Basic Soil Types


There are three primary categories of soil, each of which is distinguished by its own unique set of qualities. First on the list are clay soils, followed by sandy soils, and finally loam soils.

Clay soil is characterized by having more than thirty percent of its mineral particles with a diameter of 0.002 millimeters or smaller or less than that. These types of soils often have a consistency that is very similar to glue, making them challenging to deal with. Their consistency makes them exceedingly weighty and difficult to manipulate. Clay soils are often quite rich in necessary plant nutrients, but they have the tendency to have very poor drainage in the winter and to bake to an exceedingly hard consistency in the summer.

Sand is defined as a soil in which 35 percent of the mineral particles range in size from 0.10 millimeters to 0.50 millimeters in diameter. These types of soils often have excellent drainage and are deficient in the vital plant nutrients that plants need since these nutrients have been washed away by the extremely quick drainage. Sandy soils, on the other hand, are quite simple to manage and often warm up very quickly in the spring, making them an excellent choice for the cultivation of early crops.

Loams are described as soils in which one third of the mineral particles consist of clay, one third of the mineral particles consist of sand, and one third of the mineral particles consist of silt. From a horticultural point of view, loam soils are the ideal, since they combine the greatest features of clay soils with the best properties of sand soils, while also mitigating the deficits of both types of soil. If you are blessed with the presence of loam in your soil, you should do everything you can to keep it in good shape.

Between these three fundamental soil types, there is a wide spectrum of other soil types. There are a total of twelve different classifications that are used to talk about the texture of the soil.

Extreme Soil Types

Extreme climatic or geological conditions are often required for the formation of these soils. Although they are not very widespread, many gardeners have to deal with them anyway.

To be considered stony, a soil must contain more than 35 percent of its mineral particles measuring at least 2 millimeters in diameter or larger. Most of the time, the particles are a great deal bigger. Stoney soils are almost unable of retaining any moisture at all and are deficient in the nutrients that are necessary for plant growth.

Peat soils do not contain any mineral particles of a size that can be measured. They are made up wholly or virtually entirely of degraded plants that occurred in anaerobic (airless) environments. Peat soils are often quite acidic and contain very little of the needed plant nutrients. They are most common in regions that get an exceptional amount of rainfall.

Muck soils may be found in boglands that have dried up and have not had the time or enough plants to produce peat. They typically have a very high concentration of silt particles, but no humus, and as a result, they are almost completely devoid of any kind of plant life.

In the western and most western parts of the United States, in places that get very little rainfall, you’ll find soils that resemble adobe or gumbo. They are distinguished by the high alkalinity that they possess. These soils often have an exceptionally high concentration of vital plant nutrients, and their mineral particle size is comparable to that of clay. On the other hand, they often do not contain a enough amount of moisture to render the nutrients easily accessible to the plants. It’s possible that the very high alkalinity of these soils might be harmful to plants.

Determining Soil Type

When you take over a new garden, it is a good idea to get the soil analyzed before you start working on it. You may have it done in a competent manner by using a soils testing laboratory that is managed by the government in your area. Or, you could do it yourself using one of the soil testing kits that are commonly available in garden stores and garden centers. This option will save you a significant amount of money. These kits will tell you how much nitrogen, phosphate, potash, or lime your soil is lacking, as well as how much of each of these critical plant nutrients to be added to put your soil back into perfect balance.

Another technique involves placing a small amount of soil in the palm of your hand, gradually moistening it while rubbing it and molding it with each addition of water, and continuing this process until the soil reaches the point where it can be easily molded, but it does not have any free water and will not stick to a polished surface. You should repeatedly press and shape the dirt between your fingers and thumb in order to evaluate its texture, determining if it is gritty or smooth, how sticky it is, whether it has a plastic-like consistency, and how much “polish” you can achieve on the top. The presence of sand is responsible for the material’s gritty texture, whereas silt is responsible for the material’s smoothness, and clay is responsible for the material’s stickiness, plasticity, and cohesiveness. The next step is to attempt to shape a ball out of the earth by rolling it between the palms of your hands. Take note of how simple this is. The next step is to attempt to create a thread that resembles a sausage, and if that is successful, try to shape the thread into a ring. If you look at the table below and compare it to the observations you’ve made, you should be able to obtain a good idea of the soil’s texture.

A Quick Guide to Soil Types

TextureGrittinessSmoothnessStickinessBall & Thread
Formation
Sandextremely grittynot smoothnot stickyballs collapse easily
Loamy Sandextremely grittynot smoothnot stickyballs difficult to form
Sandy Loamvery grittynot smoothnot stickyballs stick together, no threads
Loammoderately grittyslightly smoothslightly stickyballs stick together, threads difficult to form
Clay Loamslightly grittyslightly smoothmoderately stickyforms balls, threads, and rings
Silt Loamvery little grittinessvery smoothslightly stickyballs stick together, threads difficult to form
Siltvery little grittinessextremely smoothslightly stickyballs stick together, threads difficult to form, slight polish
Clayvery little grittinessnot smoothextremely stickyballs, threads and rings easily formed; plenty of polish

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