Important for any avid gardener, knowing the type of soil you’ve got, and what seeds or plants will do well in it, can make a huge difference in the outcome of your gardening project.
The thin layer of soil that covers the earth is just essentially crushed up rock. And the type of soil is governed by the size of the particles of crushed up rock that make it up. Sandier soils have a larger percentage of big particles, clay soils have a larger percentage of fine particles.
Due to the amount of different combinations of ratios there are a multitude of soils, but there are six main types that a weekend gardener should try to get their head around.
One of the worst soils to try to grow plants in, the large particles that make up a sandy soil are horrible at retaining moisture. The issue with water retention flows into a lack of nutrients, as any that collect are quickly washed away.
Living by the coast can mean that a sandy soil is all that you’ve got to work with, which will severely cut down your options for plants. There are some that have evolved to cope with the quick-drying soils though, with cacti, palms and ammophila being great choices.
A favourite of farmers, silty soil is made up of relatively fine particles that hold water in excellently.
It isn’t the most nutrient rich, and if you’re constantly walking or driving on it the soil can get super compacted, which isn’t ideal for plant growth. It may need to be aerated from time to time in order for your plants to meet their full potential.
Clay soil is the finest and densest of all soils. It essentially holds no air, but can hold huge amounts of water, making it very heavy. Along with its water retention abilities, it is also nutrient rich. It can be fairly easy to garden with if you know the state of the soil.
Dry clay is malleable and easy to work with, so summer is a great time to garden. Wet clay on the other hand, due to its weight and density, can be a bit of a hassle to play around with.
The water retention can also be a problem if your area experiences cold winters. Freezing of the soil will effect even the most hardy of plants, so putting an insulating layer of compost on the soil before each winter is advisable.
An absolute winner in the garden stakes, loamy soil is a beautiful mix of sand, silt and clay. Along with a beautiful PH level of 6, it can hold plenty of nutrients and water while still remaining nicely aerated.
The high calcium levels usually found in loam are great for plants, and by adding a fertiliser or compost to the mix, you’ll soon have a super-soil that will have your plants going gangbusters.
Peat bogs are famous for delivering mummified corpses to scientists and museums the world over. But their talents don’t stop there.
Rich in nutrients and organic materials, peaty soil is a feast for plants. Its only drawback is it becomes that way by being waterlogged, so it needs to be drained prior to use.
Its acidic nature makes it great as an additive to other soils to help balance their PH, and can also help to control plant diseases.
An alkaline soil loaded with lime, chalky soil isn’t great for plant life. Often found in limestone beds with deep chalk deposits, this sort of soil thankfully isn’t too common in an average backyard.
If you do try to utilise this sort of soil for gardening, you may find that plants soon start to yellow and are stunted in growth. You will need to fertilise or use compost to help enrich the soil with nutrients.
Diagnosing the type of soil in your garden can be as easy as grabbing some and rubbing it in between your fingers. Once you have an idea of its constitution, you’re well placed to pick the ideal set of plants for your situation.