Soil is a gardener’s most precious resource and if well looked after it will produce bigger crops and healthier plants that last longer.
This can be achieved by digging and adding well-rotted organic matter and fertilisers. For new gardens, new borders or the replanting of an established border, it is well worthwhile improving the soil before planting.
Soil is made up of three basic types of particles: clay, silt and sand; it also contains the remains of decomposed organic matter (humus).The ultimate performance of soil is determined by the proportions of these ingredients.
To find out what type of soil you have in your garden collect a sample of soil; moisten it with water and knead it in your hand to a smooth paste. How it feels and behaves when kneaded and rolled will determine its texture; take a look below:
If it feels sticky but also gritty, it’s loam. If it’s mostly sticky, roll it into a worm shape and if it breaks up when rolled, it’s also loam. This is the best type of soil with an equal mix of particles. No improvements are needed but an autumn mulch of well rotted organic matter will help maintain the quality
If it rolls into a worm shape easily but feels rough, it’s clay loam A mixture of clay and loam soil with the advantages and disadvantages of both. No improvements are needed but an autumn mulch of well rotted organic matter will help maintain the quality.
If the worm shape becomes shiny when rubbed but still feels gritty, it’s sandy clay. A mixture of clay and sandy soil with the advantages of both with few of the disadvantages. No improvements are needed but an autumn mulch of well rotted organic matter will help maintain the quality.
If the worm shape becomes shiny and does not feel gritty, then it’s clay, it is a fertile soil and produces good crops. However it has poor drainage and remains wetter and colder for longer. It is also heavy to cultivate so additional drainage is usually required. Dig over in autumn to expose to winter frosts and improve the structure, add a dressing of Lime and incorporate well-rotted farmyard manure.
If it feels gritty, roll it into a ball. If it won’t form into a ball, it’s sand. It is free draining and warms up quickly in Spring. It is light and easy to cultivate but is prone to drought. Goodness is easily washed out so lots of farmyard manure should be added in the Autumn and fertilisers in spring and summer.
If it forms into a ball and doesn’t fall apart, it’s sandy loam, a mixture of sand and loam with the advantages of both and with few of the disadvantages. No improvements are needed but an autumn mulch of well rotted organic matter will help maintain the quality.
If it feels more slippery or silky, it’s silty loam. It tends to be well drained and retains goodness well. It’s not as heavy as clay and can be fertile. Care must be taken as it is easily compacted. Regular light dressings of Lime, well-rotted compost and fertilisers are required. Dig the ground in autumn.
Contains lots of stones so is well drained but can dry out quickly in summer. It can be difficult to cultivate so remove large stones from the surface and apply farmyard manure and fertilisers just below the surface or leave on the surface for a few months and let the worms take it down into the soil.
Dark topsoil with white subsoil. Usually too alkaline for many plants but good for rockery plants. It is sticky and soft in wet weather. Apply farmyard manure and fertilisers just below the surface or try green manures. Do not dig deeply.
Contains plant remains and has spongy texture. It is easy to cultivate and is good for acid loving plants. Can be poorly drained so add extra drainage, loamy topsoil and generous amounts of Lime.
Most plants will be quite happy in a neutral or slightly acid or alkaline soil with pH of between 6 and 8. If your soil is 7.5 or more then your soil is alkaline, a pH of less than 7 means your soil is acid and you will be able to grow plants such as Hydrangea and Rhododendron.Before planting you will also need to consider your soil’s pH which indicates the acidity of the soil.
You can easily test the acidity of your soil by using a simple Soil Testing Kit which is available at most garden centres, just follow the instructions on the box.