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Soil – what is it? Part One.....

Well every one knows what soil is. It’s the stuff that’s beneath us. It’s what we dig over before we slide into a nice warm bath at the end of a back breaking day. It’s where the worms live. It’s what we grow our plants in. Its……………


And that’s all, right?  Well yes, that’s partly right but there’s so much more to it, and understanding a bit more about your soil can help you enormously in the garden.


There are several soil types. What defines the type you have (and what you can do with it) is the size of the particles that make it up:


-  Clay particles are less than 0.002mm in size

-  Silt is between 0.002-0.05mm

-  Sand is between 0.05-2mm and

-  Stones are bigger than 2mm in size

Chalky soils also contain calcium carbonate or lime


Now there’s no way we can measure the size of the particles so to understand the type of soil we have we look at its characteristic’s. To do that we need to get our hands dirty and touch it and roll it about.


If it feels sticky – particularly when it’s wet  - and if it can be rolled into a long thin sausage with a smooth shiny finish – it’s a clay soil.

If it feels soapy and slippery, and doesn’t hold together that well it’s likely to be a silt soil.

If it feels gritty and you can feel sand in it then – unsurprisingly – it’s a sandy soil.


So what are they actually like?

Clay soils are often referred to as heavy soils, these are potentially fertile as they hold nutrients that are bound to the clay minerals in the soil. They tend to have a high proportion of water due to there being tiny spaces between the particles. They drain slowly and take longer to warm up in springs. They are easily compacted when trodden on while wet and they can become very hard in summer. However they can be improved if the soil can be broken up – doing so makes the water and nutrients held within the soil more easily available to plant roots. Breaking the soil up also makes the soil warmer, more easily workable and less prone to compaction.

Even a small sycamore seed can take root in such soil!


Silt soil is made up of fine particles that can be easily compacted by walking on it. It is prone to being washed away and wind erosion if left unplanted. It tends to contain more nutrients than sandy soils and hold more water. As such it tends to be quite fertile.


Sandy soil has more sand than clay and is known as a light soil. It is usually low in nutrients, and due to the size of the individual particles, tends to be free draining and loses water very quickly. However the soil can be improved to help boost its water and nutrient holding capacity. It warms up quickly in the spring and is easy to cultivate. It is often acidic. Which takes us to…….


The final thing we need to consider is the pH value of our soil – it’s acidity or alkalinity. Some people might send a soil sample away to a specialist for a really scientific test. I use a small kit that I bought online. Both – within parameters that I think are acceptable – do the same thing.


Now why is that important? Well it influences how the soil “behaves” and in turn influences what sort of plants will thrive, and what sort of plants won’t. And you don’t really want to go spend a small fortune on heathers and azaleas or other acid loving plants if your soil is mainly clay – which typically is alkaline. The outcome won’t be what you hoped for………….

I’m guessing you might want to learn now about how to improve your soil. More on that to come…………

Do get in touch if you would like to know more, either through my facebook page, at or on 07734 365028.


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