Knowing More About Different Types of soil
While leaves, flowers, and fruit capture our attention, much of a plant’s growth activity occurs in its roots. Proper soil sustains plants‘ systems for health and growth.
Evaluate soil types by 3 basic properties
- pH level
Structure describes density
- Clay is heavy and sticky.
- Sand is light and dry.
- Loam is a balanced combination of clay, sand, and loam.
Nutrients provide Essential Element Necessary for Plant Growth
- Nitrogen nourishes stems and foliage.
- Phosphorous sustains roots and flowers.
- Potassium promotes food production.
Soil pH Level
Correct soil pH allows the root
system to absorb crucial nutrients
The pH scale runs from 0 to 14.
- A pH level of 7.0 is neutral.
- Any pH below 7.0 is acidic, the further below the more acidic.
- A pH above 7.0 is basic, or alkaline, and like acids, the farther from 7.0 the more basic.
Typically flower and vegetable gardens require a 6.0 to 7.0 pH level.
Soil testing, available through county extension services and many local gardening centers, provides the most efficient determination of soil types. Follow the sample collection instructions carefully for the most accurate results. Look for tests that report organic content (typically only 1%, needing to be at least 3%).
Establishing a proper balance between retaining moisture and draining well yields productive soil types. Roots need moisture available to sustain them during dry periods between rains or watering, yet won’t tolerate standing water. Soil needs to be porous enough to allow air to circulate through the roots, yet strong enough to support the plant’s mass for growth.
Whatever soil type adjustments are made, work into depth at least twice the depth of the addition – work two inches of the top layer is at least four inches, three inches of the top layer in at least six inches, etc.
Read More: Best 10 Soil Test Kit Reviews
Changing the pH level of Garden Soil:
- Use 10 pounds of lime per 100 square feet to raise soil pH level 1 point.
- Use 10 pounds of sulfur per 100 square feet of soil to lower pH level 1 point.
- Wait two weeks after adjusting soil pH before adding fertilizer.
Adding Organic Matter:
- Replaces depleted nutrients.
- Both break up clay-type soil to reduce its stickiness and helps sandy-type soil retain moisture.
- Organic matter sources:
- Rotted manure
- Leaf mold
- Peat moss
Cover crops like peas, beans, or buckwheat, are grown, then cut, and worked into the soil to increase organic matter.
- Buckwheat grows well in many climates and works fairly easily.
- Harvest buckwheat when all plants show bloom production.
- Cut to ground level and work into the soil with the roots.
- Large garden areas may require tilling.
When adding organic material work at least a 1:3 ratio. Work two inches of compost material through six inches of soil.
Work in fertilizer with organic material when preparing the garden. Broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, corn, onions, peppers, potatoes, tomatoes, and other high-feeding plants require side-dressing fertilizer boosts.
Working the soil
Make soil adjustments during autumn to allow the soil to blend well before production. Leave the spades are rough to allow winter conditions to maximize benefits.
Be Sure Soil is dry Enough to Work in the Spring:
- A clenched handful should break apart rather than cling together.
- Working the soil while it is still too wet causes compression, reducing oxygen needed for microorganisms, earthworms, plant growth, etc.
- Add organic matter two weeks prior to planting. Work four inches of top layer six to 12 inches deep.
There are different soil types and different species of plants have different requirements. Soil types vary in different areas and there is no much point in trying to alter it unless you are doing it on a commercial basis, for example, a football club trying to get optimum soil type for the species of grass it is using. Once you have established the type of soil you have, there are lots of ways it can be improved. If your soil is in good condition then your plants will be too.
Characteristics of Different Soil Types
Sand, Loamy sand, Sandy Loam
These are well-drained and aerated and workable for most of the year. They are very light to handle and quick to warm up in spring. Unless they have a very high organic matter content they are prone to drying out too quickly, and additional watering will be needed. This extra watering will also help to wash out the plant foods and lime from the soil, so they are likely to be acid (except for some coastal soils). They are often referred to as hungry soils and need lots of extra feeding. With careful management, however, they can be amongst the most productive soil types.
Medium loam, Sandy clay loam, Silt Loam
These are the average soil types. They achieve a good balance between the ability to be very productive and the minimum of attention. The medium loam group is probably the best in this respect.
Clay, Sandy clay, Clay loam, Silty clay loam, Silty clay, Silt
Although these soils are difficult to work and manage, they usually have good supplies of plant foods and lime. The main drawbacks are the high water-holding capacity (which means they are late to get going in spring) and the effort required to work them. You will need to catch just the right weather conditions to avoid hard work and damage to the soil structure. The use of heavy machinery (and especially rotavators) should be avoided at all costs, particularly when the soil is wet.
