteria) to enjoy the healthiest of soils and the strongest of lawns — and to perform the worm test, all you have to do is:
- Make sure your soil is roughly 13°C and a touch on the moist side, but not wet.
- Next up is hole digging time, so dig a hole that’s approximately one foot across and one foot deep, and then place the dug-up soil on a piece of dry cardboard.
- Now for the fun part: using your bare hands, sift through the soil, gently placing it back into the hole while counting the earthworms as you go.
What you’re looking for is at least ten worms. 10 or more and your soil is probably in great shape. Less than ten, though, and your soil is probably lacking a bit on the organic matter front, which is what keeps your worms happy and healthy (or it could be that your soil is slightly too acidic or alkaliney).
Test No.4: Phat with a Ph
Remember when you were sat at the back of science class thinking you’d never need to know about this stuff because you wanted to be an Account Manager at a Digital Agency, well, guess what — the Ph levels in your soil actually have a lot to do with how well your lawn will grow. Sure, it’s still pretty boring stuff, so to give you the quickest breakdown: Ph is all about acidity, and it’s tested on a scale of 0 to 14 (0 is super acidic and 14 is uber alkaline).
Now, most grass and plants manage to grow best in soil that’s rocking a pretty neutral Ph, which is somewhere between 6 and 7. Fall either side of that and you’re lawn just won’t grow as well it could or should. Luckily, every single garden centre on earth stocks Ph kits, and if you follow the instructions properly, they’re usually accurate. So go grab one, check your soil’s Ph levels, find out whether yours is too acidic, too alkaline or just right, and then act on it. Easy.
Of course, you could do all of these tests, tweak your soil as needed and still find that your lawn is still struggling to become that thick, green shag pile carpet you always dreamed of, in which case you can call Joe’s (aka me) to come and take a look. At the very least, I’ll be able to talk you through what I see, take a sample and then analyse it good and proper — after which we can set about making your lawn dreams come true.