The U. S. Department of Agriculture divides soil types into 12 different categories. Each soil has its own unique characteristics. Some are good for growing plants, others will grow nothing. Some are good for building on, others are treacherous. New York state contains fully half of the soil orders, though most of them are present only in very low amounts.
Alfisols are very fertile soils that formed underneath old forests. They are moderately well drained, giving the soil a good balance of moisture. Alfisols have a layer of clay underneath the surface of the soil. Many of them are used for growing new forests or for agricultural purposes. Alfisols are primarily found in western and central NewYork, though they also line parts of the eastern border.
New York has miniscule amounts of entisol soils scattered around the state. Entisols have no layers. Underneath the surface they have just one color and one kind of material. This is usually because they are too young to have formed the layers that soils normally possess, or they formed out of materials that resist layering. Technically, any soil that doesn’t fit into one of the other 11 types is categorized as an entisol. They are often found on steep slopes and riverbanks and deltas.
The northern and western regions of the state are home to histosols. These soils have a very dark layer directly underneath the surface. They have a large amount of organic material. They form in wetlands of all types, including swamps and marshes, anywhere that is poorly drained. Organic material in these places decays very slowly. Histosols are commonly called “peats,” and are often mined and burned as fuel.
Inceptisols are found everywhere in the southern half of the state. They have vaguely defined layers under the surface, and are found in all types of environments. These soils support approximately one fifth of the earth’s population, more than any other type of soil.
The southwestern portion of the state contain very small amounts of ultisol soils. These soils have low fertility and are highly acidic. They have a worn appearance and are yellow and red from the aluminum and iron oxides they contain.
Northern New York contains high concentrations of spodosols. These soils are acidic, and often stained yellow and red with aluminum and irons rust. An ashy grey layer is usually found directly under the surface. They are usually found under conifer forests.