Peat Moss or Fen Soils
Provided they are not too acid and have effective subdrainage, these are probably the best natural soils available. They are rich in plant foods, are easily workable, and early. It is possible to convert your existing soil into peat-type soil by adding large amounts of organic matter. Some of the keenest exhibition growers do just this.
It can be time-consuming and costly at first, but once you get their life becomes much easier. You must avoid making your soil too acid though, and careful choice of organic matter is needed.
Chalk soils and Limestone Soils
These are the soils that contain a high proportion of chalk or lime. So much in fact, that it overrides their normal particle size classification. They are often very shallow soils, and severely limit the types of plants that can be grown successfully in them. If you have a soil of this type and are not happy with the range of plants it will allow you to grow, probably the best thing you can do is move to a new area and check the soil out first.
If you can’t move, the most sensible course of action is to limit yourself to the plants that will grow in chalky soils. Trying to change the soil is usually an uphill struggle and quite expensive. For the incurably intrepid, details are given later in the Golden Rules for Difficult Soils section.
If you wish to improve your soil, you must identify its characteristics, is it clay-based, chalky, or sandy? You can find out all you need to know by simply working the soil you wish to grow in and information on local area soil types are easily available on the internet or your local library.
You can also test for the acidity or alkalinity of the soil with a soil testing kit that is widely available in garden centers.
Clay soil can be so compact that even in the middle of summer it can retain plenty of water, sandy soils are made up of larger particles and can warm up and cool down very quickly.
Chalky soil leaches water and nutrients very quickly and is a shallow stony soil.
Loam is by far the best soil to grow in, it is very well balanced and does a very good job of retaining nutrients.
Sand Based Soils
This is a very light and easily worked soil, in the spring this soil warms up very quickly which gives the plants a good beginning to the season. However, they drain very well so nutrients are easily washed away, this is known as leaching. Sandy soils require lots of fertilizer or organic matter added to them.
Loam Based Soils
Loam is a rich and nutritious soil type that also holds water well; this is the soil type that is also used in sports like cricket and tennis. Loam is a mixture of sand and clay and is a particularly good soil to cultivate as long as it does not become too compact.
Clay Based Soils
Clay is made up of particles that clog together and can become very compacted, although clay soils can become very rich, the compaction leads to a lack of air pockets in the soil which in turn leads to a lack of micro-organisms which break down organic matter into a form that can be uptaken by plants. To get the best out of clay soil, it is very important to work the soil to improve drainage and aeration.
Chalk Based Soils
Like sand-based soils, nutrients leach through this soil type very easily. In the high of summer and during periods of drought, excessive watering is needed. Alkaline-loving plants thrive in chalk-based soils but acidic-loving plants like azaleas do not do well at all.
Acidic and Alkaline Soils
The PH of soil is critical, different plants require different amounts of elements and trace elements, and the PH of the soil determines the elements they can uptake.
The optimum PH for most plants is 6.5 PH, at this reading most elements are easily up-taken by a plant.
Although towards the end of a season when plants flower to fruit, they often require PH levels to drop slightly.
Acidic soils can be changed by adding lime which is available from most garden centers. Peat can be added to alkaline soils to make them more acidic.
Living soil is a good soil that is rich in organic matter, this soil contains bacteria and micro-organisms which break down dead leaves and other organic matter into vital nutrients that plants can absorb.
The presence of earthworms is also a good sign as they aerate the types of soils and pull organic matter downwards which conditions the soil.
Working the ground with a spade or fork is a good way of aerating the waterlogged or compact soil, if done on a commercial basis machine can be used to do this.
Double digging bedding areas annually at the end of a season is a good way of ensuring good soil for the following year.
Adding organic materials like manure or compost will aerate the soil and improve its texture; this also helps to retain moisture so that plants can grow better. Compost is easily made and you can create it yourself from tea bags, old leaves, and vegetable peelings. Ideally, you want to create your own compost heap and leave it for several months to break down. When it’s ready you will have a nice dressing for whatever requirements you need.
Soil: What’s Your Type?
Many people focus on diseases and pests when gardening as these are generally the most visible problems, but a full 80% of a garden’s problems begin with the soil. Knowing what you are starting with is the first step toward fantastic, productive gardens.
Your garden soil will fall into one of three general categories classified by its mineral content and texture: Sand, Silt, or Clay. Most likely it will be a type of clay or sandy soil as most of the soils in our area generally fall into one of those two categories. I will discuss these two in more detail below.
The fortunate gardener may find themselves in possession of the holy grail of soil types: loam. Loam soils are balanced soils with a proportion of sand, silt, clay (40-40-20). If you find that you do not possess this soil type, don’t lose hope!
While you cannot change the basic character of your soil, you can build your garden style around it by choosing the types of plants and amendments to use and how to interact with your soil to bring out its greatest potential.
