Find UF/IFAS Extension advice offering tips and tricks for interpreting your soil sample for the best results.

Taking a regular soil sample is an important part of land management. It’s labeled as “the best tool for monitoring soil fertility levels” in a South Florida Beef Forage Program article, but the article also maintains that soil samples can be confusing to read. See their tips and tricks on reading your soil sample, below.

Reading a Soil Sample

According to the article, these are the important areas:

  • Field Sampling: “The first step in ensuring reliable soil test results is proper soil sample collection… A minimum of 15 to 20 subsamples (approximately 6 inches deep) should be collected from each field. Samples should be taken at random in a zigzag pattern over the entire area. Areas that are managed or cropped differently should be sampled separately. Similarly, areas that show clear problem signs (i.e., poor forage production, disease) should also be sampled and analyzed separately.”
  • Soil pH: “The pH scale ranges from 1 to 14, however most inorganic soils in Florida have a pH around 4 to 6. The lower the pH values, the greater the acidity in the soil. Soils with pH less than 5 are considered strongly acid, while values of 5 to 5.5 and 5.5 to 6.5 are considered moderately and lightly acid, respectively. Soil pH range of 6.6 to 7.2 is considered neutral, 7.3 to 8.2 is slightly alkaline and above 8.2 is moderately to strongly alkaline. The relatively acidic nature of most Florida soils is due the parent material as well as the environmental conditions (i.e., intensive rainfall) in which these soils were formed.”
  • Buffer pH: “In Florida, the Adams-Evans test is used to determine the amount of lime required to adjust the soil pH to the target level.The Adams-Evans test measures the soil acidity in water and in a buffer solution (pH of 8) to determine soil lime requirement. The lower the pH of the buffer solution, the greater the amount of lime needed to raise the soil pH to the desirable level.”
  • Nutrient Concentrations: “Routine soil tests only measure only a portion of the total pool of nutrients in the soil. They do not measure total amounts of nutrients in the soil. Rather, most soil testing procedures are designed to mimic the root uptake of nutrients in the soil.”
  • Cation Exchange Capacity: “Cation exchange capacity or CEC refers to the capacity of the soil to hold positively charged ions, also known as cations. Some laboratories calculate the CEC based on the summation of cations (potassium, calcium, magnesium, sodium, and buffer pH) or on an actual CEC determination procedure.”
  • Lime and Fertilizer Recommendations: “Soil testing results provide basic soil fertility information, so management decisions can be implemented to insure efficient and effective fertilization strategies for the required forage production goals. However, caution should be exercised when interpreting fertilizer recommendations generated by commercial laboratories because they typically use different soil fertility approaches.”

Find the entire article here.

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