Everything You Need to Know About Garden Soil Types

Everything You Need to Know About Garden Soil Types

Everything You Need to Know About Garden Soil Types


The soil provides plants with the essential nutrients, water, and oxygen they require for a healthy growth and development cycle. However, each piece of land has a unique combination of minerals, organic matter, and inorganic stuff, which in large part dictates what kinds of plants, such as trees or bushes, can be effectively cultivated there.

In confined plots like raised beds or planters, ideal soil conditions for particular crops can be developed, but for wider gardens and landscapes, it helps to understand the properties of the soil you have to work with.

Good soil is essential for the healthy growth and harvest of vegetables. Your entire garden is built on properly prepared soil, which also gives you a head start on the season. We’ll show you how to identify your soil type, how to improve the quality of your garden soil, and how to give your plants the best possible start in our guide to soil preparation.

Know Your Soil Type

You should choose one of the six main soil types for your plants: clay, sandy, silty, peaty, chalky, and loamy.

1. Clay Soil

This type of soil is rich in nutrients and can provide the best growing conditions for plants if the drainage is taken care of.
When wet, clay soil feels lumpy, is gooey, and becomes brittle when dry. Clay soil has few air voids and poor drainage. In the spring, the soil will gradually warm up, but cultivating it is difficult. Plants will develop and grow well if the soil’s drainage is improved because clay soil can be nutrient-rich.

Plants that do well in clay soil

Clay soil is ideal for perennials and shrubs like flowering quince, bergamot, asters, and Helen’s flower.
Because clay soil is cool and compact, it can be challenging to grow early vegetable crops and soft berry crops in it. Vegetables grown for summer harvest can be robust, high-yielding plants. Clay soils are ideal for fruit trees, ornamental trees, and shrubs.

2. Sandy soil

Mulching is necessary for this type of soil to retain moisture, and various organic blends are necessary to make it suitable for plant growth. Sandy ground feels scratchy. It is simple to cultivate, drains easily, and dries out quickly. Sandy soil tends to hold fewer nutrients in the spring because these are frequently washed away during wetter spells. Sandy soil also warms up quickly. Sandy soil needs organic amendments like greensand, kelp meal, glacial rock dust, or other organic fertiliser mixtures. Mulching is advantageous for retaining moisture.

Plants that do well in Sandy soil

Sandier soils are preferred by shrubs and bulbs like tulips, tree mallow, sun roses, and hibiscus. Sandier soils are better for root crops like potatoes, parsnips, and carrots. Commercial crops grown in sandy soils include lettuce, strawberries, peppers, corn, squash, zucchini, collard greens, and tomatoes.

3. Silty soil

Silty soil has a soapy, soft feel. It retains moisture and typically contains a lot of nutrients. This kind of soil is simple to cultivate and is not difficult to compact. If drainage is provided and controlled, it’s a fantastic soil for your garden. Composted organic matter needs to be mixed in to add nutrients and improve drainage and structure.

Plants that do well in Silty soil

If the drainage is good, nearly every type of fruit and vegetable crop can thrive on this soil. This soil supports the growth of shrubs, climbers, perennials, grasses, and more. Water-loving trees like dogwood, willow, birch, and cypress thrive in silty soils. The majority of vegetable and fruit crops do well in silty soils with good drainage.

4. Peaty soil

Due to the higher levels of peat present, peaty soil is darker and has a spongy, damp feel. Due to the acidic nature of the soil, decomposition is slowed and fewer nutrients are present in the soil. The soil can retain a lot of water and heat up quickly in the spring, so drainage is usually necessary. For soils containing a lot of peat, drainage channels might need to be dug.

When combined with rich organic matter, compost, and lime to lessen the acidity, peat soil is excellent for growth. To increase the pH of acidic soils, you can also use soil amendments like glacial rock dust.

Plants that do well in peaty soil

shrubs like azaleas, camellias, lantern trees, witch hazel, and heather. In well-drained peaty soils, vegetable crops like Brassicas, legumes, root crops, and salad crops thrive.

5. Chalky soil

In comparison to other soils, chalky soil has larger grains and is typically more stony. It usually covers bedrock made of chalk or limestone and is freely draining. Alkaline soil can occasionally cause stunted growth and yellowish leaves. Utilize the proper fertilisers and balance the pH to put an end to this. To increase water retention and workability, humus is advised.

Plants that do well in Chalky soil

Lilac, weigela, Madonna lilies, pinks, and mock oranges are a few examples of trees, bulbs, and shrubs.
Vegetable examples include spinach, beets, sweet corn, and cabbage.

