To improve your soil, you need to understand the soil chemistry in order to apply the right products. Soil analysis test results will give your soil’s current pH and nutrient content, and will tell you what to add to achieve the correct pH and nutrient levels.
The best way to test your soil is to send a sample to your local university Cooperative Extension Service. If you aerate, collect the cores from different sites in your yard. The Rutgers University Soil Testing Laboratory recommends 10-15 cores within the sampling area, placing all cores together in a container. If you are not aerating, use a spade, shovel, or core sampler. Tools should be either stainless steel or chrome-plated. Do not use brass, bronze, or galvanized tools because they will contaminate samples with copper and/or zinc.
If a shovel or a spade is used, dig a V-shaped hole to sample depth of 4-6’’ excluding any thatch, then cut a ½ inch slice off to the side. Do this in different places in the section of the lawn (i.e. front) to be tested.
Mix soil cores for each sample in a clean, plastic bucket. If the bucket has been used to hold fertilizer or other chemicals, wash it thoroughly before using it for soil samples. Let the sample dry well before testing. Place it in a zip lock bag. Sandwich size is usually adequate.
Soil testing labs are less busy in the fall then they are in the spring, so turnaround time is faster. Wait until spring to apply any recommended products (except for Mag-I-Cal to adjust pH).
The Final Cut
Don’t forget to cut your grass to about 2 inches for the final cut of the season. This helps eliminate trapped moisture which could lead to snow mold in the spring. Don’t go too short or the lawn could become stressed by the cold weather.