Soil testing an important step

Published on Saturday, 8 February 2014 22:38 - Written by Chad Gulley Extension Agent

We all took tests in school, but have you ever taken a soil test? Now is a great time to be soil-testing your gardens, lawns, pastures, and hay fields in preparation of spring planting and fertilization. A soil test is the sure way to determine nutrients present or lacking in your specific soil type.

There are laboratories across Texas that can analyze your soil. Most basic soil samples help determine the pH of the soil, macronutrient levels, and micronutrient levels. More detailed analysis is available if you choose. A routine soil sample typically costs around $10 at most soil testing labs in Texas.

If your soil report calls for lime, now is a fine time to add limestone to your property to change the pH as needed prior to the spring growing season.

When obtaining a sample for a pasture or hayfield, take one composite sample for every 10 to 40 acres. In a lawn or garden sample, one composite sample should represent the given area that is to be sampled. A separate sample should be taken if the area has different soil types, if there are different land use or fertilizer use requirements, and if the area has different terrain. A composite sample is approximately one pint of soil from the area sampled.

To take a soil sample, it is important to sample the entire area. Multiple core samples, 12 to 15 cores, over a given area helps provide a cross section analysis of the soil present. When taking these core samples, be sure to pull these samples in the root zone of the plant or in the top four to six inch zone. Deeper subsoil samples may be taken in some instances but usually not necessary for most routine analysis.

As you pull these core samples, put them in a clean plastic bucket. Avoid using metallic containers to put the soil samples in while collecting the sample. Mix the core samples together removing large organic material from the sample. Obtain a soil sample bag and information sheet. We have a supply of these soil-testing kits in our office. Pour this soil into the soil sample bag, fill out the information sheet with the requested information, and package this for shipment to the laboratory. This will be the composite sample for the garden, pasture or hay field.

Avoid pulling soil in or near fire ant mounds. The laboratory technicians do not enjoy opening up a soil sample bag full of fire ants. Also, the soil near or inside an ant mound is usually deeper subsoil anyway. When the soil is hard and compacted, ant mounds may be the easiest places to obtain lose soil. This is not a good practice.

When sending samples to the laboratory, do not use old vegetable cans, glass containers, match boxes, or other similar type containers. Send your samples in the soil sample bags or other suitable pint container. Label each sample bag and correspond this to the information sheet when sending multiple samples.

When completing the soil information form, provide as much information about the site as possible. The laboratory technicians will use this information to help in the soil sample report you will receive as a result of the lab analysis. It is important to specify a garden versus a pasture. The laboratory will usually provide the results on a per acre basis for pastures and hay fields. For garden spots, the results may be reported on a hundred square foot basis. For lawns, the results may be reported on a thousand square foot basis.

We have different informational forms for various samples. For pastures and hay fields, there are forms specific for those analyses. For lawns and gardens, there are forms specific for those analyses as well.

There are numerous tools that can help in obtaining core samples. Soil test probes, shovels, garden tools, PVC pipe in soft soil, and even an electric drill can be used to pull up soil for the sample. For more information on soil sampling, access website soiltesting.amu. edu.

Once you obtain your soil test report from the laboratory, we would be glad to help interpret the results. Contact our office at 903-590-2980 for more details on soil testing.

Extension programs serve people of all ages regardless of socioeconomic level, race, color, sex, religion, disability, or national origin.