Soil Type & Texture and Fixes
There are four common types of soil and I’ll go through each and list the attributes and problems of each. I’ll also go through how to fix the problems each one can give you.
The first type of soil is sandy. It feels gritty to the touch and it wont hold together if you squeeze it in your fist (damp).
With sandy soil, water and nutrients drain right through. It’s also a
“hungry” soil… meaning it
eats up humus.
Humus (not to be confused with that delicious Greek dip, hummus) is the life of your soil. It i
s the rich decomposed organic matter that holds moisture, nutrients and microorganisms that allow plants to grow. It’s the end result of composting, that rich black crumbly sweet-smelling GOLD!
Sandy soil isn’t an easy fix. The first thing I would do is add as much organic matter as I could. You can use well rotted manure or compost before planting. Then apply a thick mulch. It can be almost anything. Wood chips/shavings, straw, pine needles, or grass can be used. If you use grass, you’ll want to use it with something else. Grass, if used alone and thicker than ½ - ¾ of an inch can create a water repelling mat that will keep the soil from breathing and not allow water through. When adding mulch a 2-3 inch layer is ideal. You can also put down a layer of cardboard or newspaper first to hold even more moisture in.
For sandy soil, mulch is a must for soil retention! It has the added benefits of protecting plants from soil pathogens and smothering out weeds.
Silt is similar to sand, but the particles are rounder and more weathered. Individual silt particles are smaller than sand, if you rub it between your fingers when moist it feels smooth and slippery. It also holds more water than sand. Because of the smaller particle size, it tends to compact when wet so you do not want to walk in the beds unless they are dry (if at all). The benefit of silt over sand is it’s water retention and it holds onto humus and nutrients much longer than sand.
The third type of soil is clay. The house I grew up in and learned to garden in had clay soil. Clay is very firm. It feels slippery and sticky when wet. In fact, if you step in clay when it is wet, it might just pull your shoe right off. If you take clay soil that is damp and squeeze it, not only will it stay in a ball, but you can see the wrinkles of your hand and sometimes fingerprints left in it. That is because it contains the smallest particles (less than .002 mm in size). Really small! Because of the small size, they stick together. You can make pottery out of it. So you would wonder how you would grow in that… well, that’s where humus comes in. If you add enough organic matter, clay soils can be one of the most rewarding soils to grow in. Clay particles are negatively charged, so they attract and hold on to positively charged minerals like potassium, calcium and magnesium. It also holds on to moisture, which is good in times of drought, but is can also become waterlogged very easily. Again, lots of organic matter can remedy that. You can also install French drains. If you have really tough clay, you can add gypsum to the soil along with the compost. One word of warning about clay though. Never, ever work it when it is really wet. It will compact into… tile.
The best type of soil to have is loam… it’s a mixture of sand, silt, and clay. Loam can be broken down into light loam and heavy loam. Light loam has more sand and heavy loam has more clay. Overall loam is very fertile. It holds on to water and nutrients but at the same time is well draining. If it is a heavy loam you can still have compaction issues when wet, but you shouldn’t be walking in your beds anyway.
I’m lucky enough to have light loam here at this house. Loam soils still benefit from yearly additions of organic matter applied as mulch and over the year the worms work it into the soil.
So now you should have a good idea of what soil type you have and what to do to improve it.