Why is soil testing important? SoilKit spoke with J. Bryan Unruh, P.D., Professor at the University of Florida and state extension turf grass specialist for the IFAS extension office, to answer this question and more.
Dr. Unruh explains, “The landscape revolves around 4 things: water, light, temperature, and nutrition…and soil testing is the key component in understanding nutrition.” Plants take nutrients from their soil, so it is pivotal that your soil is healthy and free of imbalances. There are 17 essential elements required by your plant that are present in your soil, 2 of which are nitrogen and phosphorus. Both nitrogen and phosphorus are linked to environmental problems pertaining to water quality. As Dr. Unruh explains, “If we are not applying nitrogen and phosphorus properly then those nutrients can end up in our water resources and generally result in algae or aquatic plant growth. When you have those aquatic blooms, they tend to deprive the water of oxygen which can then result in killing fish.”
In order to prevent these negative environmental consequences, it’s important to adhere to the best management practices. According to Dr. Unruh, this includes applying nutrients only to the degree that the plants need them. A soil test is a great place to start. By using a soil test, you can determine precise amounts of nutrients needed and identify deficiencies in your lawn, making modifications as a result.
That being said, there are also local regulations and ordinances which Florida residents must abide by. “In the state of Florida, we have a couple of laws that dictate our fertilizer use rates based on the species [of plant] and the region.” This includes phosphorus application. The amount you can apply is regulated, as it is with fertilizer. Dr. Unruh explained that there are well over 100 fertilizer ordinances in the state of Florida, one of the most paramount being that fertilizer cannot be applied during the summer months because Florida’s rainy season falls in the summertime. Fertilizer-restricted ordinances limit your ability to follow soil test recommendations, but the IFAS-branded soil test kit powered by soilkit.com references and links these ordinances, facilitating the user’s dictation of the proper amounts of fertilizer to apply. To access local ordinances, visit https://ffl.ifas.ufl.edu/fertilizer/ and use the Florida fertilizer tool to geolocate your local ordinance.
All 67 extension offices in the state of Florida carry SoilKits. The SoilKit soil tests are all-in-one kits that are distinctly different from, and superior to, standard soil test kits. According to Dr. Unruh, “What makes this [test] different [from other extension office offerings] is that when the client accesses the kit they are able to geolocate their property and there will also be a satellite imaging sizing tool contained within the application to identify the size of your land [if you do not already know the square footage].” Additionally, Soil Kit is extremely efficient. “There is an instructional video.. put your sample in the provided bag, drop it in the prepaid mailing envelope, and drop it in the mailbox.” The turnaround is only a few days and the results are provided in a user-friendly, electronic manner, making the test easy to interpret relative to traditional soil test reports.
Additionally, all recommendations are provided by Agritech and the report comes with your results, product recommendations, and, taking it a step further, SoilKit provides an actual use rate (measured in pounds per lawn). None of these things are provided by the standard soil test.
Building this database localized in Florida, will not only help individual test users but will also benefit the environment. Dr. Unruh concludes, “Generating soil data all across Florida will be utilized to improve fertilizer recommendations which will in turn benefit the environment.”