Understand Your Soil Before You Fertilize


Nov 30, 2019

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Fertilizer can provide the nutrients your lawn is lacking to help it grow full and strong. But how do you know what nutrients it needs? How do you optimize its ability to absorb and use those nutrients?

To get to the root of the answer to that question, you’ll need to look below the surface.

Yep, the soil below your grass is the single most important part of your lawn. To maximize your fertilizing efforts, you need to understand your soil and prep it to receive the nutrients you’re about to dish out.

4 Steps to Consider Before You Buy Fertilizer

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Before you even head out the door to pick up fertilizer for your lawn, you should take the time to understand your soil.

There are a number of things you can do to condition your soil before you fertilize. You may not need to deal with all of these, but you should find out before it’s too late.

Test Your Soil

There are home test kits you can find at most big box stores or you can take a sample of your soil to be tested by a professional lab.

But, why?

One reason is to learn your soil’s pH. You want your soil to be balanced (between 6.2 and 7 on the pH scale). If it is too acidic or too alkaline, the minerals in your fertilizer won’t break down properly so your grass can absorb them. That means wasted fertilizer and less healthy grass.

If your pH is too high, you can add some elemental sulfur. If it’s too low, bring that number up with crushed limestone.

A soil test can also help you understand what minerals your lawn is lacking. The big three are nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Fertilizers come in a wide range of options for these three minerals. Knowing what your lawn really needs will help you pick the one that will give you the most bang for your buck.


You know all of those holes you see on the green at your favorite golf course? Those are from aeration. Soil aeration uses tools or machines with spikes to poke holes or even pull small plugs of soil out of your lawn. This helps to break up the soil, allow water and nutrients to penetrate, and let the soil breathe.

If you want to make it easy on yourself, use a liquid soil aerator that can break down and loosen your soil without all the machinery.

Dethatch Your Soil

Thatch is a layer of organic material that lays between your grass blades and roots. It collects over time and is mostly made up of dead grass pieces that have not broken down yet. A thin layer of thatch is beneficial, but if it gets to be more than ½ inch thick, it can start to choke your lawn.

Dethatching is, you guessed it, the breaking up or removing of excess thatch. You can accomplish this with a special dethatching rake or even a regular leaf rake. Or, if you want to make it easy and make use of that organic material, use a liquid dethatcher that uses enzymes to speed up the decomposition of that dead material.

Tips for Healthy Soil and a Healthy Lawn

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Keeping your lawn healthy means continuing to keep that soil properly conditioned. Here are a few tips to help your dirt be the best on the block.

Consider gypsum. Gypsum can help to loosen soil without hurting its pH. It’s great for your lawn’s roots and can even add calcium to the soil.

Don’t limit soil preparation. Even if you’re just overseeding you can prep the soil to give that new seed its best chance to set firm roots.

Top-dress it with mulch. This is a great way to get nutrients into your soil and to improve its overall condition. It’s a stinky process, but totally worth it.

Water your lawn deeply. Instead of a light watering each day, opt for longer waterings just once or twice per week. This allows the water to seep deeper into the soil bringing nutrients with it.

Fertilizing your lawn is an essential part of keeping your grass at its best. Prepping your soil beforehand is the secret sauce that will make your fertilizer even more effective. Happy roots make for a happy lawn.