Turf Management: Soil Care

In the parks and recreation industry, turf management is a major component. The word “turf” encompasses plant materials like trees and shrubs, as well as grass, golf greens etc. When considering turf maintenance, you must think about where certain turf is located and how it is used. For example, a picnic area might have a lot of traffic. Therefore it might need more intensive and more frequent maintenance than areas with less activity. This three-part series will cover many aspects of turf management. We will begin with soil care.

Choosing Soil Composition:

Properly caring for turf starts with selecting and maintaining the soil. All soil contains five basic components. By adjusting the ratios of those components, you can actually create the desired soil type. Those components are:

  • Water
  • Air
  • Humus (Organic Matter from Dead Organisms)
  • Living Organisms
  • Minerals (Clay, Sand, Silt Etc.)

The texture and function of the soil you use is greatly impacted by how much of each material above is present in it. For example, most plants require good topsoil in which to grow. Topsoil should contain a lot of humus. You can tell if a lot of humus is present by the soil color. Lighter soil is low in such materials, while darker soil has a higher concentration of them.

Monitoring and Adjusting the pH Factor of Soil:

The pH factor of soil represents how many hydrogen ions it contains. The pH value is always a number between zero and 14. A neutral value is 7.0 on the pH scale. Lower pH indicates higher acidity. Higher pH means the soil is more alkaline. To promote healthy turf, test the pH of the soil before planting.

Based on the results of the pH tests you perform, you may need to make adjustments to the soil. For example, adding lime increases the pH, reducing acidity. The soil test will tell you how much lime you need, if lime is necessary. When adding it, follow these steps:

  • Start by spreading half of the indicated amount evenly in the area you are treating.
  • Plow the area.
  • Spread the other half of the lime, as well as other nutrients the soil needs. (see below)
  • Plow again lightly to ensure a good mixture of the materials.
  • Use a rake or other appropriate tool to smooth the surface before planting.

The “Other Nutrients” to Monitor:

There are three major nutrients any good planting soil must have to promote plant health. To keep the root systems healthy, the soil must have a good level of phosphorus. For leaf or blade health, nitrogen is necessary. Meanwhile, potassium helps with general plant strength and fortitude. If any one or more of those nutrients is lacking, your turf can never be at an optimum condition. There are also more elements that are equally as important, though not necessarily needed in high quantities. For example, good soil usually contains some zinc, iron, and calcium.

The same soil test that measures the pH can help you determine which nutrients you may need to add to the soil and in what amounts. You can add those nutrients by using the proper fertilizer for the job. However, you must determine whether you need inorganic, natural organic, or synthetic organic fertilizer based on the soil test results and the area in which you are working. For example, animal manure is not an appropriate type of fertilizer for use in an area with a lot of activity, such as a picnic area.

Soil is only one component of turf management. In our next installment we will explore the installation of grass. Selecting the right type and maintaining it properly is essential to make each space you maintain look its best.