soil for grass, with soil test results

nnmjdklilMay 4, 2014

I'm trying to get my yard in order and need some help! Husband and I purchased home last March (2013) and have really only "maintained" the yard since. By that I mean that he mowed the lawn regularly and finally removed the large yews in front that I hated, and I weeded (and weeded and weeded) and planted some things in the backyard. We've done nothing to the front but now it's time. I'll be posting for help with the garden bed as well as the grass but this one is for the grass.

We want pretty grass. Doesn't everyone, right? What we have currently is full of weeds, all kinds, and also several large bare spots. The previous owners said they never gardened and they weren't kidding. If I'd have really taken the time to look around at the amount of weeds and consider what kind of work was ahead for us, I probably wouldn't have bought this house. But anyway.

What I've done so far is collected soil from all around and had it analyzed, as well as applied the fertilizer that was recommnded to us by the same place that sent off the soil sample. The fertilizer was a "13-0-4" with Prodiamine (a pre-emergent for crabgrass?) and was applied a week ago, right before the torrential downpour that flooded part of our basement, ew. So I'm hoping the fertilizer wasn't washed away. Oh, and he de-thatched the lawn before applying the fertilizer, as per video instruction from the website People have since told us dethatching might not have been the best idea but it's too late. It all looked pretty cool to us, but who knows.

Today I picked up our soil sample results. Apparently we are very low on lime, and the store sold it for $3.99/bag (covers 1,000 sq ft). The store in question is a farm supply store that is somewhat highly regarded in these parts, albeit more expensive than most places. So I did not buy the lime from them. We have about a third of an acre of grass so if I'm doing the figuring correctly, that's about 15 bags we would need at around $60 and that seemed too expensive for me. Especially after having spent $75 last week on fertilizer.

My question is... "does all of this sound right?" This is our first time doing anything like this so I have no idea. Maybe having nice grass really does cost this much?? And this is only the first step, I should say. The regimen we are planning to follow from the farm supply store recommends a different fertilizer at the end of this month, then a different one in September, plus a grub control (I'm not sure what "lots" of grubs would be but I dug 2 of them when I took my 12 random spadefuls for my soil sample), plus of course grass seed in the fall. And the lime.

Whew. Last question on this topic is, "Is this an annual expense?"... Meaning, once we get our lawn in order, will it be easier/cheaper to maintain or is this a process I have to do every single year? I was hoping it was a one time thing, and then I could find a chemical-free upkeep of some sort. Our next-door neighbor uses a propane torch to kill weeds in his lawn bc he doesn't like the chemicals and says it works better, but that doesn't seem totally safe either. Certainly smells up the neighborhood each time he's out there, and I can't say his is even near the best looking lawn around. Not the worst either though.

I haven't figured out how to post more than one picture at a time so I will post a few more after putting this through.

Oh and we are located in Harford County MD, about 25 minutes outside of Baltimore, if that helps. Thanks in advance for any insight..

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soil test results

    Bookmark   May 4, 2014 at 10:05PM
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bare spots

    Bookmark   May 4, 2014 at 10:07PM
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Lime isn't annual. I limed at a rate similar to yours 3 years ago and ph was 6.9 this fall. Fertilizer for my 1/2 acre this spring was ~$25 for 40lbs of 28-0-8 (or something in that ballpark) with 2% iron. Bought it from my local coop. I bought 80 lbs & reserved 40 of it for a fall application. Pre-emergent (pendi) was… umm… I don't remember. Probably $30 or something.

In other words, once the lime is out of the way, you're looking at $100 or so per year. Now… if you start fall overseeding, the seed gets 'spensive. But worth it, if you ask me. This is the first spring that I've been the neighbor that has the "good lawn", and I love walking on my dark green carpet of fescue.

As for the weeds, they're going to require some work. And I don't know how to do it without chemicals. Some do, but I bought a $200 backpack sprayer and boom wand to apply really expensive and very toxic chemicals.

That said, a basic "3-way" herbicide is under $20 from your home center, and might help you get the weeds under control to start with before you go all organic--if that's an option. The active ingredients will have 2,4-D plus a couple other chemicals, like dicamba, MCCP, Qualonirac, etc. (I'm not spelling the Q one right, but it's something like that.) That $20 bottle of 3-way will kill over 90% of your weeds, and that is probably good enough for most homeowners.

    Bookmark   May 4, 2014 at 10:24PM
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The soil pH, 4.9, is too low for grass. It should be in the 6.2 to 6.8 range so you do need to apply some lime. That lime is not an annual application although you may need to apply some every 5 years since the lime will be washed out of your Maryland soil by the rains.
At 5 percent the amount of organic matter in the soil the lawn is trying to grow in is about adequate, however, an in depth look at the life in the soil is still warranted because they are a better indicator of soil health. The grass is struggling to grow because at that soil pH nutrients are not all that available, and with out nutrients plants cannot grow.

