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What Is Cation Exchange Capacity and Why Does It Matter?

Monitoring the cation exchange capacity of your soil and adjusting your lawn care to fit its needs can be one of the most important ways to nurture your lawn or garden.

What Is Cation Exchange Capacity?

Cation exchange capacity measures the ability a soil has to hold onto exchangeable cations. All soil is made of clay, silt, organic matter, and sand. The parts of soil made up of clay and organic matter have negatively charged sites, which attract positively charged ions, known as cations, and absorb them to pass onto plants. Ions are essential plant nutrients, such as calcium, iron, magnesium, manganese, boron, copper, zinc, to name a few. When hydrogen ions are in the soil it combines to the negatively charged soil colloid and another positively charged cation is released for the plant root. Essentially, these sites attract all the water and nutrients your lawn or plants need to grow. If CEC is low, the cations flow through the soil, and your lawn or plants will not have the chance to absorb them. CEC is the measurement of that ability to attract and exchange those nutrients and water.

 

What Are Cations?

Cations can be nutrients, water, or herbicides.  The ability of a soil to react with them and, in turn, transfer to plants, is the cation exchange capacity. Cations commonly found in soil are: calcium, potassium, hydrogen, magnesium, as well as many more.

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How Is Cation Exchange Capacity Measured?

CEC is measured as a number from 0 (low) to 50 (high). The higher the number, the larger the number of positive molecules in which the soil can react. The lower the number, the less likely it is that the cations needed to grow your lawn or plants will be available in the soil. Soil with a cation exchange capacity of 10 or lower is considered as having a poor ability to hold cations. Knowing a general number of your cation exchange capacity can help you make decisions about your lawn care. If you have a large plot of soil, you can get your soil tested to easily find out your CEC and adapt your lawn care methods. If you have a smaller area or do not want to send it off to a lab, simply research the average soil texture of your state or geographic area.  

 

What Factors Affect Cation Exchange Capacity?

There are many factors that affect the cation exchange capacity of a soil. One of them is the state in which you live, because the makeup of soil, such as sand, clay, silt, etc., can dictate the amount of negatively charged sites. Soil with more silt, clay, and organic matter have higher cation exchange capacities, while soil with more sand has lower CEC. The pH level of your soil can also affect CEC. As the pH is raised, those negatively charged spots (even if there are only a few) increases in capacity, especially in the organic matter of the soil.

 

Why Does Cation Exchange Capacity Matter?

Being aware of the cation exchange capacity in your soil is important for your plants. When soil is described as fertile, that means, in reference to CEC, the soil maintains higher quantities of negative charge. The ability of your soil to attract nutrients and water, and then give those nutrients and water to your plants depend on the cation exchange capacity.

 

How Will CEC Affect My Lawn Care Routine?

Since cation exchange capacity measures the amount a soil can hold on to anything (nutrients, water, etc.), the CEC of your soil will change the way you determine your lawn care. A soil with low cation exchange capacity needs to be watered more often, while high CEC soil needs less frequent watering. When it is time to apply fertilizer or our Lawn Food, apply slowly to a low CEC soil. For soil with high cation exchange capacity, integrate the lawn food with the soil for maximum absorption.

 

Can I Increase My Soil’s Cation Exchange Capacity?

While it is very difficult to increase a soil’s CEC, providing better quality fertilizer, like our Lawn Food, can have a huge impact on your soil. It is best to adapt to your soil’s need when you are planning your lawn care, and to give it the cations it needs to grow lawn, plants, or flowers in the most efficient way!

 

The more you know about your soil texture and the chemistry of your soil, the easier it is to maintain a healthy, flourishing lawn or garden. Knowing your cation exchange capacity and monitoring the nutrients your soil maintains can be game-changers when it comes to lawn care, and at Simple Lawn Solutions, we have the fertilizer program you need to care for your lawn.



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