Our Master Gardener intern class recently had a soils class with Auburn professor, Dr. Charles Mitchell. Good soil is the backbone of a garden, whether that garden contains vegetables or flowers or whether the soil supports a beautiful stand of grass. When we talk about soil we are not talking about dirt (which is soil with all the nutrients and other good stuff removed) but about the soil.
Soils can vary from one neighborhood to another and even from one house to another. Since some plants thrive in a more acid soil (like azaleas and gardenias) and others thrive in lower acid soils (lilac), it is important to know more about the soil you have in your garden. Thus, the first thing all Master Gardeners (as well as any Extension Agent) will recommend when asked most plant questions, especially as the question relates to fertilizer, is that the homeowner do a soil test. It is very easy, relatively inexpensive, and the best thing you can do for your yard and soil and even for the environment. A soil test costs way less than a bag of fertilizer. Phosphorous in fertilizers can end up in the groundwater eventually polluting our waterways. Too much of the wrong kind of fertilizer can even hamper the health of your grass or your plants or your vegetables. If someone comes in and wants to fertilize your lawn without a soil test, just say no. Be an educated consumer. Get a soil test first.
Soil test kits may be obtained from your County Extension Office.