    Bookmark   May 5, 2014 at 6:55AM
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Organic Approach-
Soak soil with

1-2 oz apple cider vinegar per 1 gallon of water

At 60 gallons per 100 square feet of soil.

Results should be immediate. Repeat procedure every five days until plants improve.

(Plants may already be dead or dying, but the approach is bullet-proof safe for you and your soil)


    Bookmark   May 5, 2014 at 5:37PM
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Spraying onto a soil that already has a too low pH with an acid (cider vinegar is Acetic Acid with a pH of about 2.8 to 3.0) will not do much to help anything. Many people attribute quite magical properties to Apple Cider Vinegar but there is nothing really organic about it.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2014 at 7:09AM
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toxcrusadr(Zone 6a - MO)

Mack has to be kidding, 60 gallons would never soak into a 10x10 section of soil in a reasonable time, aside from how ridiculous the vinegar idea is. Funny for us (haha) but I would not be surprised to see a homeowner who didn't know any better, actually run off and try to do something like that.

I don't fertilize multiple times during the year. Granted, my lawn does not look like a magazine cover, just saying.

Use a mulching mower, by the way, and return those clippings to the soil. It will help boost organic matter and nutrients. Otherwise you're buying mined fertilizer, cutting it off as clippings and throwing it into the trash. That 'thatch' you removed was probably just decomposing clippings, which is nature's way of feeding the soil.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2014 at 12:14PM
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Thanks for all the answers everyone! I found a place that has the bags of lime in pellets instead of powder (read that the powder won't distribute in a spreader, just dumps through), at 3.99/bag of 40 lbs. But he was out of stock so I will call and check back.
Now this is a dumb questions but I've certainly had dumber so bear with me.. wasn't the fertilizer that I just put down a weed killer? It said it was a pre-emergent for crabgrass plus killed 40 other broadleaf weeds. I had no idea I was supposed to spray with yet another weed killer!

I fertilized once already and according to the plan given me by this reputable farm supply store, if I follow their recommendations of 2 more fertilizers throughout summer/fall, plus the grass seed and lime, I will have beautiful grass next year. So should I ignore that recommendation and do the weed spray instead? Or am I supposed to do both, the fertilizer and the weed spray?

Also JonCraig: since our size/area is similar -- yours bigger in fact-- I wonder why my 3 bags of same size fertilizer to your 1.5? I think I may have had my spreader on the wrong setting! Hope I didn't kill anything!!! I couldn't find anywhere on the spreader or online about which setting to choose and darnit, there are like 20 numbers on the stupid thing. I think I chose setting number 6. Out of 20. Sigh.

    Bookmark   May 8, 2014 at 5:11PM
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Sorry Tox and Kimmy- I posted this on the "Quicklime" thread. How it winded up here, I have no idea. But it did allow you two fellers a good laugh, didn't it, and that's all that really matters! You fellers need a good laugh, cuz you two stooges crack me up all the time!

...I even sent a note to Gardenweb "what happened to my post on the quicklime thread". I got a nice little note back. But no satisfying answer. Now, carry on, and have a nice day!


This post was edited by Mackel-in-DFW on Thu, May 8, 14 at 18:21

    Bookmark   May 8, 2014 at 6:18PM
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And don't ferget, God is watchin' ye, and one day he's gonna gitchya, fer all the goofy things y'all come up with, on a near, daily basis... Love from Above. M

    Bookmark   May 8, 2014 at 6:24PM
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Dear Nikki,

Please accept my apology for posting in the wrong thread. I am so thankful that our beloved Sir Toxalot and Kimmie-Pooh caught my error. I wouldn't know what to do, if you had purchased enough apple cider vinegar to cover that monster-sized yard of yours, sigh of relief. Thankyou. M

    Bookmark   May 8, 2014 at 7:03PM
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Btw, Tox, 60 gallons in a 10 x 10 ft area is the equivalent of one inch of rain (every 5 days). DUDE. I wish you and Kimmie would get your head on straight.

It's tough going around and cleaning up all the messes you two stooges make. I'm only going to be available for a limited time, and there is lots of work to be done, as a part of my PENITENCE..

A few years ago, you remember, I was on death's door at 45. I was laid up in bed for six months and was certain I was going to die. The prognostication was not good.

