There are three different types of garden soil: clay, sandy or loamy.
Loamy soil is the ideal type for growing plants while sandy or clay soil needs to be improved to make them optimal for growing.
If you don’t know your soil type, there is a simple way to test your soil to know its type.
Scoop a handful of slightly moist soil and squeeze. If the soil crumbles easily or falls apart when you open your palm, you have sandy soil. If the soil appears compact and slick, you have clay soil. Loamy soil retains its shape and crumbles only a little.
If you have clay or sandy soil, you need to take measures to improve it. Some will advice that in order to improve clay soil, add some sandy soil in it and vice versa. But that’s simply not a good advice.
If you add sandy soil on top of a clay soil and you water it, the water won’t drain well. Instead, the water will just move through the upper sheet of sandy soil resulting to erosion. If you mix or roto-till the sandy soil into the clay soil, the end product will be a concrete-like soil environment where plants will have a hard time growing.
If on the other hand you try to improve sandy soil by adding clay soil on top, when you water or it rains, the clay soil will retain the water. Clay soil naturally retains a good amount of water but it will hold more if there is coarse soil underneath. So then, you will have a really water-logged soil that is not fit for planting. It won’t do good to mix the clay soil thoroughly with the sandy soil either because this will just create cement-like soil that cannot support plants.
So what is the best way to improve clay or sandy soil then?
The best solution is to use compost.
By adding a few inches of organic matter to the problem soil, its quality will gradually improve. Working compost into the clay soil will improve infiltration and aeration. When worked into sandy soil, the compost will improve the soil’s ability to hold water and nutrients.
Improving the soil is an important goal for any gardener. With better quality soil, there is also a better environment for soil microbes to thrive. There are microorganisms in soil that breakdown its nutrients for the plants to absorb and if these microbes cannot do their jobs because of poor soil quality, then plants cannot grow well.
Get to know your soil better and become a better gardener. There is a guide that explains all about soil and soil improvement. This guide is called Teaming with Microbes: The Organic Gardener’s Guide to the Soil Food Web, Revised Edition by Jeff Lowenfels and Wayne Lewis. It offers a lot of information that can benefit even seasoned gardeners so it’s worth picking up.