As a gardener, one of the key areas that you need to focus on to be successful is the type of soil that you have. Knowing this is very important before you even decide what plants to grow. Failing to do so can only lead to two things — either the plants will grow unhealthy, or they’ll die.
Not every soil type is created equal. Some of them may be perfect for the plants you plan on growing while others are not. Growing plants that are not quite compatible with the soil in your garden is still possible though. That is as long as you address the specific needs and challenges a particular soil type has like frequent fertilizing, for instance.
Soil types are categorized based on the dominating size of the particles within the soil. The good news is that there are only six so it shouldn’t be so hard getting familiar with them. These soil types are sand, clay, silt, peat, chalk and loam.
There are some ways to identify your soil type. Start out by testing the soil from different areas of your garden as each area can vary drastically. It doesn’t necessarily mean that all the soil in your garden is clay after testing just a very small area.
The first thing that you can do to determine your soil type is by watering an area and observing what happens. If the water disappears from the surface quickly, it’s very likely that you have sandy soil. The water should stay longer if it’s clay.
You can also take a decent handful of soil to sample and gently squeeze it in your hand. It is clay if it feels slimy and sticky, and stays in shape after releasing the pressure. It is sandy if the soil feels gritty and crumbles apart when you open your hand. Peaty soil feels spongy. Finally, loam and silt should retain their shapes longer than sandy soil but are not as rigid as clay.
Another way that you can test the soil to find out its type is by doing this test. You start by putting half a handful of soil into a container (preferably something transparent like a glass jar). Fill it with water then stir well. Leave it for at least two hours to settle.
Knowing the type of soil is just one part of the whole process. The other one is knowing the characteristics of each to have a better idea how well they’re suited to your plants. You also need to know how to improve them so they can become an ideal place for your plants to thrive.
This type of soil can either be light or heavy and is consistently highly alkaline because of the calcium carbonate it is composed of. It’s often called basic soils and is free draining which means that they can only hold very little water and easily dries out. Minerals like Iron and Manganese can quickly leak out of the soil, but this can be countered by adding fertilizer regularly.
Since chalky soils are alkaline, you won’t be able to grow ericaceous plants in it as they need acidic soils to grow. In some cases the chalky soil can contain small chalky white stones which can’t be acidified. As such, you’re better off choosing plants prefer alkaline conditions such as:
Clay soil is often known as a heavy soil. During winter, it will remain cold and wet, and will dry out in summer to the point that it becomes rock hard. It can retain nutrients and hold water well. However, it drains poorly and has few air spaces which can affect plant roots negatively.
The drainage issue that clay soils have can be dealt with by breaking up their cloddiness. This can be done by adding large volumes of grit to it which can be expensive if done on a large area. Another way that this soil can be broken up is by the addition of organic matter.
Recommended plants for clay soils are:
This is the ideal soil for gardening and growing vegetables especially if it’s composed of 40% sand, 40% silt, and 20% clay. These soils are considered as the ‘gardener’s best friend’ since it is the most balanced of all the soil types.
It’s also perfect for beginners because you wouldn’t be required to do so much work to improve the soil. If anything, you have to remember to add organic matter to it regularly to retain its ‘perfectness’. And since loam soils are balanced, it makes them suitable for growing a wide range of plants like:
This type of soil is the exact opposite of chalky soil because it is highly acidic. It’s very rare that this soil is available in gardens and is often imported to be used for planting. It contains a much higher proportion of organic matter (peat) because the soil’s acidic nature prevents decomposition.
Water retention is excellent in peaty soils which can be very helpful during the dry seasons. However, this property of peaty soils can become a disadvantage because it makes them prone to waterlogging and compaction. To prevent this from happening, digging drainage channels in the soil is advisable.
Sandy soil is light, warm, dry, and often acidic with a low amount of nutrients. It contains very little clay and high amounts of sand making it able to drain water quickly. However, its ‘free-draining’ characteristic also makes it warm up quickly in Spring and dry out in Summer.
It’s easy to cultivate, but because it’s the lightest of all the soil types, it is prone to wind and water erosion. It’s not suitable for planting unless improved by adding compost and organic matter to combine the loose sand with the more fertile additions. Fertilizers may also be needed to give your plants the extra ‘boost’.
This soil is a little similar to sand in the sense that it’s made from fine particles which makes it free-draining as well. However, it can retain moisture better than sand and is richer and more fertile. And although it’s also prone to wind and water erosion, it can easily be compacted by treading and by using garden machinery.
Silt soil can also easily be moulded into a ball, but it will not retain its shape as effectively as clay soil does. And similar to sand, the addition of compost to silty soil will help it become more stable and compact.
It’s true that there are factors to consider when choosing which grass to grow on your lawn. These can be environmental conditions like shade, direct sunlight, slopes, etc. It can also depend on how much time, money, and effort you want to spend on your lawn. After all, not every grass is created equal.
Then there’s the soil type. The species of grass that you want to grow will depend on the type of soil in your lawn. And remember: it’s possible that your lawn is composed of different soil types so keep that in mind.
While almost all grass looks the same, there are actually many different grass species. Below are the most common found on British lawns.
Now all you need to do is find out what soil type you have in your garden and plan the plants and grass you will grow accordingly.
With the endless passion for organic living, I - Ann Sanders has come up with the idea of creating A Green Hand. Being the founder and editor of A Green Hand, my goal is to provide everyone with a wide range of tips about healthy lifestyle with multiform categories including gardening, health & beauty, food recipe,...