Tuomey Turfgrass Consulting, LLC - Providing Expert Turfgrass & Horticulture Consulting Services
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Soil

“The soil is the great connector of lives, the source and destination of all.  It is the healer and restorer and resurrector, by which disease passes into health, age into youth, death into life.  Without proper care for it we can have no community, because without proper care for it we can have no life.”
Wendell Berry, The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture
As a Turfgrass Warrior, you must have a thorough knowledge of soil.  It is our operating environment.  In today's battlespace, information on soil is considered as important as any weapon system.  For this briefing, soil will be defined as: “That portion of the earth’s crust made up of mineral materials, organic matter (living and non-living), water, and air, that is capable of supporting plant growth."  As soils develop, they usually form horizontal layers.  A soil profile is a vertical sample cut that shows the layers – called horizons.  There are four principle horizons – 0 through C – up to parent rock.  See the soil horizons above.  (Procedures for Soil Analysis, VanReeuwijk, 1995)
 
O) Organic matter: Litter layer of plant residues in relatively un-decomposed form.  (There’s your thatch.  More on that later.)
 
A) Surface soil: Layer of mineral soil with most organic matter accumulation and soil life. This layer eluviates (is depleted of) iron, clay, aluminum, organic compounds, and other soluble constituents.  The A-horizon is regarded as a "biomantle".
 
B) Subsoil: This layer accumulates iron, clay, aluminum and organic compounds, a process referred to as illuviation.
 
C) Parent rock: Layer of large unbroken rocks. This layer may accumulate the more soluble compounds.
 
R) Bedrock.
 
Therefore, soil has four components: mineral materials, organic materials, water and air.  The mineral component is inorganic (lacking the element carbon) and has three types of particles: sand silt and clay.  Soil “texture” refers to the size and relative proportion of each of these particles in the soil. 
 
The organic component of soils usually ranges from 1 to 8 percent.  Also called humus, the organic component has this decomposed organic matter.  The organic matter also contains fungi, bacteria and organisms. 
 
Water is taken up by turfgrass by its root system.  Soil holds water and air in its pores.  The texture and structure of the soil can determine the amount of water is available for uptake by the turfgrass.
 
Air fills the pores not filled by water.  Turfgrass roots need soil oxygen for the uptake of water and nutrients and for growth.  Soil micro organisms and other soil inhabiting organisms need oxygen for normal metabolic processes. 
 
Understanding the soil in your AO (Area of Operation) is critical to mission success.
 

8 Comments to Soil:

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Marc Meador on Saturday, March 02, 2013 10:28 PM
Okay, so I got my crabgrass preventative down today. Now I read you want me to test my soil. I know you can probably just get down and sniff the yard and tell me what my soil needs. But how do I test my soil?
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Turfgrass Warrior on Sunday, March 03, 2013 7:02 PM
There are several ways to test your yard soil. The best way is to set up an appointment with me and I'll come out and test it. If you are not up for that, I can guide you in some other less accurate methods


Mike Kilo on Sunday, March 03, 2013 7:04 PM
What are the different factors that are in a soil test? How much of a soil test is done by lab, sight or other means? Once a soil test is preformed, how long do the results take? What are some possible prescriptions that will be made that include inorganic, organic, chemical, and physical coercion?
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Turfgrass Warrior on Monday, March 04, 2013 12:10 AM
Mike Kilo, Thanks for coming up on the net. I certainly appreciate your interest. There are all sorts of ways you can test your soil. Many garden stores and websites (I know it sounds weird; a website? What happens is you buy a bag online w/ a credit card. They mail it to you. You put dirt in it. Mail it back to them and they either snail mail or email you the results.) Let me speak only about the awesome, high speed soil science services we provide here at Tuomey Turfgrass, and how I can help with a turfgrass warrior's soil. Soil tests can be "tailored", so to speak. Like, if a turfgrass warrior suspects a particular problem. Most of the time, real warriors have their soil tested on a regular basis. For example, I test twice a year. I test in the early spring - like now. And I test in the fall. Like early fall, so, if I have to take action there's some fall growing season left. When I test regularly, not because there's a suspected problem; but, just to stay on top of things. Those regular tests you could say are "basic" or "standard" tests. The results provide a wide range of information. Uh Oh, I feel another blog topic coming on - soil tests. I think that deserves its own category here on the blog. And, another topic I've also been thinking about is how to interpret the results.....translating the data into action. I started crafting a soil test post for the blog but its not ready yet. So, you'll just have to stay tuned. But, just to entice you.... I think the most imprtant part of the soil test is the pH level. How acid or alkaline is your soil? Different types of grasses prefer different levels of pH - but most want soil that is around 7.0/neutral. They definitely do not like it if the soil is too acid or too alkaline. Soil tests can also reveal the status of the "Macro-nutrients" in your soil - nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium. Also referred to as NPK, these are considered primary lawn nutrients because they are required in the greatest quantities and have the most impact on turf growth and development. These primary nutrients are often lacking in lawn soil because all of our plants (not just turfgrass) use large amounts of them for growth and survival. There are also seven "Micro-nutrients" that we can also test for, if necessary. The seven micronutrients (sometimes called trace elements) required by turfgrasses include iron, manganese, zinc, copper, molybdenum, boron, and chlorine. As mentioned earlier, micronutrients are needed by turfgrasses only in minute amounts and rarely need to be supplied to turfgrasses growing in mineral soils. I have a rather expensive mobile lab I can put in the back of my truck. I can do a soil sample right in front of the customer. (I can also test irrigation (sprinkler) systems and plant tissue.) The last two days I tested soil right in the customer's driveway. That sample is fairly accurate - but I often call it a "ball park" figure. Real turfgrass warriors don't like ball park figures. Therefore, I have an account with a lab in Ohio. I send all my samples there, even after I test them on site. The owner of the lab has a PhD from Cornell in agronomy. And, I confer with him on each sample. To answer your "time" question - I can have some pretty good results immediately but the more definitive results can be in your hands in 5 to 10 working days. Wow. You must want me to type a thesis tonight with the last part of your question. What prescriptions are available? Well, all of them...all you listed. Turfgrass Warriors are only limited by time, money, patience and desire. Not trying to be a smart alec here. But, all options are always on the table. But, to sum up quickly (I should thank you again because your post has illuminated the need for about 5 more, separate blog topics.), inorganic and organic means have pro's and con's for each. For example, organic means release nutrients slowly, reducing the risk of over fertilization, or burning. Inorganic means release quickly, but, that capability may be needed for a stand that is struggling. Chemicals have their place too. In the turfgrass world, Chemicals kill weeds, insects and treat a variety of diseases. From my foxhole, chemicals are a last resort. The best way to combat weeds, pests and disease is to have strong, thick, deep rooted turfgrass. Physical coercion? Sounds scary. Does that include hazing or firearms? If that means WORKING the soil absolutely. Aeration (another blog topic in the works) or tilling or even spreading some top soil that came in a truck - all of it can be back breaking and expensive....but, it can be done. All four areas you mentioned are possible solutions and each solution has numerous facets. In the short time I've been in business, and if you see my yard, I am a "minimalist". I don't go in for all the fancy chemicals or imported dirt. I work with what I have. The first thing I ask customers is, "If I make recommendations, are YOU going to do the work?" And, most my customers thus far are true Turfgrass Warriors - they do it themselves. Most of the fine people I've been helping want a beautiful lawn - they just don't know what to do. That's where I come in.
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Mike Kilo on Monday, May 13, 2013 8:22 PM
Thank you, T.W. for answering my questions and I appreciate the thoughtful effort and information you supplied. I would imagine that all lawns are not homogenous in their test results. What, if any, clues do you look for if you test more than one area? Thanks again and keep up the great work!!


Turfgrass Warrior on Wednesday, May 15, 2013 8:42 PM
Mike Kilo, Thanks again for your interest. Next time you have to ask me only the easy questions. Not exactly sure what you mean by, “clues do you look for if you test more than one area”. Not sure what you mean by “clues” or “more than one area”. But, I'll give it a try.... With regard to one way you might mean “area”, I’ll tell you I take at least 10 core samples per yard. The ten cores need to be at least a “measuring cup” in volume. I take more than one set of core samples (like I said, at least 10 cores/1 cup per set) if an area is larger than half an acre – say @ 22k square feet – or larger. More samples for more area. An acre and a half would mean at least three “SETS” of samples. I wear latex gloves and use clean tools to avoid contamination. For turfgrass testing, I go down @ 3 inches. For ornamental beds, I go down @ 6 inches and for crops (in a plowed field), I go down @ 8 inches. I collect random samples in what I call a “Lazy W” sort of pattern back and forth across the area. You want to try to get an “average” (reading or result) of the entire area. And I mix all the core samples together for a specific area in a clean container to ensure I get an average. I remove any surface debris or organic matter before mixing. I know NOT to collect from certain areas; for example, dead areas, near fences, gravel roads, spill areas, standing water – any unusual or abnormal spots. So, that was the short answer if you meant “more than one area” to mean, let’s say, in the same plot of land or locale perhaps. If you mean testing in more than one area, and that means several miles apart, like in different locations, regions or even states, that’s a whole different ballgame. That’s like the difference between tactics and strategy in warfare. But, the rules (or processes) I laid out above are pretty much the same whether I’m doing a small yard for a townhouse or a football field, or larger. And, if you mean clues…as in what clues I look for to gain information about the soil? I think there are many, many ways to interpret “clues” when dealing with soil. Some simple; some complex. Well, on a large scale, I know that soil in areas of the northeast were highly glaciated and are mixed with rock and sand. Soils in the south and the plains tend to have more clay and will pack readily. Coastal areas may have more pure sands that are well drained while the mountainous areas may have combinations depending on age and erosion of the soil at various levels. There are just as many ways to initially analyze soil as there are senses in the human body. Smell, touch, color; all have a role. My clients often see me hold the soil up to the sun or smell it. (I have not yet tasted any.) As a very simplistic example, let’s say the soil smells like diesel fuel, well, that could be a clue; perhaps a spill or a leaking tank nearby. If the soil has gray mottles in it, that could be a clue of extensive organic matter in some soils, like dead roots. Organic matter acts like a giant sponge which holds nutrients at the root zone level. White colors may hint at uncoated calcite, dolomite or gypsum. Orange may mean iron. Lab analysis can provide me more detailed “clues”; like the soil pH, the electrical property of the soil (CEC – Cation Exchange Capacity) or Soil salinity. But, I think soil TEXTURE is one of the most important clues that a turfgrass warrior or gardener can explore. Knowing your soil texture is a crucial capability. Soil texture will determine how well (or poorly) a soil allows water infiltration, or how the soil can provide nutrients. How would I define a “good” (top) soil? It is a mixture of different sized mineral particles that have been broken down over time into smaller fragments and it is mixed with organic matter, has air spaces and holds enough water for plant needs. There are three basic categories of soil; sand, silt and clay. Each of these three characteristics have pro’s and con’s. The largest particles are sand. Sand could be the size of BB’s to a fine texture like granulated sugar. “Pure” sand will not hold water or nutrients well. Silt is smaller in size to sand. It has better water holding capability and low to medium nutrient holding capability. Soils comprised mostly of silt will tend to pack, which limits oxygen movement and has slow drainage. The smallest particles are clay. Dry clay is like talcum powder. It fits into the spaces between sand and silt. Clay holds nutrients very well but is very prone to compaction. A soil that is composed of sand, silt, and clay in relatively even concentrations (about 40-40-20% concentration respectively) is called a loam. Loam is considered ideal for gardening and agricultural uses because it has the best characteristics of all three categories; it retains nutrients well and retains water while still allowing excess water to drain away. There are about 10 different variations of those three categories (like silty clay or sandy clay, silty loam, loamy sand, etc.). I recently had a customer in Great Falls, VA. I did a soil texture analysis in accordance with the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM – D 422-63). That soil is 51% sand, 34% silt and 15% clay. And, according to the USDA, the soil is a loam (using this chart: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:USDA_and_UK-ADAS_textural_triangle.jpg ) Being armed with this information about the soil is an excellent way to start determining what to do next – seed selection, irrigation, fertilizer, etc. This also goes to prove that there is a heck of a lot more to soil analysis than just measuring the pH.
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Fence & survey line clearing on Wednesday, March 26, 2014 6:45 AM
This is a very nice article and gives in-depth information. Thanks for this nice article, which is a really good to read. I must admit that you are one of the best bloggers I ever saw.
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Turfgrass Warrior on Wednesday, April 02, 2014 4:56 PM
Scorpion, thanks for the compliment. The main focus of your business just gave me an idea for a future blog topic - MULCH. Stay tuned! TW

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