The Root Of The Issue

Pay attention to the forms the soil laboratory sends. These forms ask for information that the testing laboratory needs to give an accurate report. You will most likely be asked to assign a sample identification number, as well as the plant type you are testing (Bluegrass, Ryegrass, Bentgrass, etc.); if it is a mixture of two or more grasses, let the lab know. Also note the area type (football field, golf green, playground).

Once the laboratory receives a sample, it will take from 7 to 14 days to provide results.

Information in the report will include the pH, the results of the analysis (pounds per acre of available nutrients), cation exchange capacity and calculated values (percent-base saturation). There may be a graph to display average results, and then the laboratory will give its recommendations.

The first time looking over a soil report can be intimidating. The levels listed on the form can provide a wealth of information–but only if the terminology and processes involved are fully understood; that’s why it’s important to select a reputable laboratory to help you interpret the report. If you don’t understand the report, call the lab; it will be glad to help.

One final word of caution: I know some fertilizers sales people offer to do soil samples for free, and that is a nice service, especially when budgets are becoming tighter. But sometimes it pays to obtain a non-biased result from a laboratory that has nothing to gain from the results–other than maybe more testing.

Sean McHugh, CGCS, is director of Golf/Turf for Cleveland Metroparks. He can be reached via e-mail at

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