Soil Test interpret please

humdogjSeptember 13, 2013

So I finally got my soil test results back. I know I should have done this before, but I didn't, because I didn't know about it until after the fact.

The extension that interpreted the results for me were a little vague and was wondering if someone else had an opinion on what I could do.

For being in northeast Wisconsin, my soil seems to be unusually alkaline. Should I use elemental sulfur or aluminum sulfate to help lower the pH? Or, do I not know what the heck I'm talking about???? I've attached the results with numbers but here is a quick snapshot.

pH: 7.9
Phosphorus: 79 ppm
Potassium: 123 ppm
Organic Matter: 2.2%
Soluble Salts: 24 dS/m

The test was done in my backyard with clay soil. If anyone has any suggestions going forward before ol' man winter comes, I would appreciate it. Thanks.

This post was edited by humdogj on Fri, Sep 13, 13 at 14:44

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dchall_san_antonio(8 San Antonio)

I probably should have done this a long time ago. I don't know how much you paid for your county extension service soil test but I'm guessing it was at least $10. Here is a sample of what you get from Logan Labs for $20.

See how they get into the details of the macro, salts, and trace nutrients. Some people spend years getting just their trace nutrients tuned up. Farmers in Texas have had their land poisoned with too much magnesium. These type of results are really helpful in correcting conditions that prevent grass growth. Simply listing the macro nutrients is okay if all you are going to do is buy a bag of fertilizer, but the addition of the salts and trace nutrients gives you information needed to fix inherent issues with the soil. By fixing the soil chemistry, it allows the biology to survive/thrive and the plants grow with less input. Getting the salts and trace tests from your extension service can cost up to $100. Logan Labs is a huge bargain.

On the other hand, LL is not all that helpful in interpreting the results for the entire test. Lucky for us, there is another lawn care forum (also free) where they specialize in interpreting Logan Labs soil test results. Search Google for "Andy10917, logan labs, soil test" and the first 50 or so results will guide you to the forum.

I can comment on a couple things. Your pH is off the charts. Well it is off most charts. Here in Texas we call 7.9 a tad low. What that indicates is you live on limestone. You probably knew that but didn't think it was important. Do you have limestone quarry nearby? Cement plant? Caves or caverns? Personally I have outcroppings of limestone in my yard. What that means is you cannot change your pH unless and until you dissolve all the limestone down to base sand. That isn't going to happen.

If you decide to have your soil retested by Logan Labs, your calcium soil will throw off the results. You have to tell them you "want the cations tested using Ammonium Acetate." Then Andy can interpret the results.

Your organic matter is very low. If you had 5% I would not comment. If you had 8% I would commend you. The fastest way to improve that is to mulch mow your autumn leaves into the soil. Next you can apply any organic fertilizer at a rate of 20 pounds per 1,000 square feet. Use that as often as your wallet will let you. One of the gurus on another forum applied 50 pounds per 1,000 square feet every week all season long. Besides having the nicest lawn on the planet, nothing was out of the ordinary. In other words, you cannot over apply organic fertilizer. My preference for organic fertilizer this year is alfalfa pellets (rabbit sized 1/4-inch). Or many people are very happy with Milorganite (since you're from Wisconsin).

    Bookmark   September 13, 2013 at 3:32PM
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andy10917(NY 6a)

Those "homeowner tests" are useless, or worse. A 123 on Potassium means nothing unless you know what the numbers are for Calcium, Magnesium and Sodium also. Notice how the LL report is telling you how they all relate to each other. THAT'S what is needed.

    Bookmark   September 13, 2013 at 7:33PM
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dchall and andy - Thanks for the comments.

Okay, so going through the local extension probably wasn't my best bet, but I didn't know about LL until a few days ago from reading other posts.

Our area has trucking companies near us that do deal with cement, so IDK, maybe that has something to do with it. So what your saying is that I won't be able to get my pH lower?

I definitely want to hit it with some organic matter, and probably will go with the milorgranite. My lawn needs something. I'll probably get started on another soil sample and send it off to LL and see what they say. What is the turnaround time from the time I send it until the time I get some results?

Would sulfur help with the pH or is that just wishful thinking? If I can use the sulfur, can I use that in conjunction with the organic fertilizer?

Did I mention that I live by a wetlands area? Would that have anything to do with the pH or other things?

    Bookmark   September 13, 2013 at 10:46PM
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andy10917(NY 6a)

Logan generally sends results to you by email (with a PDF) within a couple of days of receiving the samples.

    Bookmark   September 14, 2013 at 9:59AM
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dchall_san_antonio(8 San Antonio)

Wetlands is a clue but the cement trucks is a better one. I believe you have limestone soil. Is it mostly white or gray when you see people piling it up? If that is the case, then you can't change the pH.

What could happen is the surface of the soil can change right there in the root zone. But if you have enough rain, the rain will wash the acidity right down and out of the root zone. We get so little rain in my area that acidity accumulates and actually releases iron to the soil. But when we get heavy rains, the grass turns bright yellow where the iron binds back with the calcium.

Here is a picture taken a week after a rainstorm. Right in the center you can see the very beginning of the blades turning yellow. A week later the yellow area was about 10 feet across.

You can easily see the color difference, but unfortunately you'll have to imagine it over a larger area. I don't have good enough pictures of that.

    Bookmark   September 14, 2013 at 2:32PM
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dchall and andy - thanks for the info.

I haven't really seen the cement plant but I know it's there because I've driven past it. I don't recall color because I didn't really see any, but I can take another drive by.

Ok, so I'm going to hit my lawn tomorrow with some Milorgranite at about 20 lbs. per 1000sqft. I'll start there and see how it goes.

Should I not even bother with sulfur? Or should I wait to do a soil test through LL? Would it hurt to try? Will the sulfur have any effect on the Milorgranite.

Finally, it was suggested to me that mid-September I should hit my lawn with a triple 12. This was before soil test results. Should I still do that or once again, wait until I get another soil test done? If so, does that interfere with the milorgranite, or milorgranite/sulfur combo?


    Bookmark   September 14, 2013 at 11:36PM
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Just wondering and trying to learn, should gypsum be brought into the picture at all? I do have clay soil and would like to loosen things up a bit. Or, does it boil down to get the soil test from LL and then go from there?

Will broadleaf plantains die off over the winter and reemerge in the spring?


    Bookmark   September 15, 2013 at 7:01AM
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andy10917(NY 6a)

I'll bet $10 that you don't have clay soil, but instead have hard soil. You may have some clay down deep (8" or more), but that is not in the grass growth zone. I do hundreds and hundreds of soil test interpretations a year, and 50% of the people repeat the "I have clay soil" mantra, Less than 5% actually do have it.

Slow down a bit - you cannot make up for years of incorrect lawn stuff by adding all of the things that everyone recommends at the same time. All of the nutrients add up - lots of Milorganite plus synthetic fertilizers at the same time can be a recipe for trouble.

Gypsum DOES NOT work on clay (even if you really had it) in your area. Gypsum only works on Sodic Clays, which only occur in the Southwest for the most part.

Sulfur does not work well other than in the Deep South - it requires prolonged hot soil temperatures to go through a series of chemical changes. In the North, these don't occur and the pH changes are very transient. That, and we suspect that your LL test is going to show tons of Calcium - that would mean applying Sulfur from now until Doomsday without much to show for the $$$$ and effort.

Get the soil samples out BEFORE applying any fertilizers, as they can affect the results. Also, remember that I don't do interpretations on this site.

    Bookmark   September 15, 2013 at 8:46AM
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dchall - is the cost of the soil test $20 dollars per sample? So the report that you posted actually cost $40, right? Probably a stupid question, but I wanted to make sure before I send off my samples.


    Bookmark   October 4, 2013 at 4:09PM
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dchall_san_antonio(8 San Antonio)

Yes, $20 per sample.

    Bookmark   October 7, 2013 at 5:50PM
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Here's a different route for those who do organic gardening and want the precision of a Logan Labs soil test, but don't want the expense of their (or other's) professional advice.
Join Grow Abundant. Pay only $9.50 for a subscription to their "Organicalc" and submit as many Logan results as you wish. You will have to retype in the numbers off the Logan results page, but then you will get automatic recommendations, in whatever units you wish (lb/acre, oz/1000 sq.ft., etc.). This sure beats paying $20 - 30 for EACH recommendation.
They actually have a form also for Spectrum Analytic if you wish to use that test service instead of Logan. The only restriction to Grow Abundant service is that their soil amendments are what are suitable for organic growers. Things like rock phosphate, bone meal, etc.
I have no affiliation with Grow Abundant, except that I have used their services for two years, and am happy with the results.

Here is a link that might be useful: Grow Abundant Web Site

    Bookmark   December 22, 2013 at 2:26PM
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andy10917(NY 6a)

You don't need to pay anybody anything. There is another forum that has numerous people that know how to read the tests very well, and do hundreds of them a year. And they charge nothing for it, will adjust the plan for synthetics or organics, and will answer all of your questions about how to implement the plan.

    Bookmark   December 22, 2013 at 9:34PM
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I appreciate hearing about the other forum andy. Please let me and others know what it is. A link would be quite handy. There may be some people here almost as new as I, who would like to hear about it.
The advantage, at least for me, to using the Grow Abundant service is I can get my recommendation within minutes of receiving the soil test results. And I know it comes from a consistent program. No chance of communication problems or an error by the analyst. If I plug in even one number into their input sheet that is in error, the formula catches it and tells me I gave a number wrong. I'm not obligated to, or waiting for, some unknown expert to crunch the numbers for me at no charge. However, every time I've used Grow Abundant, I still get an email with some additional considerations. They are just that kind of people there. Have a great Christmas!

    Bookmark   December 22, 2013 at 10:37PM
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I follow the soil crazies (as they are affectionately called) on that other site. Andy is one of them :) and a major player over there.

