What’s the Dirt? Types of Soil for Healthy Garden Plants

Improving soil

You may or may not recall hearing somewhere that soil is made up of three types of particles: sand, silt, and clay

The composition of these particles within a soil determines the type of texture soil you’re working with. It’s good to have an idea of this information because it can tell us useful information, such as how dense the soil is or how good the soil is at holding water and nutrients.

hands holding garden soil

The Three Components of Soil

Clay Soil

A clay soil has very small particles that are dense and heavy, which can sometimes inhibit drainage. Clay particles have highly charged exchange sites which makes it easier for water and nutrient molecules to attach to these sites and be ready for plants to use.

Silt Soil

A silt soil consists of particles that are smaller than sand and larger than clay. These soils are generally high in fertility because they still have those highly charged exchange sites. The powdery texture of this soil when dry tends to blow away if not covered properly. 

Sandy Soil 

Sandy soils have the largest particles and the biggest pore spaces (spaces for air and water between the actual soil particles). It is good to have some sand in your soil to break up more dense particles, but a soil that is too sandy won’t hold water or nutrients very well. 

A soil can be any combination of these particles, and when you think about all the other quality factors to consider, the question that once seemed simple - “What kind of soil do I have?” - becomes a bit scarier. Not to worry! 

To start, here is an article to help you perform an easy test called hand ribboning

It helps you determine what kind of soil you have just by touching it! Your hands may get dirty, but you’ll feel more in tune with your soil and your garden by understanding this. 

The Ideal Soil: Loam 

For most gardening purposes, you’ll want a good mix of each type of particle - which is often referred to as a loam soil. If the soil that exists in your backyard doesn’t end up being the most ideal type for a garden, don’t worry. You can still garden in containers or raised beds and choose a more suitable soil to buy from your local gardening center.

With some simple testing and planning, you can create the ideal soil for any garden.

Written by Teresa Chandler

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