Updated: April 14, 2021

Do you have trouble keeping grass in your pastures? Have you tried reseeding with no improvement? Poor soil health may be the problem. Soil is the medium in which your grass grows, and it contains the nutrients that grass needs. Healthy, fertile soil is the basis for successful pasture growth. Annual or bi-annual soil sampling is the easiest way to monitor soil nutrient levels. It's easy to do and inexpensive, and the results will serve as a guide for how to improve your soil.

The first step is to obtain a sample of your soil.  Start by choosing an area to sample, such as one field or one pasture. If you have multiple fields or pastures, you will need to obtain separate samples for each one. This farm is divided into six different fields and one sacrifice lot. The sacrifice lot does not need to be sampled, but each of the other fields should be sampled, and each one should be sampled separately.

Next, gather supplies. You will need a soil sampling probe and a bucket. A rod or stick may be helpful to push stuck soil out of the probe. If you do not have a soil probe, you may be able to borrow one from your county Extension office.

Timing of soil sampling is important. If the ground is too dry, you will not be able to push the probe into the ground. If it's too wet, it will be difficult to get the sample out of the probe. A day or two after a rain is generally the best time to sample.

Once you are ready with your probe and bucket, simply push the probe down into the soil to a depth of about 8". Then empty the soil into the bucket. To obtain a sample that represents the entire field, you will need to take several soil cores and mix them together. Take between 10 and 15 cores per field or management unit.  Walk through the field in a zig-zag pattern, stopping randomly to take the cores. Avoid atypical areas of the field, such as the area under a feeder.

After you have collected enough soil cores, mix them together in the bucket, then put a subsample of the soil into a small bag. One and a half cups is usually a sufficient amount. You can put the rest back in the field.

Next you will need to choose a laboratory to send the sample to for testing. Specific submission procedures vary from lab to lab, so check the guidelines provided by the lab you are using. Be sure to complete the sample submission sheet to send with your sample and mail the submission sheet, your sample, and payment for testing to the lab.

Once the lab processes your sample, you will receive a soil test report. The report will provide information about the current status of your soil and recommendations for improving its quality. If you need assistance interpreting your report, contact an Extension office. Your local agent can help you determine what steps you should take to improve your soil fertility.

Watch our video to see how we take soil samples.