I’m not sure if you’re a subscriber to Lawnbright‘s newsletter (if not, go do it), but I am, and the most recent email I received was terrific. It was about soil pH and in it, Craig Elworthy, the founder of Lawnbright, shared some startling data about exactly how much your soil’s pH can limit the nutrient uptake and utilization of that expensive lawn fertilizer you’re using. We reached out to Craig to learn a little more about what their 2-year study of the lawn soil data in America revealed about pH.
Specifically, I was curious to learn just how many lawns in America had a soil pH that fell outside of the optimal range for turfgrass. (spoiler, it’s OVER 50%!)
Today I’m going to share some insights (both from that email, and that Craig shared directly with LawnChick.com).
I think you’ll be really interested, and invite you to settle in and read this article all the way through to the end.
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What’s the Optimal pH Range for Lawns (and why you should care)
Just so we’re all on the same page here, soil pH is a measure of the soil’s sweetness (alkalinity) or acidity. For plants (like turfgrass), the soil pH plays a pivotal role in how much (or how little) of the nutrients in soil are available.
The pH scale for soil ranges from 1 to 14, with 7 a neutral pH.
Most experts say that a pH between 6.0 and 7.0 is ideal for lawns. I’d refine that a little and say 6.2-7.0 is as good as you can get.
If the soil in your lawn is in this range (slightly acidic) then your grass will have the opportunity to utilize every bit of the fertilizer you spread.
This is important for the performance and appearance of your lawn, but it will also save you money, and it’s better for the environment.
- The fertilizer you buy won’t just be wasted, and
- The fertilizer you buy won’t just run off into local waterways.
How Poor pH Can Lead to Fertilizer Waste
In Lawnbright’s words, “When soil becomes acidic, essential nutrients, such as nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, become less available to plants. As a result, the fertilizers applied to the lawn may not be effectively absorbed by the grass, leading to waste. The acidic environment can cause certain nutrients to leach away, becoming inaccessible to the grass roots and further exacerbating the problem.”
They also shared the following data about how even small differences in the pH of your yard’s soil can lead to massive fertilizer waste:
|Soil pH (acidity)
The Impact of Wasting Fertilizer (it’s more than you think)
Across the country many towns and local municipalities now ban or limit the use of fertilizers containing phosphorus because it poses such a threat to local waterways and wildlife.
It can be easy for any homeowner (even those who enjoy and care about the natural world) to minimize the impact our choices might have on local waterways or wildlife, but when I see the data above I’m forced to stop and think.
I’m not sure about you, but what I notice first is that even at a pH level of 6 (which most experts agree is ideal for turfgrass) 20% of the fertilizer you spread may be wasted.
This underscores why for years I’ve used and recommended a lawn soil test kit, and championed it as one of the best investments you can make in your lawn’s health and appearance.
It’s a huge money-saving tool that also helps you be a better steward of the planet.
As Lawnbright explains, “When excess fertilizer is unavailable to plants and left to sit in the soil, it will leach into groundwater or runoff into nearby water bodies, causing water pollution. This can lead to algal blooms and can kill off aquatic ecosystems, creating a cascading effect on the environment.”
So, How Many Lawns in America Have a Soil pH That Isn’t Optimal?
LawnChick.com asked Craig Elworthy if he could dig into the customer data in Lawnbright‘s soil database and share exactly how many of the lawns tested in the last 2 years failed to fall in the 6.0 – 7.0 optimal pH range.
“At Lawnbright, 56% of lawn soils tested fall outside of the optimal pH range.
Lawnbright’s soil analysis take pH into account, but do not pivot on a single pH metric when prescribing products.
We build a composite picture, taking into account the naturally occurring pH in your region, the deviation from the median, and other datapoints to determine if pH altering products are needed for you and your lawn.”
That’s right – based on data from thousands of lawns in Lawnbright‘s database of lab-based soil testing, 56% of lawns in America have a pH that’s outside the optimal range.
This means that it’s likely that at least 20% (and probably more) of the fertilizer Americans spread on lawns goes to waste. What’s more, it is potentially harming local groundwater and waterways.
It’s Time to Panic, Right?
No, Craig doesn’t think so.
When LawnChick.com asked, he told us that “it doesn’t always require intervention to adjust the pH … If your pH is slightly on the high side, don’t panic and try to lower it right away. You can waste a lot of time and effort – and quickly get yourself into trouble – trying to acidify soil that wants to sit slightly above the optimal range.”
“It’s important not to fight nature too hard. For example, soil in some regions have adapted to life in a naturally alkaline environment,” he explained, continuing that that’s why “we build a composite picture, taking into account the naturally occurring pH in your region, the deviation from the median, and other datapoints, to determine if pH altering products are needed.”
