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Soil types and texture

Soil Type: Knowing This Key to A Healthy Garden

Are you Loamey, Sandy or Clayey?

Knowing your soil type, typically called texture, is a key bit of information any gardener should know and understand. In this post I’ll continue my focus on soil (you can read about soil pH here: Understanding soil pH), and provide some insight into what soil texture means for your garden.

What is Soil Texture?

Soil texture is really a determination of the “grittiness” of your soil, or the size of the particles. Overall, it’s a measure of the percentage of sand, silt and clay. Clay soils are fine textured and Sandy soils are considered coarse. The textural class of soil is determined through the use of a soil triangle as shown below.

soil texture triangle
The Soil Texture Triangle

Why is soil type/texture important?

Your soil type determines many properties that are important for growth, including but not limited to:

  • Aeration (availability of oxygen)
  • Drainage characteristics
  • Water retention
  • Erosion characteristics
  • Organic matter content
  • pH affinity

So in a nutshell, it affects all the required elements that are necessary for healthy plants and a beautiful garden.

How do I determine my soil type?

There are a number of ways to determine the type/texture of your soil:

The Laboratory

The most accurate way of determining soil texture is through the use of a soil testing lab. Most universities have testing labs and will either charge a nominal fee ($7-$10) and some even do it for free. They will typically do a chemical analysis as well, so youu can see where to get started in amending your soil

The Manual Method – Squeeze Test for Soil

For most home gardeners or small scale farmers, a general idea of where you lie on the soil texture map is good enough. Essentially, you grab a handful of soil,, add some water and squeeze/roll in your hand. Work it for a minute or so, and as you squeeze, feel for grit and sand. Sandy soils will not stay in a ball and will crumble when squeezed. Clay soils on the other hand will form a tight ball, like Playdoh. Silty soils will leave a stain on your palm. To get a better assessment, you then squeeze the soil through your thumb and forefinger, creating a ribbon of soil. The flow chart below gives a great and simple way to determine soil texture.

USDA Soil Texture Flowchart

I know my soil type, now what?

In my next post I’ll go over the characteristics of the soil types and how to manage them

Additional reference for Soil texture and type:

Cornell Soil Texture Guide

USDA: How to tell your soil type

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