Determining your Soil Type
What Type of Soil Do I Have? How Can I Improve It?
Healthy Soil, Healthy Plants
If your soil is healthy and full of life, your plants will be healthy and happy too. All types of soils benefit from adding decomposed organic matter. It’s really impossible to have too much organic matter. Soils with lots of organic matter have better water retention and plants get nutrients easily.
Compost and soil amendments are not the same as fertilizer. Compost improves the soil texture, while fertilizers are plant foods.
Types of Soils
There are only three types of soils: clay, sandy and loam. Loam is the ideal soil type—well-draining, but full of organic matter.
Clay soil is sometimes called adobe or simply “heavy soil”. The particles are small, similar in size and pack tightly. This type of soil holds little water and little air. Drainage is very slow.
With sandy soil, particles are loose and rather large. Sandy soil contains lots of air and loses moisture quickly because it drains very well. Because of this, nutrients leach through the soil quickly, too. In sandy soil, plants need to be watered and fed often.
This is the ideal soil—a well-balanced mixture of clay, silt and sand. Loam drains well, but not too fast. Loamy soil holds nutrients well.
How to Know What Soil You Have
Thoroughly wet a patch of soil then let it dry for a day. Pick up a handful of soil and squeeze it firmly. If the soil remains in a tight ball and is a bit slippery, you’ve got a clay soil. If the soil is gritty and doesn’t hold its shape or simply crumbles, you have sandy soil. If the soil is slightly crumbly, but stays in a loose ball, your got ideal loam.
How to Improve Clay and Sandy Soil
Adding compost or bagged soil amendments (buy a reputable brand that’s well-composted and weed-free!) will help both types of soils. It may take 2- to 3-inches of amendment to make a difference. Amendment added to clay soil will increase aeration and water retention. Adding gypsum will also help break up hard clay soil. Amendment added to sandy soil will increase water- and nutrient-holding capacity. With either type, you want to end up with a loamy soil.
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