What Does Your Dirt Feel Like?

by Admin 25. July 2012 07:09

Soil? Dirt? Looks like clay to me.By: Eliza Osborn

Even though it’s one of the most important factors of gardening, it’s often overlooked when planning a garden.

Do you have any idea what your soil is like? Good soil is made up of about 50% air and water and the remaining portion is mostly minerals products with a small amount of organic matter.To learn the make up and amount of nutrients in your soil you will need to get a soil analysis done. This can be done at the county extension office for a small fee.

The mineral portion is made up of very large, small and tiny particles. These particles determine the texture of the soil, which determines how often you might have to fertilize and irrigate. Most soils are a combination of these textures. The problem is when there isn’t a good balance and there is too much sand or clay.

The largest particles are sand. Sandy soils drain very quickly and it is then necessary to water and fertilize more frequently.

The small particles are silt and these particles allow medium drainage.

The tiny particles are clay and these particles can hold a lot of water and nutrients. The problem is that the clay can get very compacted and hold the moisture and nutrients so tightly that they can’t be used by the plants.

I’ve gardened in very sandy soil and in very hard clay soil. The sandy soil is very easy because there isn’t much resistance to the shovel, and weeds pull out easily. However, plants need watering and feeding really often because there aren’t many nutrients in the sand and the water just zips right on through. Adding organic matter to the sand will greatly increase it’s texture and nutrient content as well as it’s moisture holding capabilities.

On the other hand, clay soils are a real challenge to garden in. We literally had to use a Maddox and a pick ax to plant fruit trees and shrubs. The soil has to be broken up in quite a large area,  with sand and a lot of organic matter added, to give the roots a chance to grow. You have to be sure not to over water because the water doesn’t drain off and can rot the roots. There are usually a lot of nutrients present though, so you need less fertilizer.

Really good soil is sandy loam, which is a good balance of all of these textures. It’s easy to work with, is fertile and drains well. If you’re blessed with sandy loam in your yard, both your thumbs can be green.

Until you get you soil analysis done, there are couple of quick test you can do to try to find out what your soils texture is. The easiest way is to rub a small amount of moist soil between your finger and thumb. If it’s sandy, you’ll be able to feel the coarseness and if there is a high clay content, it will feel silky, almost slimy.

Another way is to put a small amount of soil, (taken from different spots in your garden area), into a large jar (quart – gallon) and add 5x -10x the water. Shake it up really well and just let it settle. After a few hours you’ll begin to see different levels of sediment appearing. Leave it for a few days, and you’ll be able to get a pretty good idea of the texture of your soil. The large sandy particles will be on the bottom, silt in the middle and the tiny clay particles on top. The proportion of these layers will give you an idea of how to garden in the soil you have.

Of course there is much more to soil than texture, but it’s a step toward understanding how to care for your plants and help them thrive.

So, take off the gloves and feel the dirt.

Thanks and happy planting!