If you garden in one part of the country for any length of time, you’ve probably figured out what type of soil you have. When I first moved to Texas, I heard my neighbors say, “Well, if you want to put a garden in, you’ll have to make friends with all the rocks,” but when I visit my friend in Ohio, she tells me how difficult it is to garden in their clay soil. Knowing what soil type you have is important, because it lets you know what your soil’s temperament is, what difficulties you might encounter, and what you can grow.
With organic gardening, we always start with the soil — knowing what type you have and then how to add organic matter to enrich it. Because when you feed the soil, you are building a long-term healthy environment for your garden and the plants in them. There are three basic soil types — here’s what they are and what you need to know about each.
CLAY — Clay soils are heavy, are potentially very fertile, and hold a lot of water. They drain water much more slowly and take a longer time to warm up in the spring. They get easily compacted when they are wet, and tend to bake and crack in the summer. You know you have clay soil if it’s sticky when wet — you can roll it into a ball and it will hold its shape. Add lots of organic matter to break up the heavy nature of this type of soil so your plants have a chance to grow healthy roots without getting waterlogged.
SAND — Sandy soils are the opposite of clay; they are light soils that drain quickly after rain, are easy to work with and they warm up quickly in the spring. Sandy soil falls apart in your hand and will not hold a shape like clay soil. The downside — this type of soil drains so quickly that it’s sometimes difficult to keep plants hydrated, and it typically has fewer nutrients than clay soil. Work organic matter into the soil to help bind it together so it can hold moisture better, and remember that you might have to add additional organic fertilizers to keep your plants healthy.
LOAM — Loam soil is a mixture of sand, clay, and silt, tending to be fertile, well-drained, and easily worked. This is the type of soil to aim for, as it tends to be balanced and healthy. But even loamy soils can have more clay or more sand in them, so commit to adding organic matter to your garden to keep it strong and healthy.