Supporting an organic program means building and feeding the soil, which, in turn, will feed the plants.
Supporting an organic program means building and feeding the soil, which, in turn, will feed the plants. If your soil suffers from depletions or deficiencies due to drought or other causes, such as chemical programs or applications, our objective is to restore your soil to as wholly a natural fertilization state as possible.
Tips for a Healthier Soil and Lawn
- Take advantage of what nature is already providing. For example, try watering your plants with excess natural rainwater. Siphon or capture rainwater from your drains and gutters in a rain barrel or other container. Rainwater contains fewer chemicals and is naturally soft. Best of all, it costs nothing.
- Cover your beds in native mulch. Mulch will naturally deter weed growth. It also protects beds, holding in moisture naturally. Try to find native mulch. There's no need to bring in outside mulches that ultimately take more energy to transport in.
- Focus on the soil. Soils Alive's liquid compost is the key to getting better results from your lawn and landscape organically. Even better than compost teas, lquid compost is the answer to achieving healther soil. We use a special extraction process to get the live nutrients from our high-grade compost. We then apply it directly to your lawn and beds as a standard part of our Soil-building Program.
- Stay green. Specifically, stay away from chemical and other soluble fertilizers. They might produce short-term results. However, long term, they deplete the soil of its naturally occurring nutrients and create a cycle of dependence on even more chemicals. The answer is keeping soil balanced organically. For more information, see our Soil-building Program.
- Turn down (or off) the sprinkler. Watch how much you irrigate. In Dallas/Fort Worth in particular, overwatering of lawns is a common issue. Your lawn requires about 1 – 1.25″ of water per week. In general, water less frequently and in longer durations. This will cause roots to grow deeper and more resistant to periods of drought. It will also save water! For more information, see our Watering Guide.
Introduction to the Components of a Soil Test
Soils Alive analyzes soil tests through an accurate and reputable third-party soil analysis provider. The elements of a soil test and some related definitions and general information are listed below.
Total Exchange Capacity (TEC)
This refers to a soil's ability to hold and exchange nutrients. A TEC of 20 can hold twice the amount of a TEC of 10. A balance of nutrients in the soil is critical; TEC is used to factor the amount of nutrients we apply.
Desired Ca: Mg Ratio 69:11
Calcium and magnesium are primarily responsible for a soil's physical structure, but they are also critical to a plant's development. Calcium loosens soil while magnesium acts as the glue to tighten soil. Soils that have 69% calcium and 11% magnesium are naturally mellow and crumbly. Many soils in Northeast Texas have both high Ca and Mg levels. For every percentage point Ca is over 69%, the same amount of Mg is being tied up, causing a tightening effect on the soil.
We are not concerned about the pH as much as we are about what nutrients cause the high pH in our soils. An excess or deficiency of any one of the nutrients in the soil can increase or decrease the pH reading. Calcium, magnesium, potassium, and sodium all have an effect on the alkalinity of a soil. Our goal is to balance the soil that, in turn, will lower the pH closer to 6.5. A pH of 6.5 is desired because this is where most nutrients are more readily available.
Humus Content Percent
This test calculates humus and not organic matter. The difference is that leaves, roots, and sticks are not accounted for in the percent given. The humus percentage given is the amount of active humus that is providing nutrients to your plants. Higher humus gives soil a buffer to provide whatever deficiencies may be lacking. Humus percent also determines how much nitrogen will be released over a growing season. An ideal soil will have 5% humus.
Base Saturation Percent
This tells us the total amount of positively charged nutrients (cations) in a soil. The total percentage of each cation equals 100%. Base saturation identifies a soil's balance of nutrients and overall fertility.
In our heavy gumbo soil, we would like to see the Ca percent at 69%. It is common to see Ca in the 75% – 85% range in our area. We use sulfur to drive calcium down. The high Ca takes up a majority of the space in the soil, preventing the efficient uptake of other nutrients. Calcium is needed to feed the microorganisms and affects the permeability of plant cell walls and the thickness of stems.
Mg is important for photosynthesis and acts as the glue in a soil. Too much Mg in a soil causes compaction and tightness, creating major problems. The desired percentage is 11%. Many soils have a low Mg level at around 4% – 7%. The actual amount of Mg in a soil can be figured by subtracting 69% from the percentage of Ca found on the soil test and then adding that figure to Mg percentage. This demonstrates the amount of Mg that is being tied up by Ca and unavailable to a growing plant. But until Mg is above 11%, the Mg will be a limiting factor as a plant nutrient.
Desired value is 5%, but we like to see it closer to 7% for lawns and trees. Potassium is the most critical factor in a lawn's ability to withstand wear and tear. In trees, potassium helps provide stalk strength. Potassium has been referred to as the poor man's irrigation because potassium will help a plant through droughts more than any other nutrient.
Normally, sodium is not a concern. Some neighborhoods have salt problems caused by incorrect watering, which causes the salt to accumulate. Watering for short periods of time frequently can cause a sodium build-up. We recommend one inch of water a week without causing excessive runoff. This schedule will flush the harmful salts out of the root zone. Major problems arise when sodium is higher than potassium. Sodium and potassium are similar elements, and plants will take sodium up instead of potassium, causing cells in the plant to die.
Micro-nutrients boron, iron, manganese, copper, and zinc are calculated in parts per million, not in the base saturation percent.
This represents the amount of space hydrogen takes up on the soil particles. The more exchangeable the hydrogen, the more room there is for nutrients to push hydrogen aside and attach themselves.
These are negatively charged ions, such as nitrogen, sulfate, and phosphate.
This is a calculated value from the release of humus. Nitrogen is necessary for the formation of every cell. A large amount of available nitrogen — as found in synthetic fertilizers — causes the humus to burn out and creates rapid, unhealthy growth in plants.
The desired value is 50 parts per million. Excessive sulfates above 150 indicate a drainage problem. Sulfur and sodium are the most soluble nutrients that will remain in the soil. Sulfur is used to balance the Ca and Mg ratios.
Phosphate is the workhorse of plant nutrition because it has to be there for cell division and growth, photosynthesis, and energy utilization. Phosphate is a nutrient that creates problems when it is supplied as a synthetic fertilizer. It has a triple negative charge with a strong attraction to Ca to form tricalcium phosphate. The way we overcome this quick tie-up is by supplying phosphate from an organic fertilizer.
These are positively charged ions, such as calcium, magnesium, potassium, and sodium. The listings for cations designate the pounds per acre found and the desired pounds per acre, which is used to calculate the base saturation percent, which is what we are interested in correcting.
Traces (Boron, Iron, Manganese, Copper, Zinc)
Trace elements are essential nutrients that need correcting when they become the limiting factor. The major elements must be corrected before the minor trace elements begin to work their wonders.