It’s rare that people realize the true secret to a healthy and vibrant lawn is in its soil. No matter what lawn care services you sign up for or what products you utilize, if you do nothing about fixing bad lawn soil, your lawn problems are going to just keep coming back.
Of course, very few people actually realize what’s involved in taking steps toward achieving healthy soil. It’s not just a single action but rather a series of steps that should be taken to improve soil health over time. This includes services in both the spring and the fall.
The time of year that you’re reading this will determine where you should start.
For the purposes of this article, let’s start with the fall. In that case, step one would be to have aeration performed. We’ll start there and talk about what else can be done to encourage healthy soil and ultimately support a thriving lawn.
1. Make Sure to Aerate Annually
We call aeration the “cornerstone” of our lawn care program for good reason. It’s honestly one of the best things that you can have performed on your lawn. Through the process of making small holes across your lawn by pulling cores of soil and leaving them to break down (and filter back into the earth), you allow your lawn to “breathe.” As a result, it ensures that more water, oxygen, and nutrients penetrate down to the lawn’s root zone, where these elements are needed most.
Aeration is best performed in the fall because it should be immediately followed up by seeding (which is best to do during the fall). The cooler air temperatures but still-warm soil make for the ideal growing conditions for your new grass. Seeding in spring often doesn’t give your newly germinated grass much time to grow before it has to endure the scorching conditions of the summer sun.
2. Follow Aeration (and Seeding) with Topdressing
Once aeration and seeding are completed, you should ideally follow up with topdressing, another one of those often-overlooked but highly effective services that can be the secret to thriving soil.
When the lawn is topdressed with compost following aeration and seeding, it allows the compost to fall into the holes that were made. As the compost mixes with the clay, it helps create a better layer of topsoil by improving soil structure and microbial life.
Why does this microbial life matter?
Naturally healthy soil is full of beneficial microorganisms like fungi and bacteria, which help your lawn to digest nutrients and use them to the fullest. These microorganisms also help strengthen your lawn against disease and pests. Healthy, biologically active soil has a highly diverse array of this microscopic life. You may be surprised to learn there can be as many as 50,000 species in just a teaspoon of healthy soil! It is this healthy blend of living organisms that helps create optimal growing conditions for the lawn.
In a perfect world, we would topdress every lawn that we work on annually as it really can make an enormous difference. Many golf courses topdress twice a year. Of course, it can get expensive, so many homeowners choose to only topdress every other year—or sometimes even more spaced out than that. But if you want truly healthy soil and the spectacular results that accompany it, this is a service that should not be overlooked.
3. Enhance Soil Health with a pH Test & Amendments
Fertility and your soil’s pH also play a really important role in soil health. The best way to understand what your lawn needs in this area is to perform a soil pH test.
The soil in Northern Virginia tends to be naturally acidic, which can impact your lawn’s health in a negative way. Acidic soil can cause grass to lose its vigor and can even encourage weed growth. We perform limestone applications to correct the imbalance, but it’s important to note that we aren’t just guessing at the amount (like a lot of companies do). Because we perform a soil test, we know exactly how much is needed.
When to Consider Replacing Lawn Soil
The bottom line is that good soil health is imperative to a healthy lawn. No matter what services or products you use, if you don’t do anything to fix a soil problem, you’re never going to see the results you desire.
That being said, it’s important to recognize that the entire process takes time and this can be frustrating for a lot of homeowners. Maybe you’ve inherited a lawn that is in really bad shape due to poor quality soil. Or maybe you’ve been using a lawn care company but they’ve never done anything to address soil health and you don’t feel like your lawn has made any progress on their program.
Whatever the case may be, fixing bad lawn soil is definitely not an overnight process.
Of course, if you really want it to be, then that might be a time to talk about replacing lawn soil.
Frankly, an intense and effective way to achieve this is with a lawn renovation that includes a service called power seeding. It’s something that we’ve detailed in this article that will help you to understand how to renovate a lawn.
The good news is that we often find that homeowners think their lawns are in worse shape than they actually are and they’re pleasantly surprised by our ability to get their “bad lawn” back on track without a total overhaul. Sometimes it just comes down to expectations and personal preferences. If you can be patient, we can usually get your soil into good health following the steps that we’ve detailed above. It just takes some time.
Over the years, we have worked with many people who thought their lawn was unfixable. But by getting to the root of the problem, and correcting their lawn’s soil health, we were able to put solutions in place that got them on the path to a healthy and thriving lawn.