How Much Do You Know About Your Soil?

All soils are different. Getting to know the characteristics of your particular soil, and working with them, is the key to a great garden.

The type of soil you have will influence the types of plants you can grow.  It’s also a determining factor in how successful they are likely to be. Working with your soil makes all your gardening tasks much easier as you are not fighting against mother nature.

How Much Do You Know About Your Soil?

Soil Texture

The texture of your soil is a description of the size of the particles that make up the soil. Microscopically small particles of soil will all clump together – forming clay, while very large particles make sand – which is very loose. Soils tend to be comprised of both sand and clay particles and where you live decides how balanced the two components are. Some areas are very sandy while other are full of lumps of clay.

Anything between sand and clay, with a mixture of different sized soil particles, is a loam. Loam is far easier to work with compared to clay and sand as it’s neither to sticky and doesn’t lose water quickly.

To test your soil texture take a lump of damp earth in your hand. Squeeze the clod tightly and try to form a ball, if it falls to pieces then you are on sand. If it forms a ball try to smear it in the palm of your hand with your finger. It the clod smudges and molds to the shape your finger then you have a lot of clay. If the ball just sort of falls apart again then what you have is loam.

Soil pH

Just the same as some foods are more acidic than others, so can soils be. Clay soils tend to be more alkaline (high pH – Chalky) while boggy or sandy ground tends to be more acidic (Low pH). If you are on loam then you will need to buy a testing kit to find out the pH of your soil.

Altering the pH of your soil is one of those tasks you really want to avoid. It’s expensive, time-consuming and once you start you wont be able to stop. It will require yearly applications of either lime or sulphates to alter your pH to become either less or more acidic retrospectively. If you do stop the applications – even for just one year – it will begin to revert back to its original pH level and your pampered plants are going to start dying.

Plants have evolved over millennia to be able to colonize any soil type. No matter how bad you think it is, even if you have the hardest, densest clay soil you have ever seen, there will be plants that will love you and thrive if you plant them in your garden!

Remember, it’s always much easier and cheaper to work with what you have rather that trying to change everything.

Barb Webb. Founder and Editor of Rural Mom, is an the author of "Getting Laid" and "Getting Baked". A sustainable living expert nesting in Appalachian Kentucky, when she’s not chasing chickens around the farm or engaging in mock Jedi battles, she’s making tea and writing about country living and artisan culture.
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