Determining Your Soil Type

comments (1) December 28th, 2009

Pin It

ChrisMcLaughlin Chris McLaughlin, contributor
thumbs up 1 user recommends

Adding compost as a soil amendment is the single best thing you can do for your garden.
 
Photo by normanack under the Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0.
Determine your soils type to get an idea of what plants or vegetables will thrive in your garden.
 
Photo by fazen under the Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0.
Adding compost as a soil amendment is the single best thing you can do for your garden.
 
Photo by normanack under the Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0.Click To Enlarge

Adding compost as a soil amendment is the single best thing you can do for your garden.

 

Photo by normanack under the Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0.


Soil "type" is different than obtaining the specifics about minerals and nutrients found in individual soils through soil "testing". Soil type refers to the physical structure and texture of soil. This information will provide clues to how well a soil will hold water (porous) as well as giving you some hints to whether it's holding much nutrition at all.

Knowing your soil's natural structure or type lets you know what plants and vegetables will thrive in the soil you already posses. You'll also know if you need to add amendments if you're interested in growing vegetables that wouldn't otherwise do well in that soil.

Soil texture is the relative proportions of sand, silt and clay mineral particles in your soil. A soil that is sand and coarse is referred to as a light soil. A clay or fine-textured soil is referred to as heavy soil. Just hearing those terms gives you an idea of how easy it would be to work these soils. But, soil quality isn’t all about physical work.

"Lighter" soil can be sparse in nutrients, whereas the heavy soil may contain valuable nutrients that just can’t be tapped easily due to its thickness. Although, both soils will support certain plants, they both would also perform their best if amended.

The USDA classification system recognizes twelve basic soil textural classes. They can prove this with a diagrammed triangle that they ingeniously made look incredibly complicated. If you want to get that into it, feel free to look this up, but you may want to ask yourself if you’re willing to lose a growing season just to say you understand it.

The “feel” method to determine soil texture:

  1. Take a palm-sized chunk of your soil into your hand (this is done one-handed, so you can go right on flipping through the Territorial seed catalog with the other hand). Squeeze soil together to form a slightly oblong ball.
  2. With your thumb, gently push the soil forward to make a “ribbon.” If you can’t make anything because your ribbon keeps breaking, don’t blame yourself. You have a coarse-textured soil; a loamy sand.
  3.   Watch a video on soil texture on FineGardening.com.
       
    If when you attempt to form a ribbon, you can make a short on to about 1/2 inch long, you have a medium-textured soil: loam. Now smile; it’s a nice one to have.
  4. If you can form a ribbon easily and it doesn’t break off until about 3/4 inches long, you have clay loam - another medium-textured soil.
  5. If a strong ribbon can be formed and seems to go on and on (certainly longer than your friend’s wimpy ribbons), you have a very fine-textured soil called clay. Your ribbon victory is short because you might have to work a little harder on your soil by adding more organic matter (compost).

In any of the cases above, nothing will improve soil like compost or composted manures. Adding a couple of inches to the garden bed every year will soon have your soil teeming with good organisms and have the soil loamy and nutritional. There's no need to dig compost into the beds, either. Let mother nature and her workers, earthworms, do the heavy lifting; just provide the compost and they will come.


posted in: garden soil, soil texture, soil type, determining soil structure

Comments (1)

edsweeney writes: I grow show leeks and would like to know if I am better using sandy soil or heavy soil?
Posted: 12:38 pm on February 5th
Log in or create a free account to post a comment.