What Type of Soil Do I Have in My Garden?

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Identifying My Soil Type

Written by Adam Woolcott

Soil is the most important thing you have in your garden. It is what gives life to your plants and what sustains them, it provides food, water, structural support, drainage, and oxygen. Getting to know what type of soil you have will make a massive difference to your gardening success.

Soil is a mixture of organic matter and various minerals (affected by the unlaying rock), water, air, and microorganisms. The proportion of these components can vary greatly across the country meaning that not everybody’s garden soil will be the same.

Types of Garden Soil

Traditionally, the soil is classified into four types based on its structure: sandy soil, clay soils, silty soils, and loamy soils. Sandy soils such as the one I have in my own garden in Norfolk, are light, dry, free free-draining but low in nutrients because they lack organic matter. Sandy soils can also be slightly acidic. Clay soils are heavy and cloddy, sometimes hard to work but tend to be high in nutrients and hold moisture. Silty soils can still be quite light and free-draining and tend to be quite fertile. Loamy soils are a mixture of sandy, silty and clay soils in varying degrees.

Knowing what soil type you have will let you choose the right plants for the soil that you have. Some plants will do better on heavier clay soils such as roses and hydrangeas and some plants will do better on lighter sandy soils such as lavenders and rosemary.

Testing Your Soil

The best way to find out what type of soil you have is to dig holes in various parts of the garden. You can then pick it up and roll it around in your hands. Sandy soil is just like a beach, it feels gritty and won’t easily be rolled into a ball. Clay soil often feels like wet, modelling clay and you can roll it into shapes, and it holds its form. Silty soil can feel a bit light like sand, but it isn’t as gritty, often it feels soapy but doesn’t hold its shape as much as clay soil. Once you know what soil you have then you can improve. For example, if you have sandy soil then adding extra compost or manure will improve the level of organic matter, add extra nutrients, and help it to retain moisture more effectively.

Soil PH Scale

How Do I Check My Soil PH?

One way to find out what your soil pH is to look at the plants in people’s gardens in your neighbourhood. The chances are that if there are a lot of rhododendrons around then you too have more of an acidic soil. You can also buy soil testing kits online or at garden centres to get a better idea of what your soil pH is.

It’s all about the right plant for the right place and taking a bit of time to get to know your soil will help you get the most out of your garden and give your plants the best and most appropriate conditions to thrive.


Adam Woolcott has over 30 years of experience as a professional gardener and has many accolades, but is probably best known for his four Gold Medals at The Royal Horticultural Society’s Chelsea Flower Show and his three BBC/RHS People’s Choice Awards at the show (of which he is particularly proud) which he won as one half of Woolcott & Smith.

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