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Identifying soil types & their uses

16-Nov-2013 | Contributed by: Guest Author

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Seedling in soil

Determining your soil type is an important way of deciding what crops to grow on your land.

There are many varieties of soil, and understand what soil type, or texture, your land has, and how you can make the most of it, is key to successful horticulture. There are for main types of soils, but they work in a gradient, so your soil could be a combination of several soil types. When determining the soil type of your land, you will need to consider the texture of the soil, and the subsoil, which is often only a few centimetres below the soil. 

Soil and subsoil can merge quickly and be easy to differentiate. Subsoil does not contain any compost or manure, but can be rich in other nutrients that are food for deep rooting plants. Subsoil type isn't just something to consider when planting deep-rooting plants though. Subsoil can affect drainage considerably, along with the rock that lies below the subsoil. Subsoil & rock for good drainage include chalk, sand, peat, limestone, and sandstone. Subsoil & rock like clay, slate, granite, and mudstone usually have poor drainage. Knowing what your land contains will enable you to make wise decisions about your drainage plan.

Soil Types

Soil types can be heavy or light, or somewhere in between. Heavy soils have small particles and not enough drainage can be a problem. Light soils have larger particles, and are free-draining. Most farm soils need something in-between. Too little drainage can cause puddling, and can be difficult to cultivate. Too much drainage means that the soil does not retain water, and will dry out quickly, drying out the plants. The below soil types are listed from heaviest to lightest, but remember that there are various gradients in between. The diagram shows the different soil type gradients, and below that you can click into each main soil type to see more detail, and the pros and cons of each soil type.


Clay

The heaviest of soil types, clay can be very difficult to work with, especially when wet, but has the potential to be very fertile for crops.

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Loam

Loam has many gradients, and is usually a mixture of clay and sand. A medium loam is often considered to be the best soil for farming.

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Silt

Silt is smooth to touch, and retains water well is therefore poor-draining. It is fertile, but doesn't retain nutrients or heat well.

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Sand

Sandy soil is quite light, and usually well drained. This means that while they are easy to work with, they run the risk of drying out.

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