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Introduction To Soil Types For Gardening

If you are going to be planting some of your gardens in good old-fashioned dirt rather than hydroponically, you will need to consider the kind of dirt. You need to question what kind of Soil Types are good for what I am trying to grow?

There are several types of soil you need to think about for the success of your plantings. Some types of soil you will come across are the clay, sandy, silt, acidic, and alkaline. And all have different effects on your plants. Good and bad. 

soil types

Tomatoes will not do well in alkaline soil, succulents like cactus will disapprove of a clay-based soil.

The good news is that any soil may be amended to the characteristics needed to grow the plants of your choice to a healthy outcome.

Acidic And Alkaline Soil Types

First things first, the pH of the soil. This will be a little technical, however, not a complicated problem.

Soil pH or soil reaction is an indication of the acidity or alkalinity of soil and is measured in pH units. Soil pH is defined as the negative logarithm of the hydrogen ion concentration. The pH scale goes from 0 to 14 with pH 7 as the neutral point. As the amount of hydrogen ions in the soil increases the soil pH decreases thus becoming more acidic. From pH 7 to 0 the soil is increasingly more acidic and from pH 7 to 14 the soil is increasingly more alkaline or basic.

From the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry

So to determine the pH of your soil you should perform a simple test. The most accurate method of determining soil pH is by a pH meter. A second method that is simple and easy but less accurate than using a pH meter, consists of using certain indicators or dyes available as a kit much like the kits for checking pool water pH.

The pH of your soil pH will affect the nutrients, minerals, and growth of the plants. For the most part, soil types should have a pH range of approximately 6 to 7 to promote the readiest availability of plant nutrients.

Lime will raise the pH (alkaline), and various fertilizers available from garden suppliers will lower it (acidic).

Dealing With Clay Soil Types

If your garden has heavy clay soil, you know what a challenge it can pose to plants, not to mention gardeners. As a side-note, I relocated from Long Island NY to South Florida

Wow! What soil change. From clay to sand. Let us look at the differences.

Heavy clay such as what I experienced on Long Island drains very slowly, meaning it stays saturated longer after rain or irrigation. Then, when the sun finally comes out and the soil dries, it forms a hard, cracked surface.

On the bright side, clay soils are usually richer in nutrients than sandy soils are. And clay’s tendency to hold water tightly can be an advantage.

Here I offer some tips for making clay soil more manageable and easier to work.

Test soil pH, and adjust as necessary. Clay soils are rich in nutrients, but if the soil is too acidic or too alkaline, those nutrients won’t be available to the plants.

Use a home test kit or bring a sample to a local cooperative extension office. or a nearby botanical garden. Follow the recommendations for adjusting the pH. For most garden plants, a pH of 6 to 7 is ideal.

Add organic matter such as peat moss or a very inexpensive top-soil from a big box store such as Walmart. These ‘cheap’ bags contain a lot of organic material that clay soil will desperately need.  These additives will help improve drainage and lighten heavy soil. It also provides nutrients for beneficial soil microorganisms which will, in turn, also help improve the soil.

Before planting in spring, add compost and aged manure. A 2- to 3-inch layer worked into the soil to shovel depth is a good amount. Throughout the growing season, mulch with organic materials like grass clippings, shredded leaves, or additional compost. Since soil microorganisms literally “eat” organic matter, make a habit of continually adding it to your soil.

Consider building raised beds. That is a DIY I used while living on Long Island. Because clay soils hold water, creating raised beds can help improve drainage by encouraging water to run off. Raised beds can be a simple mound of soil, or can be constructed out of wood,(a square foot gardening hack) or brick and stone. To lessen compaction, size the beds so you can reach the middle without stepping in the bed. A four by foot square is ideal.

Sandy Types Of Soil To Deal With

sandy soil types

Sandy soils are a lot less fertile than the clay soil types, and more prone to drying out, faster because they’re made up of relatively large particles. This means there are large gaps between the particles, making it easy for water (and water-soluble nutrients) to filter down through the soil, out of the reach of plant roots.

We need to replace those large gaps and help the soil to hold on to water and nutrients.

Organic matter is a kind of cure-all in the garden. Just as with clay type soil, you will not go wrong with organic matter as an additive. Any organic matter will work to build soil structure as mentioned above and its ability to hold onto water.

Cheap topsoil and peat moss. are the go-to materials here again.

Compost and manure are preferred because they are rich in nutrients, which they drip-feed to your plants. Over time, they’ll also help to increase the pH of acidic sandy soils.

Silt Soil: A Two In One Soil Type

If you were to take a part of clay and a part of sand and add them together near a lake or river bed you would come up with what is known as silt.

Silt is granular material of a size between sand and clay. Silt may occur as a soil or as sediment mixed in suspension with water (also known as a suspended load) and soil in or next to a body of water such as a river or a lake.

As far as I’m concerned it is the best of both worlds and not very difficult to amend, although it does have some compaction issues.

However, how many of us are planting our vegetables at ‘lakeside’?

Vines, lush grasses and richly colored flowers are some examples of plants that are especially well-suited for silt soil. So if you live next to a lake or riverside, consider this area as a landscape only type of planting environment.

Improving Soil Type Tips

Improving any type of soil will take time, so don’t expect overnight results. On the other hand, if you follow the steps listed below, you should notice some improvement each year.

Within a few years, you’ll have rich, plant-friendly soil.

Mulch beds over the winter. Driving rain can really pack down bare soil and cause run-off on sandy type soil, so keep beds mulched with organic matter both during the growing season and over the winter. A layer of straw over the beds will protect the soil from compaction and reduce erosion; it can also help minimize weed growth. In the spring, transfer the mulch to the garden paths.

Consider planting a cover crop.

A cover crop is like a living mulch. Different cover crops are appropriate for different regions. In the north, winter wheat and winter rye are popular choices; in warmer regions, crimson clover and oats are commonly used.

For a winter cover crop, sow after the last crops have been harvested. The following spring, simply till the plants into the soil, adding yet more precious organic matter.

Improving any type of soil in the landscape takes time, so do not expect overnight results. On the other hand, if you follow the above steps you should notice some improvement each year. Within a few years, you’ll have rich, plant-friendly soil.

Add compost at any time. However, if you are tilling in fresh or un-composted organic matter, such as a cover crop, leaves, or straw, wait at least a few weeks before planting to allow the material to break down.

Soil Types For Succulent Planting

Having well-draining soil is crucial for succulents. And it is pretty easy on how to find and implement a solution.growing cactus plants

For most of us, succulents are planted in containers and will just require a commercially available ‘bagged ‘mix.

Miracle-Gro is a well-known brand and one of my go-to products. When it comes to soil types this formula for cactus, palm, citrus, and other succulents will be more than satisfactory. It’s enriched with proper plant food which feeds your plants for up to four to six months.

One of the great things about this mix is that it contains sand and perlite to prevent the soil from getting too compact and also makes it fast-draining which helps prevents overwatering and root rot.

Orchid Soil Considerations

As the succulent soil type as above, orchids will have their own needs and requirements. Those needs are met with again an easy to find bagged soil medium that you may easily plant your orchids into.

There are products available such as Miracle Grow that also contain the fertilizer and nutrients needed for four to six months.

How easy is that?

Although I prefer trying those orchids onto tree trunks. I will talk about orchid growing in another post.


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