2012-03-21 / Family

Caring for your lawn

By Rich Griset

File photo File photo As March gets under way, Virginia Cooperative Extension’s Grass Roots program is offering Chesterfield residents inexpensive soil sampling and other testing that could mean the difference between having a lush green lawn and dried crab grass this summer.

The catch is that you have to be among the first 400 people to sign up by June 1.

With milder March winds hinting at warmer days ahead, the county’s volunteer lawn doctors are getting ready for their 15th year of operation.

“The program is a way to provide personalized nutrient management recommendations to residents in Chesterfield,” said Susan Edwards, master gardener program coordinator for Virginia Cooperative Extension’s Chesterfield County office. “It’s a cost-effective way to do lawn care. [The program] tends to fill up fast, so if people are interested they should get in now.”

Here’s how it works: Volunteer lawn doctors visit a lawn, collect a soil sample and get other measurements – including those of size of the lawn, soil texture, exposure to sunlight and soil compaction – and return them to Edwards. She analyzes the samples and creates a report for the lawn owner. The report shows the results of the soil test and those of the other readings and explains them as well as how to fix any problems.

“You know the condition that your soil is in,” Edwards said. “Without a soil test you’re basically just guessing.” Grass Roots has helped more than 4,600 lawn owners so far. The program costs $25 per residence and includes one soil sample. Additional samples cost $11 each, though Edwards said they are usually only necessary if there are different types of soil or fertilizer on a property.

Along with the report, every resident receives a guide, which serves as a reference book, providing additional information to lawn owners. “It’s kind of a ‘How-To’ for the report,” Edwards said. “The guide helps educate on what’s appropriate, what’s needed.” The guide and report also work together to educate residents about reducing runoff that could affect the watershed and the Chesapeake Bay.

Residents may have soil samples evaluated free of charge by sending them to Virginia Tech, in Blacksburg. For more information about the process, call 751 4401 or go to

“It’s a cost-effective way to do lawn care,” Edwards said. She advises lawn owners to have their soil tested every two to three years.

Tony Armato, owner of T & T Landscaping in Chesterfield, suggested adding pre-emergent herbicides to lawns to help control weeds.

“It’s one of the best things to do at this time of year,” Armato said. He also recommended adding lime to the lawn to help reduce the acidity of the soil.

Bob Wray, owner of B & B Landscaping in Chesterfield, said using pre-emergent herbicides can help keep certain weeds from germinating. He also agreed with Armato about putting down lime, and said that the area’s oak leaves, pine needles and clay soil all lead to a very acidic soil.

“It’s almost impossible to put down too much lime in people’s yards,” Wray said.

He added that March, April and May are the best months to put down mulch, which can help hold moisture in the soil.

The Grass Roots program fee is $25 and covers the cost of supplies, materials and one soil test. Additional soil samples are $11 each. For more information, visit or call 751-4401.

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