How to determine your soil type

Soil is found on the uppermost layer of the Earth. It is a mixture of minerals, organic matter, and nutrients to support plant life. It is one the world’s most important natural resources as we need our soil to grow plants to feed the world’s population.

In order to grow healthy plants, it is important to know the soil type in your garden.

There are different types of soils we as gardeners have to work with and these types are sand, silt, and clay. We have to figure out the best combination of those three for our gardens and our specific plant needs. A good soil combination will provide the plants with the vital nutrients, water and air to thrive. Each of the soils have important qualities and they are:

Sand
Sandy soil has large dry and gritty particles. It doesn’t hold water well because of the huge spaces between the particles. Sandy soil won’t form a ball when you try to roll it and it will crumble easily.

Silt
Silty soil has smooth and small particles. It retains water longer and drains poorly. When you roll silty soil with your hands it will leave dirt on your skin.

Clay
Clay soil has the smallest particles and holds water well but drainage is slow. When it dries out it can become hard and very compact. You can roll up clay soil easily into a ball.

How these three are made up and combined defines the soil type. Now when we combine those three into a mixture we get loam. Loam is described as follows:

Loam
Loam and its varieties is a mixture of sand, silt and clay. It is the ideal soil type for gardens and it is mixed to be fertile, well-drained and easily workable in the garden.

Depending on your location and its seasonal rainfall, loam will give your plants what they need. Mostly sandy loam is best for plants that require less water and a more clay-based loam for plants that need more water. By looking up each specific plant we can find out which soil it grows best in.

Now, two more soils should be kept in mind here and they are peat and chalk type soils:

Peat
Peat soils are mainly organic matter and dead vegetation and are usually very fertile, holding a lot of water. Peat is a soil amendment used in potting soils and planting mixes and it works great in seed starting mixtures.

Chalk
Chalky soils do not retain water and are low in fertility but we use it for some vegetables and perennials. We usually improve chalky soils by mixing it with coarse sand, peat and compost.

When you have determined what soil you have and what type of soil you should add for your plants, you should also consider its pH. A soil pH is a number that describes how acid (lime-free) or alkaline (lime-rich) your soil is. You can get a pH tester kit from your garden center.

Sometimes it takes a lot of trial and error (and around my garden, lots of dead plants) until you get the soil type mixed right. Do you have any more tips or suggestions for determining soil types in the garden? Please let me know in the comments section below.

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