Sand, silt loam, peat, chalk, and clay are the primary soil types suitable for plant growth.
A rich, sandy loam is the ideal soil for most plants to promote optimal development. This soil is a balanced blend of the three primary soil types.
In most situations, you’ll need to add compost to the soil. In addition, you may need to add peat moss and sand depending on your soil type and how dense it is.
On the other hand, many plants are well suited to specific soil types and will thrive in them.
Importance of soil in gardening
Before discussing the types of soil, it’s good to know their importance in gardening.
Soil serves four primary purposes:
It offers a habitat for fungus, bacteria, insects, burrowing animals, and other organisms.
Soil recycles raw materials from plants and animal waste products.
It serves as a foundation for engineering projects such as buildings, roads, and bridges.
Primarily as a growing medium for plants.
This article provides well-detailed information on the best soil types, the plants most suitable for growth in various soil types and, the amount of fertilization you need to add to garden soil.
1. Silt Loam Soil
Loam soils are rich, well-drained, and easy to work with because they are a mixture of clay, sand, and silt. They avoid the extremes of clay and sandy soils. Depending on the main composition and agricultural features, they might be clay-loam or sandy-loam.
Silt is most conspicuous on valley floors, where deposition of loose eroded top fertile soil occurs. Plants that grow on high, rocky mountaintops won’t thrive here. Likewise, desert species won’t thrive since they aren’t suited to the wet, fertile conditions, but all other types of plant life thrive in silty loam soil types.
It’s easy to spot the few types of plants that don’t perform well in silty loam. Plant species prefer loose, rich soil, such as grasses, bamboo, and wetland plants. Other examples include aquatic plants, veggies, fruit trees, berry bushes, and ferns.
Silt loam soil is rare, especially in gardens. It has a slightly soapy and slippery texture and does not easily clump.
Plants that grow in silty loam require more water than those that grow in clay but considerably less than those that thrive in sandy soil.
Although the amount of organic matter in the soil is likely to be sufficient, annual compost additions will increase the quality of the already good soil and the level of silty loam soil nutrients.
When discussing silty soils, it’s best to have a layer of mulch on top to avoid moisture loss and gradually add organic matter. Because silty soil does not warm up as rapidly as sandy soil in the spring, creating raised beds with a long south-facing is also a smart option.
Below are factors that make the soil types below ideal and desirable for growing plants in the garden:
Higher pH level: For most plants, the ideal pH ranges from 6.0 to 7.0. The influence of a plant’s ability to grow is the soil’s pH level. This pH range permits good plant nutrients and other soil creatures like earthworms to thrive.
Higher calcium level: Calcium is essential for plant development. Calcium aids in the chemical equilibrium of the soil. It also improves the soil’s ability to hold water, ensuring that water reaches the roots of plants. It also aids in the loosening of the earth, allowing oxygen to reach the roots.
Gritty texture: The soil is dry, soft but gritty to the touch, and crumbles readily to allow good drainage. This soil type’s texture enables water and plant nutrient retention. This composition provides regular moisture and nourishment to the plants. In addition, because the soil is porous, air can readily travel down to the roots.
2. Sandy Soil
Sandy soil types are frequently dry, nutrient-deficient, and drain quickly. They have little (or no) capacity to transfer water by capillary means from deeper levels. To keep moisture in the seedbed, you should plow the sandy soils in the spring minimally.
By adding lots of organic matter to your soil, you can improve its water and nutrient retention capacity by binding loose sand into a more fertile crumb. Due to this method, you can mix sand and loam soil types to make it possible to grow plants in the soil.
Sand particles dominate sandy loam soils, yet there is enough clay and silt to provide structure and fertility. The diameter of the sand particles in the ground often classifies the four distinct varieties of sandy loam soil types. A simple test can tell you whether your yard contains this type of soil.
Sandy soils are frequently thought of as soils having well defined physical features, such as:
Lack of a well-defined structure due to the uneven sand grains present.
Low water retention capabilities.
High susceptibility to compaction.
Sandy soil identification: Sandy soil has a gritty quality, and you can feel the sand granules when you rub them between your fingers. This soil type also tends to slip between your fingertips. It is not possible to compact it into a sausage form. It may hold together better if it isn’t coarse sand instead of sandy loam.
These features have a negative influence and are inappropriate for plants. Fortunately, there are many plants other than the classic succulents and cacti that will perform well in sandy regions of the garden. These plants include:
Ground cover plants: Ground coverings are one of the most effective techniques to protect the soil in erosion-prone locations. You should be careful when planting these types of plants and keep in mind their moisture requirements, exposure, and adaptability to dry weather conditions. These plants can survive once established, although they will require some care initially.
Perennial plants: Perennials are an obvious choice for planting in these soil types. The overall appearance of the sandy garden will improve by planting bushy perennials with leaves that fill up vacant places. Spurge is a one-of-a-kind shrub with unusual leaves and unexpectedly beautiful blooms. These plants include Yarrow and Agave.
3. Clay Soil
These soil types have an excellent capacity to transfer water from deep layers by capillary action. However, the pace is sluggish, so capillary water does not meet plant water requirements. As a result, these soils have a deeper color and a more noticeable soil agglomeration.
