Does Soil Health Matter in Lawns

Does Soil Health Matter in Lawns?  Soil health does matter, as this scientific explanation indicates.   Therefore the soil determines a lawn’s strength and vibrancy.   Ideally a soil test will determine chemical properties in the soil.  The soil test reveals all the chemicals present in the soil sample.  This becomes a guide to a balanced nutrient feeding program.  Visibly stressed lawn areas are the best areas for soil and foliar testing.  The results of these tests become a guide to a balanced nutrient program.

Does Soil Health Matter in Lawns


The health of the soil contains needed plant nutrition.  The roots take their vitality from the soil.  Lawns are a living plant organism that needs food and water to remain vibrant.  Our lawns beautify our home landscape, cool our temperatures, enhance city streets, parks and play areas.  Large sports arenas and great park acreages are used often to entertain or recreate and enliven us. So the lawns we enjoy and take for granted are so beneficial to our lives. Lawn care is important.   A nice lawn has needs in order to stay healthy and vibrant.   Lawn watering systems can be automated.  However, mowing, edging are regularly scheduled practice.  Feeding or fertilizing is usually done once or twice a year, fall and spring.  Fungus and weed control should be done regularly but end up, in actual practice, on as-needed basis mostly.

Soil Health Equals Plant Vitality.

But what happens beneath the green tops of the lawn plants?  The soil health, microbial activity necessary for root function, nutrient uptake, water penetration all benefit plant vitality.  While  compaction, chemical balance, toxicity, soil borne diseases effect nutrient uptake.   In every city there are many acres of lawn area.

Winter can be a challenging time.  During extreme temperatures, plants are put under a high stress load . As a soil and plant nutritionist, I focus on good, balanced soil and plant nutrition.  Therefore equiping plants to tend to themselves even during stress events.  To adjust soil nutrient levels takes time.  Time is a limiting factor, when Mother Nature comes calling with freezing temperatures. Soil nutrient levels, especially the Base Saturation cations (K+, Ca++, Mg++, Na+ and H+).   The soil texture (sand, silt or clay) affects these nutrient levels.   And adding “more” than what is needed, is not better.  Calcium creates pore space and affects the amount of air in the soil.

Having surplus amounts of calcium can have a negative impact.  While actually competing against other needed cations, like potassium and magnesium, by displacing them. Magnesium is equally important, as it affects the soil’s moisture level.  Therefore too much magnesium can create tight-soil conditions limiting water percolation and/or competition with other needed cations. Together, these two need to make up 80% of the total Base Saturation of cations.  Thus they directly affect your soil-water efficiency and percolation rate.  A correct Ca/Mg ratio (i.e. 68% Ca:12% Mg) is important to nutrient efficacy all year round.   However, especially in times of water saturation and cold soil. Water saturation creates multiple issues.   De-oxygenated occurs in the root zone with high concentrations of water.  Plants are often nutrient deficient in this condition.

Soil Microbiology – The Missing Link…

Microbiology is foundational to soil health, efficient water usage and nutrient availability/uptake. Applying specific strains of microbiology in the fall, helps prepare the plant and root zone for.wintertime stress events. There are many species and subspecies available, so getting the right type(s) is important.

During winter we know certain things to be true:

  1. Phosphate is energy and necessary for plant vitality and to manage stress.
  2. All nutrients, with the exception of nitrogen, move into the plant in phosphate form.
  3. All nutrients, with the exception of nitrogen, are unable to move from the soil/root zone into the plant until the soil temperature reaches 65 °F.
  4. Nitrogen (nitrate) is a mass-flow mover and susceptible to leaching with heavy amounts of water.
  5. “Waterlogged” soil is depleted of oxygen. Roots cannot grow without oxygen and can actually start to die in 24-48 hours depending on the severity of the conditions.
  6. “Waterlogged” soils stimulate anaerobic microbial activity that feed on the organic matter/humus in the soil.  Then produce methane gas (waste-product), which is highly toxic to roots. This condition will not improve until the root zone gets air re-introduced into it (oxygenation).

Nutrition Availability

Now, with that in mind, you can see why good, balanced nutrition and nutrient availability is so important. Microbiological activity makes this a reality.



In addition to the nutrient chelating plant benefit, the microbiology also increases the oxygen (O2) capacity of the soil.  Thus the production of carbon dioxide (CO2).  A byproduct of active microbes is CO2 production. Therefore, a benefit of higher microbial population and activity is an increased COlevel.  As CO2 is released, it ascends rapidly to the soil surface and creates tiny pores in the soil.  Another benefit from Lactobacillus is in the production of bacteriocins. Bacteriocins are specialized natural antibiotics and antibiotic-like compounds. They are vital to maintain soil, root and plant health within the root zone.

Does Soil Health Matter in Lawns?  The health of the soil does matter.  The soil needs to be tended for a lawn of any size to be strong and vibrant.   Especially in high traffic areas such as playing fields and parks.  In areas of high precipitation leaching of nutrients below the root zone definitely is a reality.  Standing water and tight soils present percolation issues that impair root function and actually kill roots.  This condition actually destroys soil microbes necessary for root growth and performance.

Fall soil inoculation will build microbial population and diversity.   And, in time, to combat the cold, wet soil issues of winter for a better soil and crop (lawn and garden) response.

Adding microbiology is not a substitute for balanced soil nutrition.  However, it is an important tool in making your existing soil nutrients more efficient and available for plant use.

Plant Nutrition

Microbes in the soil are the machinery that break down organic matter into forms that are usable by a plant. They also do the same for nitrogen, converting higher forms of nitrogen (ammonia and urea) into nitrates.  Nitrogen used by turf and plants must be in the nitrate form.  Microbial bacteria and fungi rapidly divide and incorporate these nutrient compounds into their cell bodies.  This combination of living organisms and organic matter help to retain nutrients in the soil.  While keeping them from washing out of the soil or volatilizing.   Thus delivering vital compounds from the soil to turf, trees and plants. Healthy soil biology works in the same manner by aiding water retention in soil and improving plant drought resistance.

Even if turf professionals employ best practices, the activity of beneficial microbes in most soils can be stimulated.  Just by adding organic or natural products.  Additionally, for many sports venues and estates, healthy soil is important for producing beautiful and healthy grass.  The aesthetic appeal of the landscape is an important factor in attracting high-end clients and customers. The best golfers want to play on immaculately maintained courses.  While elite owners and guests of estates expect lush lawns for their viewing pleasure.  Importantly, with healthy soil, your grass, crops, or landscape will stand the test of time. Soil and grass that is maintained in a healthy, efficient, and safe manner will remain hearty longer.

Making Beautiful Landscapes


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