6. Loamy soil

Loamy soil is a fine-textured, slightly damp mixture of sand, silt, and clay. It has excellent qualities for gardening, lawns, and shrubs. Loamy soil has good structure, adequate drainage, is moisture-retaining, nutrient-rich, and easy to cultivate. It warms up quickly in the spring but does not dry out quickly in the summer. Loamy soils, which are acidic, require regular replenishment of organic matter.

Plants that do well in Loamy soil

Wisteria, dog’s-tooth violets, rubus, and delphinium are examples of climbers, perennials, shrubs, and tubers. Most vegetable and berry crops will thrive because loamy soil is one of the most productive soil types. Loamy soil, on the other hand, necessitates careful management to avoid depletion and drying out. It is critical to maintain soil vitality by rotating crops, planting green manure crops, using mulch, and adding compost and organic nutrients.

Soil Testing

How to Test Your Garden Soil

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A soil test is an excellent way to assess the health and fertility of your soil. These tests are typically inexpensive, but they are well worth the investment when it comes to growing and maintaining healthy plants in the garden. 

1. The Squeeze Test

The composition of soil is one of its most fundamental characteristics. In general, soils can be categorised as clay, sandy, or loamy soils. Clay is nutrient-rich, but it drains slowly. Sand has a poor ability to retain moisture and nutrients and drains quickly. Loam is considered ideal soil because it retains moisture and nutrients while not becoming soggy.

Take a handful of moist (but not wet) soil from your garden and squeeze it firmly to determine your soil type. Then extend your hand. One of the following will occur:

It will keep its shape, but if you poke it lightly, it will crumble. You’re in luck because this means you have luxurious loam! It retains its shape and sits obstinately in your hand when poked. This proves your soil is clay-based. It will crumble as soon as you open your hand. This suggests that your soil is sandy. You can work on improving your soil now that you know what type it is.

2. The Percolation Test

It is also critical to determine whether or not you have drainage issues. Some plants, such as certain culinary herbs, will die if their roots remain wet for an extended period of time. To check the drainage of your soil, do the following:

Make a six-inch-wide, one-foot-deep hole. Water should be poured into the hole halfway and left to drain completely. Fill it up with water once more. Watch the length of time it takes the water to drain. Poor drainage occurs when water takes more than four hours to drain.

3. The Worm Test

Worms are excellent indicators of your soil’s overall health, particularly in terms of biological activity. If you have earthworms, you probably have all of the beneficial microbes that contribute to healthy soil and strong plants. To perform the worm test, follow these steps:

Check that the soil has warmed to at least 55 degrees Fahrenheit and that it is moist but not soaking wet. Make a hole that is one foot across and one foot deep. Spread the soil out on a tarp or a piece of cardboard. As you return the soil to the hole, sift through it with your hands, counting the earthworms as you go. If you find at least ten worms, your soil is in good condition. Less than that suggests that your soil may not have enough organic matter to support a healthy worm population, or that it is too acidic or alkaline.

4. pH Test

Your soil’s pH (acidity level) has a lot to do with how well your plants grow. pH is measured on a scale of 0 to 14, with 0 being extremely acidic and 14 being extremely alkaline. Most plants do best in soil with a pH of six to seven. Plants will not grow as well as they should if the pH level is less than five or greater than eight.

Every home and garden store sells pH test kits. These kits are reasonably accurate, but you must carefully follow the testing instructions. Once you’ve determined whether your soil pH is a problem, you can start working to fix it.

If you’ve done all of these tests and amended the soil as needed to correct the problems, but your plants are still struggling, contact your local cooperative extension service. They will instruct you on how to collect a soil sample and send it to their lab for analysis. They will send you a report with recommendations for correcting any mineral deficiencies in your soil.

These tests are simple and inexpensive ways to ensure that your garden has the best possible foundation.

How to Enhance Your Soil

Plants prefer neutral soil, but it’s worth noting that some prefer slightly acidic or alkaline soils. Regardless of the pH of your soil, you can adjust it slightly to make it more hospitable to the plants you want to grow. Remember that this is only a temporary situation, so make the most of the soil type you have.

Adding ground lime to your soil will make it more alkaline, while adding aluminium sulphate or sulphur will make it more acidic.

If your soil is deficient in nutrients (such as sandy soil), try enriching it with organic matter such as compost and manure. Organic mulches such as straw, dried grass clippings, and deciduous leaves should be used. These mulches decompose and integrate into the soil, providing a new source of organic nutrients while improving soil structure.

Clay soil is frequently inadequately aerated and structurally deficient, making successful growing more difficult. To get the most out of clay soil, add a lot of well-rotted organic matter in the fall and a few weeks before planting. Greensand can also be used to bind sandy soils or loosen heavy clay soils.

Due to its alkaline nature, chalky soil is frequently difficult to cultivate. To help with this, add bulky organic matter, which decomposes over time and adds nutrients and minerals to the soil.