Discover The Types Of Soil In Your Garden And How To Make The Most Of Them

types of soil

types of soil

Updated on 12/3/2023
Emma DowneyBy Emma Downey
Gardening Expert
Learn More about Emma Downey

If the soil quality isn't good enough, all of your planting and care can be for nothing. Your plants get the essential nutrients, water, and air from the soil to grow and develop healthily. There are many types of soil. Each one has its unique composition of minerals, organic matter, and inorganic materials, thereby determining the types of plants, shrubs, and trees something as yellow flowered shrubs that can successfully grow on it and how they can grow.  

In restricted plots such as raised beds or planters, ideal soil conditions for specific crops may be developed. Still, for more extensive gardens and landscapes, it is helpful to understand the features of the soil you have to work with to maximize your gardening success.

The Six Primary Categories Of Soil

Clay, sand, silt, peat, chalky, and loamy soils are the primary types of each of the six basic types of soil. It is essential to have this level of awareness to make the most informed decisions, maximize the potential of your garden, and enjoy its benefits to the fullest.

1. Clay Soil

Clay Soil

Clay Soil

The clay soil texture is lumpy and becomes sticky and rock-like when wet. The drainage in clay soil is poor, and there are very few air gaps in the soil. The ground will only gradually get warmer in the spring, making it difficult to work. Clay soil often contains a lot of nutrients. Therefore if drainage in the area is improved, plants will flourish in their development and growth.

How To Make The Most Of Clay Soils

  • Clay soil is ideal for growing perennials and shrubs such as blooming quince, Helen's flower, aster, and bergamot, among others.
  • Clay soil is characterized by coolness and compactness that might make it challenging to cultivate early vegetable crops and soft berry harvests.
  • Vegetables grown throughout summer may be robust plants that provide big yields. Clay soils are ideal for the growth of fruit trees, ornamental trees, and bushes.

2. Sandy soil

Sandy soil

Sandy soil

The sandy soil has a grainy texture. It is simple to grow, has excellent drainage, and dries up quickly. Sandy soil stores fewer nutrients since they are more likely to be washed away during periods of heavier rainfall. Sandy soil also tends to warm up more quickly in the spring. Sandy soil calls for organic supplements such as glacial rock dust, greensand, kelp meal, or other organic fertilizer mixtures. Mulching is also beneficial for this plant since it helps retain moisture.

What May Be Cultivated On Sandy Soil

  • Sandier soils provide ideal growing conditions for shrubs and bulbs, such as tulips, tree mallow, sun roses, and hibiscus.
  • Sandier soils are ideal for cultivating root vegetables, including carrots, parsnips, and potatoes.
  • Sandier soils are ideal for the commercial cultivation of some vegetables and fruits, including lettuce, strawberries, peppers, maize, squash, zucchini, collard greens, and tomatoes.

3. Silty Soil

Silty soil

Silty soil

The texture of silty soil is similar to that of soap, and it is often exceptionally rich in nutrients and retains moisture simultaneously. This soil is simple to cultivate and needs very little work to compact. If proper drainage is created and maintained, the soil may provide an excellent base for a garden. To enhance drainage and structure while also providing nutrients, mixing in organic waste that has been composted is often necessary.

How To Get The Most Out Of Growing On Silty Soil

  • Silty soil is ideal for growing shrubs, climbers, grasses, and perennial plants like Mahonia and New Zealand flax.
  • Trees that thrive in silty soils include those that need a lot of water, such as willow, birch, dogwood, and cypress.
  • Most fruit and Vegetable Gardening crops are successful when grown on silty soils with good drainage.

4. Peaty Soil

Peaty soil

Peaty soil

A darker soil with more significant quantities of peat will have a meaty texture, characterized by a wet and spongy feel. Because the soil is acidic, the decomposition process is slowed down, resulting in the soil has fewer nutrients. During the spring, the earth warms rapidly and can hold on to a significant amount of water, even though this situation often calls for drainage. When dealing with soils containing a lot of peat, drainage channels may need to be excavated.

Peat soil becomes an excellent medium for plant development when combined with rich organic matter, compost, and lime to lessen the soil's acidity. Acidic soils may also have their pH raised by adding soil additives like glacial rock dust or other similar substances.

What Kinds Of Plants Do Well On Peaty Soil

  • Plants classified as shrubs include heather, lantern trees, witch hazel, camellia, rhododendron, and azalea.
  • Peaty soils that drain well are ideal for growing various vegetable crops, including brassicas, legumes, root vegetables, and salad crops.

5. Chalky soil

Chalky soil

Chalky soil

Compared to other types of soil, chalky soil has more prominent grains and a more stony texture. It is generally found on chalk or limestone bedrock and has excellent drainage. Because of the alkaline nature of the soil, the plant may experience growth retardation and develop leaves with a yellowish tint. You may fix this by fertilizing appropriately and bringing the pH back into balance. It is advised to include hummus to increase water retention and workability.

What Can Be Cultivated On Calcareous Soil

  • Plants such as lilac, weigela, Madonna lilies, pinks, and mock oranges may be classified as trees, bulbs, and shrubs.
  • Foods like spinach, beets, sweet corn, and cabbage are examples of vegetables.

6. Loamy Soil

Loamy soil

Loamy soil

Loamy soil has a fine texture and subtle dampness to it. It is composed of a reasonably uniform combination of sand, silt, and clay. It contains qualities that are perfect for gardening, as well as for lawns and plants. A soil with a good loam has a great structure, good drainage, the ability to keep moisture, is rich in nutrients, is simple to cultivate, and heats up rapidly in the spring. On the other hand, it does not dry up very fast in the summer. Acidic conditions often exist in loamy soils, which need constant amendment with new organic material.