The soil reduces the danger of crusting by aggregation. These soils must have good water content for easy gardening. If the circumstances are too dry, there is a chance of cladding, and if they are too wet, there is a risk of spreading.
You have a strong chance to improve the structure of these soil types because of climate, roots, and other factors.
Clay soil identification: When moist, clay soil has a spreading characteristic and is sticky. It’s simple to roll into a long, thin sausage, and you can often polish it to a glossy finish with a finger. However, it won’t be as shiny or as simple to produce a sausage with this soil type if it isn’t genuinely thick clay.
Clay soil features include:
Size of the particle: Clay has the tiniest particles of any soil type, with individual particles so minute that they are only observable through an electron microscope. This density permits many clay particles to occupy a limited amount of space while avoiding the gaps that would typically occur between bigger soil particles. This characteristic contributes significantly to the smooth texture of clay.
Clay soil structure: Clay soil structure tends to be highly dense due to the particles’ tiny size. The particles tend to stick together, forming a mound of clay that is difficult for plant roots to breakthrough. Clay-heavy soil is thicker and heavier than other soil types due to its density, and clay soil takes longer to heat up after periods of cold weather. This high density is also ideal in the reduction of erosion of the top fertile soil.
Organic matter: Clay has relatively little organic material, so if you want to grow plants in clay-heavy soil, you’ll need to add amendments. Clay-heavy soil generally lacks the minerals and micronutrients you require for plant development and photosynthesis without the addition of organic material.
The pH of clay: Mineral-rich clay soils can be alkaline, necessitating extra amendments to bring the pH level back to neutral before growing anything that requires a neutral ph. Before planting, test clay-heavy soil to assess its pH and whether it lacks vital elements like nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium.
Plant selection for clay soil needs prudence. Plants that grow in clay soil not only tolerate clay soil but also help to break it up and enhance the texture and drainage.
Plants that are appropriate for growth in clay soil include:
4. Peaty Soil
Peat soils have a dark brown to black hue due to more than 30% organic material. The peat-forming plant remains are more or less apparent to the human eye, depending on their conservation condition.
Peat soils are primarily present in lowlands where groundwater or rivers and lakes affect their composition. However, they are also present in the northern hemisphere’s cold and humid climates, when more precipitation than evaporation results in a surplus of water.
Natural peat soils are highly beneficial to the environment. Only conformists, primarily rare animals and plants, such as the Large Copper, Cottongrass, and Sedges, have adapted to the high-water content and unique nutritional circumstances.
Peat must undergo drainage by ditches or drainage systems for agriculture, forestry, or human settlements. These methods typically will severely and often irrevocably alter the peat characteristics. Most peat soils also act as grazing land in various degrees of intensity.
Peaty soil type features include:
This black soil has a lot of peat in it, so it’s spongy and wet.
Low pH value: Because the acidic quality of the soil delays the breakdown process, it provides fewer nutrients.
This soil warms up quickly, which provides optimum temperatures for plant growth.
Peat soil has a high ability of water retention because of the minimal spaces between the soil particles.
Peat soil is ideally suitable for: salad crops, root crops, and legumes
5. Chalky Soil
They’re also known as a primary type of soil due to their alkalinity. Chalk is a strong, soft rock that can readily break down. As a result, it drains quickly, and chalky soil types hold little water and dry quickly.
Although chalky soils are productive, many nutrients are unavailable to plants due to the high alkalinity of the dirt. This characteristic hinders plant roots from absorbing iron.
Chalk soils are also known as hard soils due to the large quantities of lime, calcium carbonate, and even boulders in the soil. Organic matter decomposes fast, and the soil does not retain the nutrients from this decomposition due to its hard rocky structure.
Chalk soils can cause yellowing leaves and limited vine development due to the high pH, which prevents the roots from absorbing iron and manganese. Due to this reason, gardeners and farmers add humus and fertilizers to increase the quality of the soil and its productivity.
Chalk soil features include:
This soil type is stonier and grainier than others which makes its texture rough.
Soil location is generally on a bedrock of limestone or chalk.
The alkaline composition of this soil might cause yellowing leaves and stunted plant development in some cases.
The soil contains high volumes of organic matter, which improves its water retention.
Chalky soils may be light or heavy but contain a lot of calcium carbonate. They are also very alkaline (they have a pH of 7.1 to 8)
Chalky soil is ideally suitable for cabbage, spinach, and beets.
Choosing the right soil types for plant growth is essential for features such as water retention, aeration, nutrients, and drainage. In addition, the right soil type guarantees a healthy and plentiful harvest.
You can use a soil test to check the quality of the soil type. However, fertilizing before performing a soil test is a waste of money and product, and it might worsen a nutrient imbalance already present.
Furthermore, nutrients may be present in appropriate quantities but inaccessible due to pH levels that are too high or too low. Finally, some plants are ideal for a specific type of soil which a good gardener can easily determine.
Tyler C Rich is the founder and chief editor at TopsyGardening.com. An experienced gardener and a professionally trained agriculture development expert, Rich has worked in the gardening and landscaping industry for more than a few decades. Although he has retired, his spark for developing the best urban and indoor gardens has not faded a bit. He uses TopsyGardening.com as a platform to come across enthusiastic gardeners and share the unique insights he has acquired through years of experience. Rich is interested in aquaponics and technology apart from conventional gardening techniques.