Soil can be divided into three different types. The type of soil relates to the size of the soil particle. Listed smallest to largest are clay, loam/silt and sandy soils. This is also referred to as soil-texture because it affects how the soil feels.
Sandy soils contain large particles with large spaces, called pore spaces, between them. They drain readily, have good aeration and are easy to cultivate. They are often called ‘light’ soils. However, very sandy soils are not effective at retaining water and nutrients.
Clay soils are made up of small particles, with minimal spaces between those particles. They store water well, often too well for good drainage and aeration. Clay soils can be difficult to dig when they’re too wet or too dry and are often referred to as ‘heavy’. Clay soils are able to hold good amounts of nutrients.
Loam soils fall between the extremes of sand and clay and are mixtures of coarse and fine particles. They are divided into categories such as sandy loam (more sand than clay) and clay loam (more clay than sand).
You can help identify the type of soil you have in your garden by how it feels in your hand when it is slightly moist.
- Sandy soil does not stick together and is coarse and gritty.
- Sandy loam sticks together, is crumbly and open (friable) and slightly gritty.
- Loam sticks together, is crumbly and open (friable) and not gritty.
- Clay loam sticks together, is slightly friable but plastic (able to be moulded into a shape)
- Clay soil sticks together, is not friable, but rather it is plastic and sticky.