Understanding lawn care basics, like fertilizing and mowing, is valuable for the average homeowner. But often, more complex topics are dismissed. Let's shed light on a critical factor that affects your lawn's health: acidic soil. Understanding the complexities of soil pH, recognizing the signs of pH imbalance, and knowing effective solutions to neutralize your soil are essential, especially in Maine, where the natural soil pH leans very acidic. Let's dive into the practical aspects of dealing with acidic soil and how to return to a robust and thriving lawn.
The Causes, Effects, And Remedies To Acidic Soil In Maine
What is acidic soil?
Acidic soil is soil that leans more acidic on the pH scale. For example, neutral soil generally produces a 7.0 on a pH test, while acidic soil pH reads below 6.5. Acidic soil isn't inherently bad – in fact, many flowering plants prefer living in acidic soil! However, lawn owners must be wary about their soil being too acidic for their grass to flourish.
What causes acidic soil in Maine?
There are a multitude of reasons why your soil could be acidic. From natural environmental causes to human intervention, soil acidity is affected by five primary factors.
- Organic matter- Introducing organic matter, such as compost and grass clippings, releases organic acids through decomposition. This is a slow process and can be an ideal method to acidify your soil gradually.
- Rainfall- Rainfall is naturally acidic due to collecting carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and when it seeps into the soil, it releases carbonic acids. In addition to its natural acidity, heavy rainfall can leach soils of essential minerals that keep soil neutral.
- Nitrogen-based fertilizers- Nitrogen fertilizers also affect soil pH in a complex way. They acidify soil when ammonium molecules in the fertilizer convert to nitrate molecules in the soil. The influence a fertilizer has on the pH varies with each fertilizer type, so it's integral to understand your lawn's needs and do regular pH tests.
- Weathering minerals- When naturally occurring minerals break down over time, they can leach into soils, lowering their pH. For example, minerals containing sulfur release sulfuric acid when they weather due to contacting water, salts, ice, or changing temperatures.
- Pollution- Human activities like vehicle emissions and fossil fuel combustion introduce sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide into the atmosphere. This forms acid rain, which releases acidic water on the ground.
How does acidic soil affect my grass?
Most grass types need a slightly acidic to neutral pH environment to thrive, so any reading under 6.5 is hazardous to your turf's health. Acidic soil will affect your grass in both visible and microscopic ways, so watch out for these symptoms of affected grass.
- Thin turf- Acidic soil prevents grass roots from uptaking enough nutrients to maintain their robustness and thickness. As the grass struggles to thrive in acidic conditions, it becomes challenging to establish a dense and lush turf cover, resulting in a thin and patchy lawn.
- Yellowed grass- As your soil pH strays farther from a neutral pH reading, your grass color will become lighter and yellow. This pale coloration will become more severe as the grass's nutrient deficiency continues.
- Nutrient deficiency- Acidic soil disrupts nutrient availability for grass by limiting the solubility and uptake of essential nutrients like phosphorus, potassium, and calcium. This deficiency weakens grass growth, leading to pale coloration, stunted development, and reduced overall health.
- Microbial disruption- A low soil pH also makes it inhabitable for many microorganisms essential for breaking down organic matter and contributing to your lawn's health. When fungi and bacteria can't sustain themselves in acidic soils, the soil quality reduces, and nutrient cycles that are vital for your lawn's health slow.
How can I tell my Maine soil is acidic?
Testing your soil at home is a super simple and easy process any homeowner can take on. You can identify your soil pH in two main ways: A soil pH kit and a digital pH testing tool. Both can be found at any home improvement or garden store, including Lowes and The Home Depot, for $15 or less. You can also grab them off of Amazon for an affordable price.
A soil pH test kit is a disposable method to test your soil pH. Generally, it will come with paper strips that change color depending on the pH reading, making it a fast and accurate way to identify acidic soil. To test with a pH kit, you simply need to gather several soil samples from your yard in a bucket and mix them. Then, add one scoop of bucket soil into a separate cup and add water based on the kit's instructions. Once thoroughly mixed, dip a strip into the solution and match the color result to the reference chart.
A digital soil pH tester is a reusable tool to identify acidic soil and often other factors like moisture and fertility. To use a digital tester, water a patch of your yard and stick the metal rods into the area, leaving it for 15 minutes. After the time has passed, read the meter for the results. This is a dependable and versatile tool for any homeowner, but it's also important to test several lawn areas to get an average pH reading.
What can I do to treat acidic soil in Maine?
If a soil pH test comes back as acidic, adding a lime treatment to your lawn is the best method to increase its alkalinity. Lime is a soil amendment created from limestone that raises the soil pH naturally. Due to the sensitive nature of the soil, we recommend hiring a Maine lawn care company to manage the lime treatment and ensure the soil is effectively neutralized. Your local team will use a seed spreader to distribute the lime throughout your yard evenly. Then, all you need to do is water your lawn thoroughly to activate the amendment. With luck, you'll see results within a few weeks!
Neutralize your acidic soil with Northern Turf Management!
Our Maine lawn care team offers pH-neutralizing services to green your grass and thicken your turf. Our professionals in Cyr Plantation & Caribou, ME, have the knowledge and expertise to revitalize your lawn. If you're ready to wave goodbye to sick turf, call (207) 544-9420 to learn more about our lawn care services today.