Gardening: Know Your Soil Type

Gardening: Know Your Soil Type

Jun 9th 2023

Turning your garden into flourishing success depends on knowing your soil type. Depending on your location, you will likely have one of these six soil types: sandy, clay, loam, peat, chalk, and silt. Knowing the soil type in your garden is crucial as it will help you create a lush, healthy garden and fix any issues.

If your plants aren't growing well as you hoped, it could be because they aren't thriving in the soil type you have in your garden. The key to gardening success is ensuring you are growing the right plant in the right soil.

In this blog, we'll discuss six different types of soil, their unique properties, and the ways you can identify your soil type to get the most from your garden. You'll also learn how to amend your soil to grow the plants you want. Let's begin!

Six Types of Soil

Here are the six types of soil, each with its own unique characteristics that you should know to make the best gardening choices.

Sandy Soil

This type of soil feels gritty and is quick to drain. Sandy soil warms up quickly in spring and cools fast in fall. It is easy to cultivate and dries out faster, which can be useful for growing specific plants. Unlike other soil types, sandy soil doesn't hold nutrients and moisture well. Therefore, it requires organic amendments and mulching to help keep moisture.

Plants to grow in sandy soils:

  • Vegetables like onion, garlic, beets, carrots, potatoes
  • Shrubs and bulbs like sun roses, tulips, hibiscus, tree mallow
  • Succulents
  • Cacti

Clay Soil

Clay soil is made up of fine mineral particles and is good at holding nutrients due to the structure of these particles. This type of soil feels lumpy and is so hard when dry and sticky when wet. Its water retention property can cause plants to drown or rot, and compaction makes it hard for plants to grow.

The soil has few air spaces, so it is poor at draining. In addition, clay soil tends to warm up slowly in spring and is heavy to cultivate. However, if drainage for clay soil is enhanced, plants will grow well because this soil is rich in nutrients.

Plants to grow in clay soil:

  • Perennials and shrubs such as roses, aster
  • Potatoes
  • Summer vegetables such as peas, beans
  • Fruit trees such as plums, apples, pears
  • Ornamental trees

Silty Soil

Silty soil is the best soil that is both water retentive and well-draining. It is a fertile soil that feels soft and soapy. The particles of silt soil are larger than clay, which can result in porous or compact soil. If proper drainage is provided, silt is excellent soil for your garden. The addition of compost and mulch can improve the drainage and structure of the soil.

Plants to grow in silty soil:

  • Climbers, grasses, decorative perennials, shrubs like Mahonia and New Zealand flax
  • Moisture-loving trees such as dogwood, birch, willow, and cypress
  • Several vegetable and fruit crops

Loam Soil

Loam soil is a balanced mixture of clay, silt, and sand. Together, these elements help the soil hold nutrients and retain the right amount of plant moisture. This soil type is an ideal black gold that has excellent characteristics for gardening, lawn, and shrubs.

Loam feels slightly damp and fine textured, making it easy to work with. Besides, it has adequate drainage and doesn't dry out fast in summer. Loamy soil tends to be acidic and needs replenishing with organic matter often.

Plants to grow in loam soil:

  • Perennials, shrubs, climbers, and bamboo
  • Most vegetable crops
  • Annual flowers
  • Berry crops
  • Most garden plants grow well in loam soil

Chalky Soil

Chalky soil is stony and rocky with larger particles than other soil types. It does not keep many nutrients and drains quickly. Chalky soil is an alkaline type which can lead to stunted growth and yellowish leaves. It isn't possible to plant or grow ericaceous plants in chalky soil.

Therefore, it requires fertilizing and copious watering. Also, it is recommended to add humus to this soil to improve water retention.

Plants to grow in chalky soil:

  • Vegetables such as beans, peas, cabbage, cauliflower, spinach, garlic, kale, and pumpkins
  • Trees and shrubs
  • Lavenders
  • Geraniums
  • Ginkgos
  • Kiwi

Peat Soil

Peat soil is darker soil that is rarely found in gardens and is not so naturally occurring. This soil type is quite acidic, which slows down decomposition. Peat soil feels spongy and damp and isn't rich in nutrients. It is almost pure organic matter and has decent drainage, so excellent at retaining water. Therefore, this soil type is very fertile.

Plants to grow in peat soil:

  • Shrubs such as lantern trees, heather, camellia, azalea, witch hazel
  • All ericaceous plants
  • Vegetable crops

Here are some simple home testing options to identify your soil type.

DIY Soil Test or Settle Test

Add a cup of soil to a big transparent jar, add water to it, shake well, and leave it to settle overnight. After 12 hours, observe the water state to determine your soil type.

Clay and silty soils: cloudy water and a layer of particles at the bottom of the jar.

Sandy soil: mostly clear water.

Peat soil: many particles floating on the surface of the water.

Chalky soil: grit-like fragments at the bottom of the jar and gray-colored water.

Loam soil: clear water with the finest particles flowing on the top of the container.

The Squish Test

This is also a great test for beginners to know the soil texture.

Grab a small handful of wet soil and gently compress it between your fingers. If the soil feels sticky and lumpy and remains intact when you let go, it'll be clay soil. However, if it feels spongy, it'll be peat soil. Loam and silty soils feel smooth and slimy. Sandy soil feels gritty and crumbles apart.

pH Soil Test

For technical, you can do the acid test of your soil. The standard pH of soils ranges between 4.0 and 8.5. However, plants favor soil with a pH between 6.5 to 7 because this is a point where minerals and nutrients naturally thrive.

You can use a pH test kit to find the level of acidity of your yard's soil and then match the results with each soil type's pH level. Generally, soft water areas tend to have acid soil, and areas with hard water will have alkaline soil.

How to Amend Your Soil

No matter what type of soil you have, the secret to amending your soil and making the most out of it is almost the same. Organic matter benefits all types of soil and improves everything. Excellent soil is 60% inert material and 40% organic matter for healthy growth. You should maintain the pH of your soil to improve it.

Plants prefer neutral soil, but it's worth noting that some prefer slightly acid or alkaline soils. After deciding what plants, you want to grow and where you can adjust the pH level to make it more hospitable for plants. Adding lime to the soil will make it more alkaline, and adding aluminum sulfate will help to make the soil more acidic.

In addition, add organic matter, such as old compost, to enrich the soil. Adding large organic matter supports chalky and clay soils because they're difficult to grow. For clay and sandy soils, substance greensand can be added to loosen and bind them.

Knowing your soil type is a basic science that will make growing a healthy garden easier. It's well worth the effort because it helps you choose plants best suited to your garden. So, try these tests, identify your soil type, and create a lush, healthy garden.