They do 100's of analysis a year (for free) and, I can assure you, no one has come back and said, "damn, your advice really messed up my lawn". Coupled with this, there is continual dialogue and they are the most patient group of crazies you will ever meet as they answr the same questions over and over and over.....

    Bookmark   December 23, 2013 at 7:31AM
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Thanks, TNJDM. I found the other site. It's interesting. Lots of information. Lots of willing help for free.
While no one has come back and said the advice wasn't good, that doesn't mean much. You shouldn't expect much from free advice. Most people I've talked to that test soils over the years, and have submitted identical samples to different and even the same labs say that the lab itself makes all kinds of errors, or at least reflects enough distortion that you can't count on the results too heavily.
Relying then on an analyst's recommendations is just another chance for distortion when it's placed on top of possibly erroneous lab numbers. I figure my best chance to minimize distortion is to at least work with a consistent program, and not an analyst at all. If I want to use a free analyst to provide a second opinion, then that would be great. Andy may be happy to do that, if I haven't offended him by saying there's another option.
From my point of view, choice, or options, are one of the most powerful things we have going for us to allow intelligent decisions. I've been on forums and read dozens of recommendations, only to see the analyst declare they made a scaling error, or recommended using the wrong unit of measure, or even recommended the wrong product. Sometimes they discover this themselves, and sometimes another comment points out there was an error.
I know I make plenty of errors, so I hardly expect another human to be perfect. But soil imbalance is sometimes hard to recover from, especially when caused by human error as opposed to natural degradation. So erring on the safe side is important when trying to improve soil, and besides delivering a little less than recommended quantities of amendments, another way to err on the safe side is to use a program to determine what should be added, in addition to what any analyst might say. This is just my perspective. I'm old and careful. Besides, I don't use soil tests to improve the look of a lawn. I use it to aid in growing nutrient dense food, which is critical to my survival. Any food I grow that is lacking in nutrition is going to hurt my survival somewhat, from the moment it enters my throat.
Thanks for your help. I'll consider checking for 2nd opinions!

    Bookmark   December 23, 2013 at 8:33AM
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andy10917(NY 6a)

I am a dedicated proponent of nutrient-dense foods, and belong to a community-supported co-op to get those foods.


You're writing this in a LAWN forum, and making numerous assumptions that I don't feel are valid. I reviewed what was on the linked site, and have these comments:

(1) the depth at which soil is tested for lawns/turf is not optimal for lawns. Food plants are deeper-rooted than typical turf. This requires adjustments to be made.

(2) There is an assumption that the nutrients and minerals can be worked into the soil. Again, the FAQ on the site has a section for adjusting for surface-only applications, but that requires additional adjustments. The adjustments are not minor, and are real problems for the soil biology if the amounts are not adjusted - if the full amounts recommended are applied to the surface all at once, they can cause toxic levels of items like Copper and Boron to be created in the top 1"-2" of soil shortly after application is made. When treating lawns, surface-applications are typically the ONLY way to make nutrient applications to mature turf.

(3) I don't see anything that makes adjustments for the season/climate of the area for applications. It's a one-size-fits-all plan. There are numerous nuances that need to be accounted for - people should not apply some nutrients at certain (stressful) times of the year, like mid-summer. We spread out applications to minimize sudden changes in soil chemistry and biology.

(4) There are large differences in care regimens for different grasses - a Bermudagrass lawn has a very different care regimen than a Kentucky Blue Grass regimen.

(5) The linked calculator recommends that a Soil Analyst be consulted if Lime has been applied in the past three years. In areas where Lime is useful, my experience is that 75% of the lawns have had Lime applied in the past three years -- rightly or wrongly.

My experience is that errors very rarely come from Soil Analysts -- they come most-often from bad sampling techniques, taking a sample just after applying nutrients and mistakes during entering the data into things like calculators (PPM/lbs-acre mistakes, etc). An experienced soil test interpreter will spot errors like that pretty often, but a calculator will not -- it will make the calculations based on what was entered. It's garbage-in, garbage-out like all automated products are.

Those of us that work as "soil crazies" at the other site build a full annual program based on grass types, whether the owner wants to use synthetics or organic sources, the owner's goals (nice vs showplace), soil types, seasonality and climate. The plans minimize soil disturbance, and maximize the use of soil biology and remineralization to achieve goals. We review each other's work to minimize any potential for errors.

I didn't find the site that you linked to valuable to lawn owners - it's great for organic garden owners, but there are far too many adjustments that need to be done for lawns.

    Bookmark   December 23, 2013 at 11:13AM
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I take everything you say to heart Andy. I had ignored the fact I was writing in a lawn forum. Chalk it up to my newness here.
But I agree totally that the Grow Abundant site has some limitations (compared to good professional help) and is way more suitable to an organic gardener or even a rancher than to a turf manager. Peace.

    Bookmark   December 23, 2013 at 3:51PM
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