What Kinds Of Plants Thrive On Loamy Soil

  • Examples of these plants are climbers, perennials, shrubs, and tubers such as wisteria, dog's-tooth violets, rubus, and delphinium.
  • Loamy soil has the potential to be the most prolific of all soil types, and thus, it is an ideal environment for growing most varieties of fruit and vegetables. However, loamy soil needs constant maintenance to keep it from depleting and drying. Maintaining the health of the soil requires several practices, including crop rotation, planting green manure crops, using mulches, and adding compost and organic fertilizers.

Tests That Might Help You Discover The Sort Of Soil You Have

The Test Of The Water

Water should be poured over the soil. If water moves through the soil fast, it is probably composed of sand or gravel, and clay soils have a slower water absorption rate than sandy soils.

Squeeze Test

Take a handful of dirt in your palm and gently squish it with your fist.

  • Clay soil may be identified by its sticky and slippery texture and the fact that it maintains its integrity and form even after being released from pressure.
  • If the soil is peaty, it will have a spongy texture, while sandy soil will have a gritty texture and will be more prone to crumbling.
  • Both loamy and silty soils have a relatively smooth texture to the touch and may maintain their form for a limited time.

Settle Test

Put some soil in the bottom of a clear container, fill it with water, give it a good shake, and then lay it alone for a full day to settle.

  • Clay and silty soils produce hazy water and a layer of sediment at the bottom of the container.
  • Sandy soils will cause the water to be mainly transparent, and most of the particles will sink to the bottom of the container, where they will accumulate in a layer.
  • Many particles will be seen floating on the top of the water when peaty soils are present, and the water will be somewhat hazy with a thin layer at the bottom.
  • Chalky soils will cause a layer of white, grit-like pieces to form on the bottom of the container, and the color of the water will be similar to that of a very light grey.
  • Suppose the water is relatively straightforward, and there are stratified particles on the bottom of the container with the finest particle at the top. In that case, the soil in this area is probably loamy.

Acid Test

In general, the pH of soils falls somewhere in a range from 4.0 to 8.5. Plants like soil with a pH between 6.5 and 7 since this is the range at which nutrients and minerals are most likely to flourish in their natural state. You may get a pH test kit from either this store or a nearby garden shop. In most cases, acid soil may be expected in regions with soft water, while alkaline soil is more likely to be found in areas with hard water.

Soil Test Kit

Utilize a soil test kit to determine the critical nutrient levels (N, P, and K) as well as the pH of the soil. You can discover the precise state of your soil and fertilize it in a way that is more effective and cost-efficient if you test it beforehand. During the growth season, it is important to do soil tests regularly.

How To Maximize The Potential Of Your Soil, No Matter What Kind It Is

Plants, on the whole, love neutral soil, but it is important to keep in mind that some plants prefer slightly acidic or alkaline soils. It is feasible to make modest adjustments to the amount of pH in your soil, regardless of the pH level of your soil, to make it more friendly to the kind of plants you wish to cultivate. Remember that this condition will only last for a short while; thus, you should get the most out of the soil type you have.

If you add ground lime to your soil, the pH of your soil will become more alkaline, and if you add aluminum sulfate or sulfur, the pH of your soil will become more acidic.

If you have sandy soil or another kind of soil lacking in nutrients, you may attempt to enrich it by adding organic matter such as compost and manure. This can also enhance the texture of the soil. Mulch your plants with organic material such as straw, dried grass clippings, or leaves from deciduous trees. These mulches decompose and get incorporated into the soil over time, which helps to improve the soil structure while also increasing the availability of organic nutrients.

Clay soil is often not adequately aerated and lacks a strong structure, making it more difficult to cultivate plants successfully in that environment. Clay soil makes the most of its organic matter when lots of well-rotted organic matter is added in the autumn, and peat should be added a couple of weeks before planting in the spring. Greensand is another tool that may break up dense clay soils or bind sandy soils.

Due to the alkaline nature of the substance, it is often challenging to grow on chalky soil. To correct this, adding bulky organic matter that decomposes over time and contributes nutrients and minerals to the soil would be helpful.

Ensure That Your Soil Is In Good Health

Consider your soil alive, just like the plants you grow in; just like the plants, it needs to be fed and watered. Check to see if it has the three primary nutrients known as nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium (NPK), all of which are important for the healthy growth of plants. These may be found in abundance in organic materials and fertilizers.

Before growing another crop, the land must be prepared by regenerating after harvesting the previous one. Many gardeners produce "green manure" crops like legumes, buckwheat, vetch, and clover because these plants provide organic matter to the soil while enhancing aeration and drainage, developing texture, and fixing nitrogen in the soil. These cover crops are plowed under before they set seed, and they decompose rapidly, which enables the planting of fresh produce that can be harvested without too much of a wait.

After agricultural harvests, traditional methods for rebuilding healthy soil include crop rotation, using green manures and cover crops, the application of mulch, and the periodic addition of organic resources such as compost and fertilizer. All of these methods may be found in the word "mulch." Rock phosphate, often known as rock dust, is another valuable amendment that may be used to replenish the amounts of phosphorus essential for plants' robust development.

Introduce and foster the growth of live creatures in the soil if possible. The mycorrhizal fungus will enhance your plants' ability to take in water and nutrients. The presence of worms will both hasten the composting process and assist fertilizer distribution throughout the soil.

When you are just getting started, all of this could seem quite hard, but if you determine the kind of soil you have, it will be much simpler for you to cultivate and maintain a healthy garden. Keep in mind that the effort will be well worth it in the long run since the types of soil will never change!