Some plants grow in just about anything, but most garden plants, including flowering plants, have higher standards, requiring a specific soil type to thrive. The structure of soil affects the soil's water retention ability and available nutrients as well as air circulation. Before you plant, learn about the kind of soil in your garden. Doing so will give you a better chance of picking plants that will have long-term success.
Clay soil has fine, dense particles that hold water. It looks gray to dark brown and has a sticky, slightly tacky nature when wet. Clay soil has lots of nutrients, but its high water saturation level makes much of its nutrients unavailable to plants. Some plants grow well in clay soil, but it can cause the roots to rot or suffocate from insufficient air circulation or drainage in plants sensitive to excess moisture.
Soil test: Take a handful of soil in your hand, make a loose ball with it and then squeeze it gently. Clay soil particles compact, making them simple to mold into shapes that hold together.
A loamy garden bed is ideal for most plants. Loamy soil is a mixture of fine and course particles along with decomposed organic matter. It feels dense, moist and crumbly, and it is usually dark brown. Because it is high in organic matter, loam is high in nutrients. It drains well but without draining so fast that nutrients wash out. Loam also holds enough moisture to keep plants hydrated.
Soil test: A balled up handful of loamy soil has a rough outer texture. It holds together in a loose ball but breaks apart when squeezed.
Sandy soil drains fast because its particles are large so don't hold water well. The soil's texture is rough, gritty and crumbly. Sandy soil is often low in nutrients, which get washed out in the fast drainage. Drought-tolerant plants, including desert plants and many Mediterranean natives, grow well in sandy soil.
Soil test: Gather a handful of soil, make it into a ball and squeeze it gently. Sandy soil crumbles.
Silty soil has fine to mid-size particles and is simple to work. The particles hold water and compact easily but rarely get waterlogged. Silty soil also holds nutrients well, trapping them between the fine particles. Silty soil tends to come from riverbeds. It feels smooth and silky to the touch.
Soil test: A balled up handful of silty soil forms a compact ball with a silky, smooth outer texture. Silty soil feels similar to clay soil.
Peaty soil is coarse, spongy and prone to being acidic. It is made up of decomposed organic material but has a lower level of nutrients than other kinds of soil. Peaty soil holds water well and is prone to getting waterlogged in low-lying areas. When dry, it is very light and repels water, making it difficult to rehydrate.
Soil test: Peaty soil cannot be formed into a ball. The spongy material crumbles.