The health of any plant is largely dependent on the condition of the soil in which it grows. Plants continuously take nutrients, oxygen and water from the soil. There are thirteen minerals that plants need from soil to grow and thrive. The type and condition of soil affects all 3 of these requirements.
Soil mainly consists of particles of sand, silt and clay. Soil particle sizes range from very fine to very coarse.
Loamy soil is considered the best for growing plants. It is a mixture of silt, sand, and clay, and the particles pack together well. The more silt in the soil, the fluffier and more crumbly it becomes, like a cake. When moist, a clump of this soil feels light and bendable, like wet clay.
A fast way to find out the type of soil you have is to dig up a small sample of moist soil from a place it has been the least disturbed in your yard. Then squeeze a moistened ball of soil out between your thumb and fingers. Clayey soil will form a ribbon up to two inches long. Sandy soil will not form a ribbon, but will fall apart easily, and loamy soil will form a ribbon about one inch long.
Benefits of Sand, Clay and Silt
Classified as sand, silt or clay, the ratio of these three particle sizes to each other determines the texture of the soil. The texture of the soil is also an important factor in plant growth. The different textures of soil are used to classify and name the soil types. Loamy soil has a good amount of all three particle sizes.
Sand provides good capture of rainfall, aeration, drainage and irrigation. Clay is very fertile and holds water well. Silt acts as a bridge for the sand and clay. It makes them compatible with each other.
Loamy soil is considered to be the best soil type. The texture is gritty and it absorbs water readily. It also has good drainage. There are various types of loamy soil.
Sandy soil consists of the biggest sized particles. Sandy soil is formed by the natural process of disintegration of rocks like quartz, granite, limestone and shale. Its gritty texture allows for good drainage. It is better for cultivating if it has a high amount of organic material.
The drawback is that if mixed with organic material it can result in over-drainage in the summer. If you use sandy soil high in organic material you must water regularly. The bonus of this soil type is that because of the good drainage, water is pulled away from the roots and this protects them from rot and decay.
Silty soil is one of the most fertile soil types. It is granular like sandy soil but it has more nutrients and better drainage. It is composed of minerals like quartz and fine organic particles. When dry it is smooth and looks like sand. It holds moisture but when dry can become compacted. It is easier to work with when it has some moisture.
Clay soil is made of very fine grade particles. Because of these there is little air space in clay soil. Clay becomes quite heavy when wet. The drainage is low and it runs the risk of water being held in and around the roots. This water retention can easily lead to root rot and decay. If used for cultivation organic fertilizers must be added. Clay is formed from sedimentary deposits from eroded rock.
Peaty Chalky Soils
Peaty soil is composed mostly of decaying organic matter. It is usually found in marshy areas and contains more organic matter than any other type of soil. This type of soil is formed in wet climates; the acidity of the soil slows down the decomposition of organic matter.
Although high in organic material, peaty soil is low in nutrients found in other soil types. Peaty soil is prone to becoming water logged. If this soil type is well fertilized and proper drainage is looked after it can be an ideal growing medium.
Chalky soil is alkaline and consists of many stones. Chalky soil is prone to dryness. It requires more watering and fertilizing than any other type of soil. Chalky soil also blocks nutritional minerals like iron and magnesium from being utilized by the plants.
Soil is also divided into alkaline and acidic. This classification is dependent on the amount of humus, organic material and bedrock on which it sits.
Depth of Soil
Besides texture, the quantity of soil is also important. The quantity of soil is based on the depth. Great soil can’t produce great plants if there is not enough of it. There are standard recommendations for soil depths for various types of plant.
Every type of soil has its advantages and its disadvantages. Certain plants require certain soil types to thrive. If you do a little research into what type of soil you have, you can change many soil characteristics to provide whatever you plant with what it needs to grow, be healthy and thrive.