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Getting to Know Your Soil on World Soil Day

What better way to celebrate World Soil Day than learning about the different varieties of soil out there? Knowing your soil type is often overlooked but is exceptionally important to help determine which plants are best suited for your garden.

How you treat your soil goes a long way and will have a huge impact on your plant’s growth so it is definitely worth spending a little time to figure out what soil type you have and then use this to your advantage.

There are six main types of soils that can be found in your garden, some being more common than others.

  • Clay soils (also known as heavy soils) – heavy, high nutrient content, sticky in winter, dry in summer with noticeable cracking
  • Sandy soils (also known as light soils) – light, acidic, low in nutrients that can be quickly washed away by rain, warm up rapidly in spring but dry out quickly
  • Silt soils – fertile, retains water, higher in nutrients than sandy soil, compacted easily
  • Loams– Balanced mixture of clay, sand and loam avoiding the extremes of each, fertile, easy to work, well drained
  • Peat soils – High in organic matter, high moisture content, rich in nutrients
  • Chalky soils– Highly alkaline, can be light or heavy, extremely dry and often leads to yellow / stunted plants.

The best way to identify your soil type is by looking at it, touching it, adding a little water, and then rolling it in between your hands. This way we can examine how the soil looks and feels and whether its texture is sticky, gritty, crumbly, or slimy. 

It may be useful to test the soil from different areas in your garden depending on its size as the soil types can vary much more than what you might think!

  • Clay soils – Readily stick together and form a gluey texture when wet or dry. They can be rolled into a ball which holds its shape and can have a shiny finish if you rub it with your finger.
  • Sandy soils - Often feel gritty and will crumble apart and like its name suggests, it usually falls through your fingers just like sand. It typically can’t be rolled into a ball.
  • Silt soil – Rare in gardens. Very fine and slippery texture when dry. Can be formed into a ball shape when wet and when saturated they often blend perfectly with water typically causing muddy puddles.

Most soils will benefit from some improvement such as applying organic matter like organic, peat free compost. This will aid the replacement of depleted nutrients, assist with water retention for certain soils, and help loosen the compacted sticky structure of clay soils, assisting successful growing.

Not only will organic, peat free compost benefit the health of various soil types and improve workability it will also assist with our overall responsibility of tackling climate change by locking carbon in the earth.

As we’ve seen, soils have a range of characteristics making each of them unique. Understanding your soil means you will be able to determine the strengths and weaknesses helping to support your plants’ growth.

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