- Start planting with the advantage of a complete in-ground garden soil, specially blended to grow bigger, more beautiful plants (versus unfed plants)
- Improves existing soil to build strong roots in annuals and perennials across all your in-ground gardens
- Feeds for up to 3 months with continuous release plant food
- Use with all types of in-ground plants, vegetables, fruits and flowers
- For more spectacular results, start a regular feeding regimen with Miracle-Gro plant food 30 days after planting
Determining your Soil Type
You could hire a professional to sample your soil but for most home gardeners it is enough to identify one’s own soil by the following two methods.
The Jar Method
1- In a 1-qt jar with a tight-fitting lid, add about four inches of your garden soil.
2- Fill the remainder with water nearly to the top, replace the lid securely, and shake the jar vigorously. Clay soils may require a dispersing agent such as a teaspoon of salt and longer, more vigorous shaking.
3- Allow the water and soil to settle, undisturbed, for 24 hours.
4- Within the first few minutes, the larger particles (sand) will settle to the bottom. Mark this layer on the jar with a sharpie.
5- Silt will settle over the next 3 to 4 hours. Mark this level with a sharpie.
6- Clay particles will take the remainder of the 24 hours to settle, some of the smallest particles may never leave the suspension.
7- The organic matter will float on top of the water.
8- After you have marked all the lines, you can roughly judge their proportions to decide what soil type you have.
Your Soil is Predominantly Clay
Clay soils are composed of very fine-textured soil particles. While nutrient-rich, in the garden they tend to compact easier, whereby the fine soil particles create a tight lattice that holds water. This can be problematic as most plants prefer good drainage. The density of these soils not only makes them heavy but can also impede plant roots if the structure of the soil is in poor condition. Clay soils are also cold soils in the spring with their high water content and can become incredibly hard in the summer under the baking sun.
What you can do
The best way to improve clay soils is to protect their structure. With proper care, clay soils can form aggregates where individual particles glom together with the help of time, mycorrhizae, earthworms, soil microorganisms, and plant roots. This process increases the pore space (space between individual aggregates) and thereby its permeability – drainage. Avoid compacting it by tilling, walking on it, or working the soil when it is wet (after rain or in early spring).
Clay soils are best suited for perennial plantings where interaction with the soil is limited. If you have your heart set on a vegetable garden or annual garden that requires frequent plantings, consider creating a raised bed for increased drainage and workability.
Increasing drainage and permeability is the goal when amending clay soils. The best additions are fibrous organic amendments such as peat, straw, and composted mulches.3 Never add sand to clay soils as this can create a soil similar to concrete. Adding organic matter yearly helps promote the services of mycorrhizae, earthworms, soil microorganisms improving the soil structure.
When adding amendments, mix them into the first 4-6 inches in order to reap the benefits of the amendment but as stated earlier, avoid tilling once these additions have been made. Applying a thick layer of mulch to the surface of the soil will also help improve its structure and reduce the risk of compaction.
The Royal Horticultural Society has a great (and detailed) resource for gardening with clay soils.
- Burpee Organic Premium growing mix is enriched with Burpee plant food for vibrant flowers and delicious vegetables and herbs
- Perfect for container and raised bed gardening, this growing mix feeds plants instantly and provides a slow release plant food that feeds for up to 3 months
- Formulated with coconut coir, a sustainable and renewable resource, that helps maintain moisture between watering's for vibrant flowers and delicious vegetables and herbs
- Omri listed for Organic use
- Enriched with Burpee plant food
You have Sandy Soil
Sandy soils with their large pore spaces drain freely and because of this they often have difficulty retaining moisture and water-soluble nutrients. Sand particles do not bind minerals easily and are often nutrient-poor. These soils are considered ‘light’ soils and are generally easy to work with. They also warm quickly in the spring which is a benefit with our short growing season.
What you Can Do for your Gardening Soil
Increasing water retention and soil fertility are the goals when amending sandy soils. Amend these soils frequently with organic matter. Choose peat, compost, and aged manure amendments. Adding supplemental fertilizer throughout the season will keep your plants growing strong.
Irrigate these soils using smaller doses more frequently. Overwatering does not help plants growing in these soils as the excess water drains away taking with it any soluble nutrients.
Choose plants that love great drainage and thrive on lean soils. Lavender and sage are two plants that spring to mind.
Types Soils Testing Kits
You can test soil PH balances with a simple soil testing kit. Simply add a small drop of the chemical to the types of soils and it will produce a liquid that can be matched against the color chart provided with the testing kit.
This will tell you the acidity or alkalinity of the types of soils and also indicate the presence of key nutrients such as potassium, phosphorus, and nitrogen.
For more information watch this video: