A beautiful lawn is a wonderful enhancement for a home. Grasses, like any other plant, have needs and will thrive if those needs are met. One of the most important factors in growing a lush green lawn is soil. Without the proper soil a lawn will not be able to stay green or healthy, repair itself, or withstand heat and drought.
The best soil for lawn grasses is loam. Loam consists of an evenly balance mixture of small to large particles. Loams are particularly good for plants because they can hold moisture but drain well. Unfortunately, many soils in the United States are clay or sand rather than loam. Clay consists of very fine particles that pack together tightly so that they are poorly aerated and have drainage problems. Sandy soils, on the other hand, consist of large particles, have very good aeration, but can not hold on to moisture and nutrients. Both clay and sandy soils can be made suitable for lawns, however, by the addition of organic matter that will hold moisture and improve aeration.
Grasses are sensitive to the pH of the soil, that is soil acidity or alkalinity. Most grow best in slightly acid soil with a pH in the range of 6.5-7 (7 is neutral). If the soil is not in the desirable range the grasses will not be able to take in nutrients properly and that means poor growth and increased susceptibility to pests and diseases. Soils east of the Mississippi River tend to be acid soil while those west of it tend to be alkaline. A soil test by your cooperative extension office or a private lab is the best way to find out the pH of your soil. The test will also usually tell you how to make it closer to neutral by adding lime to acid soils and sulfur to alkaline soils. Since soils tend to go back to their original pH over time the addition of lime or sulfur must be done every 3-4 years.
Grass needs nutrients to grow well, especially nitrogen for above ground parts, phosphorous for root growth, and potassium for overall vigor. These may be available in your soil but will be used up by the grass and so must be applied on a regular basis to maintain the lawn. A soil test will indicate any deficiencies and usually give suggestions for improving the nutrient supply.
Although soil is a very important factor in growing a beautiful lawn other variables are important too, including light, low and high temperature, and rainfall. Choosing the right kind of grass for the environment and situation is crucial for success, as is weekly maintenance jobs such as watering and mowing. Starting with the right soil is the first step towards growing a great lawn.