It is really important for any gardener to spend time finding out what soil type they have in their garden. There is no point investing in plants and trying to grow specific varieties that simply won’t grow in your soil conditions.  Finding out what soil type you have is actually quite easy, here is a helping hand.

Clay soil stands out like a sore thumb; there will be no confusing this soil type with any others. Heavy clay soil will roll into a ball when you mix it with a little water.  This soil type is hard to cultivate because when wet it will stay wet and bakes fast in dry, humid weather. The dry weather causes clay soil to crack on the surface. However, clay is one soil type that is rich in nutrients. So what plants will thrive in a clay soil? Roses! Roses grow in clay soil as they don’t mind a little moisture at the roots. Other plants you can try are hostas and even veg such as Brassicas, which will enjoy the stability that a heavy soil offers.

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Sandy soils have the largest particles (up to 1000 times bigger than clay) and are very free-draining due to the big air spaces between particles. A sandy soil type is easy to cultivate, however because water quickly drains through, it doesn’t retain moisture and the nutrients are therefore washed away. To improve your soils fertility and structure you can always add manure or other well rotted organic matter. Grow plants that prefer a free draining soil such as lavender, buddleja and achillea. You can also grow heavy cropping vegetables such as tomatoes and beans.

Loam soil. Now if you have a loam soil type then you will be the envy of all gardeners. This soil type is just perfect and you get the best of everything! The soil texture makes it easy to work with and dig, it holds enough clay for a good amount of nutrients and also the sand elements helps to create a good drainage system. You can sow directly into loam soil, it makes a perfect seed bed. With this soil you’ll be able to plant and sow alot sooner than with clay soil as it will stay wet for longer during spring.

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It is also important to know if your soil is acidic or alkaline. Some plants are sensitive to the pH of your soil and may not thrive if you plant them in the wrong soil conditions. You can measure the pH of your soil with a simple garden soil test kits, which is available at most good garden centres.  If your soil has a pH 7.0 this is considered as neutral. A reading below a ph 7.0 indicates an acidic soil and above pH 7.0 alkaline.

Plants suitable for an acid soil are those that are lime-hating such as camellias, rhododendrons, arbutus and heathers. For an alkaline soil try plants such as lilac, wallflowers and dianthus. Most plants can be grown in neutral conditions and many will thrive in both mildly acid and alkaline soils. Hydrangeas are an interesting example of this where certain varieties will flower red in alkaline soil and blue in acid soils. Neutral soils tend to produce a purpler / pink shade.

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Whatever type of soil that you have, you can be sure that there will be plenty of plants that enjoy these conditions. It is simply a matter of choosing the right plant for the right place.

Terri Overett
Terri works in the e-commerce marketing department assisting the busy web team. Terri manages our blog and social media pages here at Thompson & Morgan and is dedicated to providing useful advice to our gardeners. Terri is new to gardening and keen to develop her horticultural knowledge.

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