how to improve the soil quality for lawns

How to Improve Soil Quality for Lawns

A healthy foundation for your lawn starts with healthy soil. If you want a lush, green lawn, it’s important to know and understand the condition of your soil. By managing the soil correctly, you can ensure your grass roots receive the right amount of air, water, and nutrients.  

Don't Guess, Soil Test

Conducting a soil test allows your to monitor the nutrient levels in your lawn and identify ways to improve overall soil quality. This testing can be done professionally, or you can take samples yourself.  

State extension services, such as those at the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension, offer soil testing for a small fee. You send in soil samples, and they send back results.  Typically soil testing results provides information about the nutrients in the soil, the pH level, and the amount of organic matter present, along with recommendations for amendments. 

soil testing bags from local extension office
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how to soil test your lawn. 

How to Identify Unhealthy Soil

Not sure how to identify unhealthy soil? Here are a few red flags to look out for: 

  • Cracked, dry soil  
  • Hard soil, difficulty digging holes 
  • Thin, patchy or yellowing areas in the lawn 
  • Standing water on soil surface
  • Bare patches

Soil Amendments for a Healthy Lawn

Once you have tested your soil and understand its current sates, it is time to add some material to enhance it. Soil amendments can be used to improve soil structure, nutrients, and water retention.  

  • Soil Structure

    Soil structure refers to the way individual particles of sand, silt, and clay are assembled.  Soil aggregation, or the coming together of soil particles, occurs in different ways, which then results in different types of soil structures. The movement of water through the soil varies greatly depending on its structure.

    Well-structured soil is key to ensuring that water, air, and nutrients can move freely and efficiently. A soil structure with too much clay will easily compact, making it difficult for grass roots to spread and access moisture. A sandy soil structure will be too loose, allowing water to flow through without giving plants time to absorb the moisture. Loamy soil provides the best balance.

  • Nutrients

    Soil is a key element in plant growth providing the three main nutrients plants need to thrive: nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K). These nutrients are essential for plant development, so it’s important to make sure your soil is rich in them to allow your grass and other plants to grow strong and healthy.

  • Water Retention

    Water retention refers to the soil’s ability to hold water, especially important during the heat of summer, although too much retention can drown grass plants since they need air as well. The rate of water flow and amount of retention varies greatly depending on the type of soil.

By amending your lawn’s soil and following the results of your soil test, you can improve the pH levels, nutrients, and soil structure, nutrients, and water retention to better suit your grass type. This will help your lawn look its best and help it resist disease, pests, and drought. 

Ways to Improve Overall Soil Quality

Add Organic Matter

There are many ways to improve your lawn, and one of them is by incorporating organic materials into your soil. With so many amendments and enrichment products available, it can be tough to know which to choose. However, by doing some research and talking to experts, you can make the best decision for your lawn. 

If you are moving into a newly constructed home, it’s important to know that organic matter can be severely degraded in the construction process. Often topsoil is eroded, removed, or buried during construction, making successful growing in the remaining soil difficult. To ensure your lawn’s chances of success, amend the soil quality before any planting takes place. This will allow your new grass to thrive and look its best. 

soil amendments for new home constructions

Adding organic matter, such as finished compost, well-rotted leaves, and other natural materials to your lawn’s soil can improve the soil’s structure and aeration which in turn improves the lawn’s ability to hold water and nutrients, as well as drain water properly. Organic matter also aids in root penetration and overall soil workability. 

A layer of compost can also be added to an established lawn, although it’s important not to smother the grass. Topdress with a one-quarter to one-half inch layer of compost. 


Over time, soil becomes compacted, filling the tiny spaces where air and water usually flow. Clay in the soil, excess foot traffic, drought and unusually heavy rains also contribute to compaction. Once the soil is compacted, your grass gets less of what it needs to thrive, and the roots become shallower, increasing the risk for damage, disease, and pest infestation. 

Aeration is the process of loosening hard, compacted soil to create passageways to allow water, oxygen, and nutrients to flow more easily through the soil to the roots of your grass. In addition, aeration encourages deeper root systems, making your lawn hardier.

machine aerating lawn
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when and how to aerate your lawn.

Reduce Thatch

Thatch is a brown layer of mainly dead grass that accumulates in some lawns between the green grass blades and the soil surface. A thin layer of thatch on your lawn’s soil can actually be beneficial, helping regulate temperature and moisture levels. However, a lawn with excess thatch essentially chokes your lawn by preventing life-sustaining air, water and nutrients from circulating properly. 

health grass vs unhealthy thatch illustration
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when and how to aerate your lawn.

Heavy thatch holds onto moisture at the soil surface, causing grass to develop shallow roots, which in turn makes your lawn less hardy and less drought tolerant. Once your lawn’s thatch layer reaches most than half an inch, it’s time to take action in order to avoid any further damage. 

Results Take Time

Most soils can be improved with the right amendments, and soil testing can help you determine what your lawn needs to reach its maximum potential. Keep in mind that it may take some time to see results. Be patient and consistent with the proper fertilizing and watering schedule, and in time you’ll have a beautiful healthy lawn.


If you have questions about the right soil profile for your grass variety, our Certified Turfgrass Professionals are happy to help. Give them a call at 770.832.8608 or email at 


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