Mother Earth News Blogs > Homesteading and Livestock

Homesteading and Livestock

Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.


3 Ways to Find Out What Soil Type You Have

By Grace Campbell


Tags: soil types, soil science, Grace Campbell, Vermont,

Whether you're a seasoned gardener with a big vegetable plot or a flower-lover with lots of flower beds, one of the most essential predictors of your horticultural success is your soil type. Too sandy and it won't hold enough moisture. Too clayey and it will be heavy and difficult to work with. Too silty and your plot will not drain properly. It's tough to achieve just the right balance, but when you do, your green thumb will flourish.

The first step to improving your soil is understanding what soil type you have in the first place. There are 3 basic types of soil: sandy, clay and silty. Ideally, you want a balance of all three ingredients, as they all have benefits when present in moderation.

landsoils1

The Squeeze Test

To do the squeeze test, wait until your soil is damp but not wet. Take a handful of soil and rub it between your fingers. If it feels gritty, it's mostly sand. If it feels slick and smooth, it's mostly clay.

The Roll Test

Another easy test is to take a small handful of damp (but not soaking wet) soil and roll it into a cylindrical shape between your palms. Then, try to hold it vertically without it breaking. If you can hold it vertically without it breaking, you have mostly clay soil. If you can roll it into a cylinder but it breaks when you try to hold it vertically, you probably have between 25 and 50 percent clay. If you aren't able to even roll it into a cylinder, you have mostly sandy soil.

The Jar Test

This one is for all the scientist types out there. It takes a bit longer to do, but the results are much more accurate and more specific.

Once you have identified what kind of soil you have, you can find ways to optimize it for planting. While there are different short-term and long-term tactics you can take to improve each type, there is also one key trick that will improve all three types. Check it out here!