This past summer, a number of Severna Park residents participated in a soil testing program sponsored by the Watershed Stewards Academy. Homeowners collected soil samples from their lawns and gardens and the samples were sent to the University of Delaware Soil Testing Laboratory for analysis.
Last Monday evening those who participated in the program, met at the Arlington Echo Outdoor Education Center to receive the results of their soil tests and to learn about using those results to improve the health of their lawns and gardens this fall.
The guest speakers for the evening were Karen Gartley, soil scientist from the UD Soil Test Lab, and Gene Sumi the Educational Coordinator and certified professional horticulturist from Homestead Gardens.
Gartley led the attendees through an explanation of the soil test results and provided each participant with their own set of results and specific recommendations for how to properly feed their lawns this fall.
She emphasized that while the natural soils in this area tend to be acidic, with ph levels ranging from 4.5 to 5.5, it is important to maintain soil ph levels in the 6.0 to 6.5 range which makes most nutrients readily available to plants.
A soil test every three years will provide homeowners with a recommendation for applying the correct amount of lime to help maintain proper soil ph levels.
Sumi explained to the group that fall is the best time of year to care for our cool season fescue and blue grass lawns which are common in our area.
He stated that when the weather becomes hot and dry and the temperature begins to exceed 84 degrees, lawns in this area will begin to show signs of stress.
However, as rain becomes more frequent and the air becomes cooler, fescue and bluegrass lawns which appeared to be dead in late July and early August will begin to turn green once again.
The combination of cooler temperatures and the soil still being warm from summer make the early fall the ideal time to feed your lawn. If a lawn does require a feeding applying the correct amount of fertilizer at this time of year encourages the development of strong, healthy roots in the turf.
This recommendation reverses the long held belief of the necessity to fertilize a lawn in the spring. Research by turf grass scientists has shown that fertilizing cool season grasses in the spring encourages the blades of grass to grow which hinders root development and can make a lawn more susceptible to diseases.
The favorable weather and soil conditions also make the early fall a great time of year to start a new lawn or repair and existing lawn by seeding or by installing sod. The fall growing conditions will help the new turf establish roots so that it can better survive the heat next summer.
Both speakers emphasized that the soil in most lawns in Severna Park, and the surrounding areas, generally has enough phosphorus present to nourish a lawn. If you do need to apply lawn food, select a fertilizer that contains either no phosphorus or one that has very little present in the formula in order to reduce the chances for it to runoff and pollute nearby waterways.
When reading the nutrient contents on a bag of fertilizer, the amount of phosphorus is always the second of the three numbers listed on a bag. These numbers designate the percentage, by weight, of the amount of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium contained in the bag.