A Brief Guide to Soil Testing When Planting Grass Plugs


As a sod and grass plug farm in Florida, our commitment is to provide you with high-quality grass products to help you successfully establish and maintain a healthy, green lawn.

You’ve read it again and again in our previous posts, as it’s a perennial truth: the foundation of healthy plants is healthy soil. Whether you’re laying new sod or transplanting grass plugs, we always advise starting with a soil test—a crucial preliminary step before any fertilizer application.

What is Soil Testing & Why It Matters in Grass Plugging

Your soil’s health directly influences your grass, and fertilizing regularly is crucial for providing essential nutrients for growth. However, not all soil is the same, and each lawn presents different challenges. When you’re not sure about the specific nutrients your lawn needs to perform its best, a soil test before planting grass plugs offers valuable information on soil pH as well as macronutrients and micronutrient levels.

Soil pH indicates the acidity or alkalinity of soil and is measured on a pH scale from 0-14, with 7 as the neutral point. It influences soil properties and nutrient availability crucial in plant growth.

Macronutrients are the nutrients your grass needs in greater quantities—nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium (NPK)—the same nutrients found in fertilizers. Whereas nitrogen promotes leaf growth, phosphorus supports photosynthesis and root growth, and potassium enhances water and nutrient absorption in plants.

Micronutrients such as iron and zinc are equally important to plant health, albeit required in smaller quantities.


The Benefits of Soil Testing

Different plants prefer specific pH ranges, and imbalances in soil pH can affect how well grass plugs absorb nutrients and adapt to their new environment.

For example, more acidic soil with a pH below 7 may limit the availability of essential nutrients like phosphorus and calcium and may also result in aluminum and manganese toxicity. Meanwhile, alkaline soils with pH above 7 may lead to micronutrient deficiency like iron and zinc. Optimal pH levels promote microbial activity and maximize potential nutrient uptake in your grass.

Without knowing the nutrient content of your soil, there’s a risk of inadvertently over-applying fertilizer or using an incorrect formulation. For example, warm-season grasses thrive in a pH range between 6.5 and 7. When pH is off, the grass may have a harder time absorbing zinc and manganese, leading to a loss of color and a weathered look.

While it may seem intuitive to reach for fertilizer, this can potentially exacerbate the issue. The most effective way to address such problems is to conduct a soil test for lawns. Overall, a thorough soil analysis will pinpoint the specific nutrients your lawn requires, enabling a more precise and targeted approach to lawn care when grass plugging.

When is the Best Time to Soil Test

The strategic time to conduct a soil test is before planting grass plugs or laying sod and prior to applying fertilizer, as it may alter soil pH. 

This proactive approach gives you a better understanding of your lawn’s condition and helps you make informed decisions about nutrient application and necessary soil amendments for optimal root growth and grass development.

We also recommend performing soil tests annually, ideally in early spring during peak growth, to maximize the absorption of nutrients. The soil test results will serve as your guide in determining your soil’s nutrient needs to maintain the optimal conditions for healthy plant growth. Nevertheless, it’s never a bad idea to analyze your soil fertility whenever you need to see what nutrients your lawn needs.


How to Conduct a Soil Test

A soil test can determine what nutrients are present in your soil and what nutrients it requires to reach its optimum pH level. The lab tests not only identify existing nutrients and deficiencies but also suggest how to improve your soil’s quality with fertilizers and other amendments based on the soil test results.

The process varies depending on where you submit the soil sample. Still, the general steps involve filling out a soil testing form, collecting soil samples from your lawn, and placing them in a container or a sample bag for submission. You can order a soil test kit online or from your local garden center, which usually comes with clear instructions on how to gather and send samples.

Expect results within two weeks, which should provide insights into nutrient levels and recommendations for correcting soil and nutrient deficiencies. A more comprehensive analysis may also offer suggestions based on your location, season, lawn size, grass type, soil type, and precise quantities for amendments, ensuring a tailored and effective approach to improving your soil. Read here for a brief guide on how to adjust soil pH after a soil analysis.

Don't Guess—Soil Test

A soil test emerges as a cost-effective tool to understand your soil's specific needs, enabling informed decisions on applying fertilizer products and amendments. Because of this tailored approach, you only have to apply the amount of fertilizer needed based on the test results, which not only adds to its cost-saving benefits but also contributes to sustainability by preventing excess nutrient runoff.

Overall, with this knowledge, you can customize your lawn maintenance schedule, maximize nutrient absorption, and work towards achieving lush, healthy plant growth.

Have you conducted a soil test before? How did it improve your lawn's overall health? Let us know by leaving a comment.


Jamie Tedder

Jamie surrently serve as Vice President on the board for Turfgrass Producers of Florida. He currently oversees the production of all grasses throughout all farms in Florida at Bethel Farms. He is actively working with top grass breeders, researchers, producers and end users from public and private institutions around the country to stay up to date on current industry developments. Being a University of Florida graduate, he has applied that knowledge to over 22 years of experience growing spectacular grass!

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