Low cost way to find out what’s wrong with your turf
By Todd Layt
7 July 2011
Got lawn problems, or just want to make your lawn look healthier and better? Then read on.
Soil and turf plant tissue testing is now low cost enough, even for home lawns.Summary.
- Find out how to take advantage of low cost soil and tissue tests to diagnose nutrient and other problems with your turf. Learn about these tests.
- Find out whom to send them to for low cost analysis. (Home lawns and professionals.
- If you get the soil and nutrients right, other problems are often fixed. E.g.; Black Beetle and fungus damage can often be fixed by good nutrient uptake of turf.
- Find out how to take samples and how to send them.
- Find out whom to send them to for low cost analysis.
- Recommendation services available for Lawn care professionals and large lawns only.
- Learn how to interpret results.
Soil and tissue tests have dropped by about 75% over the past 2 decades, and when inflation is taken into account they are really less than a tenth the price they used to be. Automation, private enterprise and testing techniques have reduced costs and these have been passed on to customers, so now professional tests like these are affordable for the lawn mowing contractor, the landscape manager, and even the home owner. These tests used to be the realm of green keepers working for high profile sporting venues. Not anymore. So how do soil tests stack up when compared to tissue tests and how can these tests benefit your lawn?
A tissue test used to cost about $250, but these days you can get them done for about $65. A basic soil test for chemistry make up now only costs around $45. ($84.70 for a total soil profile test for physics and chemistry). That’s not a lot of money to know whether the turf has a healthy nutritional balance, or probably more to the point, if a lawn looks unhealthy, what its nutritional balance is. This leads us to soil tests versus tissue tests. Soil tests can test the chemical make-up of the soil and advise what nutrients are there, and most importantly the pH of a soil, however they are poor at testing for nitrogen, which is the main element that makes a lawn grow. Ideally it would be best to do a full soil test, both chemical and physical, and a tissue test, but then that starts to add up. If a lawn is regularly of poor quality, then this is what is needed. But if the lawn looks out of sorts periodically, a low cost tissue test and pH test may quickly and cheaply help find the answers. You can either, send clippings samples for a P3 tissue test, and send a soil sample with it for a basic S1 soil test, which will give you pH and other important aspects, or you can do the pH test on site with a low cost pH kit. Personally I think it’s better to spend the $64.10 for the tissue test, and $43.45 for the pH and soil test with a good value lab like Phosyn Analyticals. See Below for their details. SESL is another lab option. Other options are full service companies such as Globe, but they are more for the professional lawn company, as they also provide recommendations based on commercial lawn care products.
Rather than worrying about the figures and statistics too much, it is easier to send the samples away, and let the lab let you know what nutrients and minerals your lawn needs. But if you want to find out more about these tests, Click here for SAMPLE SOIL TEST (download PDF) and Click here for SAMPLE LEAF TISSUE TEST (download PDF), or read further down the page.
Lawns will often have problems. Insects, disease including fungus, drought, and other problems may cause damage to your lawn, but if you have a healthy warm season lawn, it will usually recover well from the damage. This means if you have a Buffalo, Couch, Kikuyu, or Zoysia lawn, having a soil and Tissue test done will provide you with answers on how to make your lawn nutritionally healthy. If the lawn is growing well it will spread and fill in any damaged spots. Still watch out for problems like dry patch, where water is repelling off the lawn and not soaking in (which a wetting agent will fix), or watch out for Army worm which can hurt the lawn a little more. Also for cool season turf, such as Fescue and Rye grass, a damaged lawn may not recover with good nutrition, as those lawns are not self-repairing. So if you have a lawn problem, get the nutrition and the soil pH right. That’s one major step to having a healthy lawn. Some may say here that getting the soil right in the first place is more important, and they are probably correct, but once you have a lawn established it is easier to fix the nutrition than fix the soil.
The first thing is to take a couple of handfuls of non-wet lawn clippings and put them first in a paper bag. The paper bag will soak any excess moisture. Then send it in an overnight bag to the chosen lab for testing that day. If you use Express Post, or an overnight courier service it will get there the next day, and the lab will have a fresh sample to test. If you have to send it from say Perth to Queensland, which may take 3 to 4 days by Express Post, then spread the clippings on a sheet of paper in the morning, let them dry for a few hours, then put them in the paper bag and send that afternoon. Simply place any soil samples in a zip lock bag. Take about a cup full. Click here for a PHOSYN ANALYTICAL SAMPLE ANALYSIS REQUEST FORM (download PDF). It will have sending details etc.