I am recovered and am so grateful you and Kimmie are still around, because it makes me smile and laugh. Good night. M

    Bookmark   May 8, 2014 at 11:09PM
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hairmetal4ever(Z7 MD)

A pH of 4.9 is pretty low - lower than mine and I'm also in Maryland (Howard County, pH is 5.9).

I wouldn't shoot for 6.8 - I'd shoot for low 6's, that's the best balance. Go too high, and a lot of your other plants will suffer. Lawns like higher pH than most trees and shrubs to, really, but 6.0 - 6.3 is a good balance.

That nice Japanese Maple in your picture will languish if the pH goes too high.

I'm not sure what pH your recommended lime would get you to, but hopefully it's on the lower end of ideal.

My uncle limed his lawn in a similar situation - got his soil from 5.0 up to 7.0. His lawn looked great, but his rhodies looked like death warmed over.

    Bookmark   May 8, 2014 at 11:21PM
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Don't worry about it M-- I was actually just confused about that and sort of skimmed over it ; )
Also I love the camaraderie on these forums. All this time, supreme knowledge-sharing and shenanigans have been going on here on this site and I've only just discovered it! It's kind of bittersweet really. Oh well. Better late than never.

So.. if I only put the lime on the grass and not the garden bed, will that be ok? I'm still going to have my garden bed soil tested, next week. I took 12 different samples from all over my yard and mixed them together before getting a couple cups out for the soil test last week-- and none of those samples were from the garden bed area. So that prob could be different I'm assuming? We shall see-- I'll post those results too whenever I get them.

If anyone knows what setting I should be using for the spreader-- it's one of those Scott's deals I feel like I see everywhere-- I'd be glad to hear it. Spreads 8' wide path. I'm completely over the fact that it has so many settings on it. And they're not even in order! It skips around, like 8 then 14 then 6 then 15. And some of the numbers are upside down. What the??

Thanks everyone for all your help!!

    Bookmark   May 9, 2014 at 12:01AM
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toxcrusadr(Zone 6a - MO)

Well I'll be darned, 60 gal over 100 sf is indeed an inch. I would not want to be the poor bastage standing there with a bucket trying to get that to soak into my entire yard, though, but it's all a moot point. :-] BTW you can remove posts by clicking EDIT POST, delete some or all and leave a placeholder ("post deleted", etc.). Been there and done that.

I have a Scotts spreader with a scale up to 20 but I've never seen one with upside down numbers. Here's how I would calibrate it now that you've used it: if it took more than you thought it should to cover your lawn, based on your calculations, the sq ft rating on the bag, test lab recommendations, or whatever, then crank it toward the lower end of the scale next time. After awhile you get a feel for how many grains are dropping out, and you can adjust on the fly.

BTW that must be a gigantic spreader - 8 feet wide? :-o :-]

    Bookmark   May 9, 2014 at 11:22AM
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toxcrusadr(Zone 6a - MO)

By the way, regarding weed killer, I would not apply again at this point if you already put something down. That lawn does not look full of weeds to me. I would see how it goes first.

I do wonder if your bare patch is some kind of disease like a fungus, but I'm no lawn expert. You might post over on the lawn care forum on that.

    Bookmark   May 9, 2014 at 11:42AM
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I use an automatic mixer that is connected to the hose, they aren't that much money, T. Good point about deleting a post. M

    Bookmark   May 9, 2014 at 11:49AM
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toxcrusadr-- the *path* is supposedly 8' wide, not the spreader. And the path does seem to be... I didn't stop to measure it though : )
If that sounds funny though, I wonder if that's why I ran out of fertilizer sooner than I expected to...

I'm not sure I'm up to all that calculating-- can I assume though that the higher the number, the more grains it puts out at once? The people at the store (who seem very knowledgeable, I mean) said that I want one bag to cover a quarter acre. Which I think is about the amount of grass we have, maybe a bit more. We have a tiny bit over a half acre total but that of course includes the house/pool/driveway/pavers out back etc. Regardless, that bag lasted for a bout 1/3 of my grass. I went back for 2 more bags and changed the setting on the spreader-- think from 8 to 6 and got some more range out of it. Still had to open the third bag though.

Sigh. Maybe I should look for a highly rated spreader and buy that. This one was borrowed from my brother-in-law and I think I have found it online and if I'm right about which it is (the Scotts classic drop spreader), I see that it gets bad reviews, lots of them. Same reasons.

I'm learning a lot of lessons lately, the hard way... Isn't that supposed to be the best way though? Or something.

Oh and just FYI, that's only one of several bare patches. And there are plenty of weeds, trust me. It's hard to tell from this one picture but they are everywhere, all kinds. Some areas have less but some areas are also straight weeds so it all balances out, ha.

    Bookmark   May 11, 2014 at 12:05AM
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