Soil types which are found in UK gardens
We have 6 main soil types in our gardens here in the UK. We shall be devoting a page to each type in this section of the blog, but this page is just to familiarise you with those main types.
Firstly, for the benefit of gardening beginners:-
The ideal soil has a good crumbly structure, is rich in organic matter, drains well enough to prevent the topsoil from becoming waterlogged, and is able to provide the nutrients required for healthy plant growth. The various soil types we examine below all have their own advantages and disadvantages, and each soil type is in fact a mixture of particles in varying proportions.
This is a heavy, cold soil which feels sticky when moist or wet, and hard and compacted when dry. In clay soil the minute particles are less than 0.002mm in size, which means that clay soil doesn't drain easily and it is difficult to work with a fork or spade when wet. But not all is lost because with a little work it can be turned into very workable and fertile soil able to support a wide variety of plants. Indeed, you will find more goodness in clay soil than you ever will in sandy soil, but you will have to work at it to achieve that.
Sandy soil is precisely what it says on the tin: a light, dry soil which feels gritty to the touch. Sand particles are usually between 0.2mm for the finest up to 2mm for the coarsest. it is easy to work with and has the ability to warm up quickly and so can be cultivated earlier than heavier soils. The downside to it is that because it is free draining it tends to lose nutrients easily so you will need to supplement it with some organic matter and fertilizer.
Sandy soil is excellent for growing carrots but if you intend to do that then make sure that any compost you add is very well rotted, and any fertilizer needs to be added the Autumn before planting - otherwise your carrots will generally fork and have the appearance of something which has been spawned near to a nuclear power station!
Chalky soil is often described as "hungry looking", possibly because of it's anaemic appearance. It often contains a large proportion of stones and flints, and the large particles (unlike clay soils) cause it to lose nutrients and water very rapidly which makes it unsuitable for plants with deep roots. On top of all that there is the problem of it being very alkaline - it contains a high lime content which makes it unfriendly to many plants.
Silt soil is neither gritty nor sticky, and the soil particles are of a similar size to those in sandy soil, but silt soil differs from sandy in that it is smooth and silky to the touch.
It has a tendency to pack down when wet and this gives it the same poor draining attributes as clay soil. However, you can more easily improve the soil texture by adding lots of well rotted compost and/or manure. Silt soils support similar plants to those living in clay soil.
It is easy to detect peat soil from the dark brown or grey colouration. Peat soils are naturally acidic and will require a dose of lime now and then to increase the range of plants which can be cultivated in them.
Peat soil is rich in decomposed organic matter, and as such it requires little in the way of additional compost or manure, and you will find that the younger, lighter brown peat soil is easier to work and more productive than the black, much heavier bog like peat.
Loam soil is a mixture of soil that is the ideal plant-growing medium. It is actually a combination soil, normally equal parts of clay, silt, and sand, which gives the benefits of each with few of the disadvantages.
Clay soils are fairly dense, have good water- and nutrient-retaining properties, and are great for growing flowering plants that need a lot of water.
Silt soils come about halfway between clay and sandy soils so silt soils help clay and sand to mix well. Silt soil is very fine and also holds moisture, but, like clay, it can have a tendency to become compact. This sometimes causes drainage problems when used by itself. Most moisture-loving plants, like colored flowers, vines and grasses, grow well in this smooth and slippery soil.
Sandy soils by contrast have a rough texture, which helps give good drainage and allow lots of air in the soil. Sand is ideal for drought-loving plants like cacti; however, because of its drainage properties, nutrients can be washed away. This type of soil can also grow tulips, shrubs and other plants that don't need too much water. However, unless you just want to grow desert plants, sandy soil isn't so great by itself.
By combining these three types of soil, loam gives you the best characteristics of all three. This enables you to grow almost any type of plant without having to add too much to the soil.