The tests we recommend are the P3 Tissue Test $64.10 Incl. GST and the S1 $43.45 soil test. Although for a little more the S2 test $57.20 will provide more information. See price list for full display of prices. Click here for PRICE LIST (download PDF).
For a special average ratio to N value calculator provided by Phosyn, click here - Click here for CALCUALTOR (download XLS). It will help you use the Nitrogen ration principle (read below) to find what other nutrients you need to add.
For the commercial lawn companies or people with large lawns only. Companies like Globe Australia (www.globeaustralia.com.au) will conduct slightly more extensive tests, but they will also have qualified people interpret the results, and recommend products that will solve the problems. The price for a tissue test, interpretation and recommendations as to solutions will only cost you $120. That’s quite low cost when you consider it takes some time for the technical person to formulate answers. They recommend a Basic Plus soil test to be done with this, which is a higher grade test. See these PDF’s for examples of analysis done by Globe. This service is available to lawn mowing companies, landscape managers, green keepers, and anyone with a large lawn. If you have a lawn of less than a 1000 square metres, the products they have will not suit, as they are only sold in bulk. For home lawns, use the tests like those from Phosyn, and use the spread sheet above to help analyse it, or have a home lawn care company analyse the results.
There are 2 ways to interpret the results.
Firstly however before knowing how to interpret the tests it’s good to know a little about Nitrogen and nutrients. Nitrogen in nature comes from rain and organics. Plants are very competitive, and will use up nitrogen very quickly if allowed to. Nitrogen is now furthermore added artificially, and plants can even die if they take too much. For a healthy lawn Nitrogen should be between 2 to 5% for turf in general. Below is a table that explains the healthy range of nitrogen for different varieties of turf.
Other nutrients should be in the correct ratio to Nitrogen. If Nitrogen is present it will keep growing, but if the other nutrients like Phosphorous and Potassium, and other minerals are in ratios that are deficient to Nitrogen, then the plant will grow poorly. So for example, the ideal ratio of Phosphorous to Nitrogen should be 0.1. If you find through the tissue test the ratio is 0.03, then the lawn needs Phosphorous.
Healthy Turf Grass
The table above was an example provided by Phil Ford, PhD, Ballarat University at the Turf Alive conference in Sydney in 2011. By looking at the table, the first method of analysing the results is to see if your test results fall within the typical healthy range. (Note: different turf types have different healthy levels of Nitrogen. See table above.) The second way is shown in the table below, also taken from a paper by Phil Ford called Tissue Tests V Soil Tests. This is more complex but provides a better analysis. Phil Ford said in his paper. ‘It works on the Ratio Principle, which says Nitrogen sets the agenda, and all the other nutrients are only required in the ratio to the Nitrogen.’ You then multiply the test result, in this case the percentage of Nitrogen was 1.1%. (A very low level of Nitrogen) in this case as it was from a 2 year old sand based green). You then multiply each average ratio to N by the level, in this case 1.1. You can see the results in the table below, in this table look at Potassium. It is actually 0.47 in the test, but it should be based on the ideal level ratio calculation 0.66. So the lawn is deficient in Potassium. Deficiency levels are the most important part to look at, on the other hand usually too much of something other than Nitrogen for lawns in a sample is not usually bad, however on occasion it can be. The results from the Lab will help you interpret using the first method, but if you want to use the Ratio Principle, you will need to do some calculation. Luckily we have made it easy for you. Phosyn Analytical has been generous enough to provide a spreadsheet. All you need to do is type in your figures from your test, and it will do the ratio to Nitrogen calculations for you.
CALCUALTOR (download XLS)
Should Be Results:
Above are PDF’s from Phosyn Analytical that provide example results of tests they have done. They recommend for the standard lawn to ask for a P3 tissue test and a S1 Soil test. I have also provided a PDF form that you can fill out and send with your sample.
If you want more details of how to understand the technical side visit some of these links from around the world.
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