How to Tell What Type of Soil You Have

Getting to know your soil is an essential part of the landscape design process. Here's how to know what you've got.

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Step 1: Identifying Sandy Soil

Sandy Soil

Sandy Soil

To determine a soil type, take a handful of moist soil from the garden, and give it a firm squeeze. If it falls apart it means the soil is sandy.

©2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

When rubbed between your fingers, sandy soil feels gritty and falls apart if you try to roll it into a ball. Coarse sand is free- draining, but very fine sand doesn’t drain well and can easily become compacted. Sandy soils are low in nutrients but easy to dig, which is why they are known as “light soils.”

Step 2: Identifying Clay Soil

Clay Soil

Clay Soil

Clay based soil will feel smooth and sticky, plus will roll into a sausage roll, making it difficult to drain.

©2008, Dorling Kindersley Limited

2008, Dorling Kindersley Limited

This type of soil feels smooth and sticky, and can be rolled into a ball when wet. Clay is also porous and holds nutrients and water well, although plants cannot extract all of the moisture from clay, because an electrical charge on each of the particles holds it too tightly—rather like iron filings clinging to a magnet.

Step 3: Identifying Acidity and Alkalinity

Acidity and Alkalinity

Acidity and Alkalinity

The pH, or acidity level, of soil has a large part to do with how well plants grow. Every home and garden center carries pH test kits. These kits are fairly accurate, but follow the testing instructions precisely. Some plants, such as azaleas, only grow well on acidic soils, while others, such as acanthus, prefer alkaline conditions, so it is important to establish the pH (acidity or alkalinity) of your soil.

©2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Some plants, such as azaleas, only grow well on acidic soils, while others, such as acanthus, prefer alkaline conditions, so it is important to establish the pH (acidity or alkalinity) of your soil. Soil testing kits are available and easy to use. Take a few soil samples—the pH may differ throughout your yard.

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