A common mistake that novice gardeners make is to associate the wrong type of plant for their particular soil type. Poor growth, loss of plants are common problems which can often be associated with the type of soil that the plant has been planted in. So to help, we have produced a simple guide to give you an idea of the types of soil that are prevalent to help you identify the type of soil you have and the types of plants that do best in each type of soil.

Firstly it should be noted that the definition of soil type relates to the percentage of sand, silt or clay that the soil contains. In addition, the size of the particles within the soil define the specific characteristics in gardening terms.

Clay soils – Also known as heavy soils

Clay soil is a form of soil which retains water and is easily compacted. A soil which is defined as clay will have over 25% of its composition as clay. This type of soil is typically defined as a fertile soil type as it retains nutrients including water, which in essence binds to the clay minerals. One main problem in terms of the types of plants suitable is poor drainage.

How to Identify if you have Clay Soil

Normally easy to check as it will bind together easily when squeezed in your hand, or when trodden on, it will stay compacted and it tends to be sticky when wet.

How to Improve Heavy soils

This type of soil can be rewarding however it normally requires proper management in terms of cultivation and the correct choice of plants. Improvements can be achieved by adding organic matter as well as grit to break up the clay and improve drainage whilst topping with a layer of mulch will also help.

Types of plants that do well in Clay / Heavy soils

Aster, Goldenrod, black-eyed Susan, Russian sage, Daylily, Yarrow, Bluestar

Silty soils

Silty soils are considered fertile and usually made up of medium sized to fine particles. Reasonably well draining but usually easily compacted. This type of soil has a tendency to be quite hard and forms a crust relatively easily especially in dry conditions. In terms of nutrients they tend to have more than sandy soils and their water retention is better.

How to identify Silty Soils

Take a handful of the soil and see if it appears grainy and easily washed away. Also squeeze the soil and see if it compacts easily, these are tell tale signs of silty soil.

How to improve Silty Soils

Add organic matter to the silt soil which will help to bind it. The key to improving silty soil is to add matter which will help water retention and drainage.

Types of plants that do well in silty soils include:

Trees and shrubs tend to do well, Weeping willow, Cypress etc whilst Yellow and Japanese Iris, Mahonia and Ornamental vine

Sandy soil

Sandy soils are renowned for being low in nutrients and free draining, which can make it difficult for most gardeners. High in sand and low in clay, they are also known as light soils. This type of soil drains very quickly meaning that they have a tendency to dry out quickly. They also are usually low in nutrients due to the fact that the water washes away any nutrients. Sandy soils tend to be very acidic.

How to identify Sandy Soil in your Garden

Simply by handling a sandy soil its evident that its very light and does not compact easily.

How to improve Sandy Soil

The key to improve sandy soils is to add plenty of organic matter and ideally fertiliser

Types of plants that do well in silty soils include:

Shrubs such as Rhododendron, Rosemary and also Gazania, Achillea and Lavender

The key to plant choice is to know your soil type so that if you decide you would like to work with a particular plant you can adjust the type of soil by adding relevant elements to make it more suitable to your preferred plants.