And the good news is that if you want a hands-off approach to managing your lawn’s pH and fertilization program, companies offering lawn care subscription plans (including and especially Lawnbright) are a great, low-effort option.
In fact, one of the things that sets Lawnbright apart from other subscribe-and-save lawn care companies that deliver products directly to your door, is the hands-on approach Craig takes.
If you subscribe to Lawnbright’s annual lawn plan and have questions, they’re available to help.
And as a family-owned business – you know exactly who you’ll be talking to.
Maps of pH Levels in the US
If you’re curious about the general soil pH levels observed in different parts of the country, these three maps from BONAP offer a good visualization:
How To Accurately Measure Your Lawn’s pH
While many homeowners can get pretty good results by looking at the maps above for guidance about what their lawn’s pH level probably is, I do recommend a lab-based soil test so you know where your soil is for sure.
As I mentioned earlier – if you go with a subscription lawn care company like Lawnbright or Sunday, then they’ll include a soil test kit in their first shipment so they can fine-tune subsequent shipments to your unique soil sample.
And these companies tailor the nutrients you get in that first box based on their database of soil tests in your neighborhood.
However if you have fertilizer products and a system you already like and don’t want a subscription, then you can go through your local university or cooperative extension lab for around $20 and get accurate results to work from.
I’ve tried a number of soil test kits over the years, and this is the one I use and recommend if you aren’t subscribing to a custom lawn care plan:
Best Overall Lawn Soil Test Kit
The Soil Test Kit I Use & Recommend
There are many options for testing your lawn’s soil, but I prefer a lab-based soil test that provides a detailed analysis of your soil’s nutrients and what’s needed for your lawn to thrive.
I use this one from MySoil every year.
How I Adjust the pH Level in My New England Lawn
Like most yards in New England, my soil tends to creep into a sub-optimal level of acidity.
And I have a number of articles on my site where I discuss using Lime to sweeten acidic soil and get your lawn into that “sweet spot” of 6.2 – 7.0 pH.
Here are a few you may be interested in:
- What Does Lime Do for Grass?
- How to Tell If Your Lawn Needs Lime
- Can You Put Too Much Lime on Your Lawn?
On my lawn, I apply a product called MagICal Plus from Jonathan Green every summer.
This product naturally improves my soil’s pH (without swinging too far in the other direction), is easy to apply with my spreader, and contains some humic acid (to help the plant extract more nutrients from the soil) and iron to deepen the green color of my grass.
It’s easy to spread and dust-free. Here’s what the granules look like:
I try not to fertilize much in the summer these days, and this product lets me get out there and keep the nutrients I provided in the spring continue to work (and work well) through the season where cool season lawns basically are in survival mode.
I find that one application a year keeps my soil pH right where it needs to be, but if you have some correcting to do, you could apply it twice a year.
As with any pH adjusting product – what will work for you will depend upon the pH of your soil.
Some One-Off Products I Recommend for Adjusting Soil pH:
For Acidic Soils (to raise pH):
- MagICal Plus for Acidic Soils from Jonathan Green (save 10% with code LAWNCHICK10)
- Solu-Cal Enhanced Calcitic Lime
- NutraLime OP from The Andersons (save 10% with code LAWNCHICK)
For Alkaline Soils (to lower pH):
- MagICal Plus for alkaline soils from Jonathan Green (save 10% with code LAWNCHICK10)
- Super S Liquid Fertilizer from Sunday (save 15% with code LAWNCHICK2024)
- Fertilome Soil Acidifier plus Iron
My Best Tips for Adjusting pH in Your Lawn as a DIYer
Many blogs online suggest that to increase your pH by 1 in acidic soil you should apply 40 pounds of lime per 1,000 square feet.
That’s an over-simplification.
The type of soil you have (for one thing) is really going to change how much lime you have to use to move the needle, and yards with heavy clay soil may require four times as much lime as a yard with sandy soil.
I recommend making small adjustments to your pH if you’re doing this yourself.
If that 40 pound bag promises 10,000 square feet of coverage, spread 20 pounds on the first application, and 20 pounds later in the year.
Perform a follow-up soil test a few weeks after your first application to understand how much you’ve moved the needle.
And you should use this free tool to measure your lawn’s square footage accurately before you order so you get exactly what you need for your lawn and don’t over-buy:
You can save your map with a secure link and come back to it any time.
Again – if you’re new to lawn care, have concerns about properly applying lime or sulfur (or just hate math), then I recommend considering a lawn care subscription from Lawnbright or Sunday that lets experts (like Craig) take care of it for you.
You just have to bring the hose.