How To: Identify Your Soil Type

Knowing what type of soil you have in your garden will affect the variety of plants that will grow and thrive in your area. Depending on the size of your garden the soil type may vary from place to place, so it’s worth testing a few different areas to make sure you have a good understanding of the layout of your soil. 

There are many different types of soil, but here we will give an overview of the main 6 types that can be found.

How To: Identify Your Soil Type

Types of Soil

Clay Soil:

Clay soil is categorised as containing more than 25% pure clay, which makes this soil type heavy soil. Although it is potentially quite fertile and retains nutrients it also holds a lot of water which can cause water logging problems. Clay soils take a while to warm up in spring and in summer the soil can go very hard and crack when it becomes too dry. 

Sandy Soil:

Sandy soil is more free draining and warms up quicker in the summer due to the added sand particles. However, it dries out much quicker and loses nutrients so requires more watering and added nutrients throughout the year. Sandy soil is gritty to the touch and will crumble if rolled into a ball. 

Chalky Soil:

Chalk-based soils can also contain limestone and although they are Britain’s most productive agricultural soil they can be difficult to work with in the garden. This soil type is alkaline and is usually free-draining, but may be nutrient deficient thus requiring added organic matter such as compost


Silty Soil:

This soil is made from fine particles making it free-draining but is adept at retaining moisture and nutrients – more so than its sandy soil counterpart. Silty soil will be compacted easily, is smooth to the touch and is quite fertile. 

Loamy Soil:

Loam soils are a mixture of clay, silt and sand, but have the added benefit of avoiding the extremes of clay or sand-based soils. Loamy soil is fertile, drains well and can be easily worked. 

Peaty Soil: 

Peat soils are mainly comprised of organic matter, are very fertile and hold lots of moisture. Due to containing mostly peat, this soil is quite acidic so perfect for acid-loving plants and will look dark in colour. 

The UK Soil Observatory have provided a comprehensive Soilscape of England and Wales so you can get a rough idea of the soil type in your area.

How To: Identify Your Soil Type

What Plants will grow in my Soil Type?

If you have Clay soil the plants that will thrive include: Roses, Daylily, Foxglove, Elder, Hydrangea, Thalictrum, Persicaria and Chinese Lantern.

If your soil is described as ‘light and stony’ then drought-tolerant plants will work best: Star Jasmine, Golden Oats, Japanese Rose, Lavender, Mexican Fleabane, Dianthus (Pinks), and Buddleja.

If your soil is predominantly alkaline (chalky soil), then these plants will grow well: Lily of the Valley, Phacelia, Ornamental Clovers, Wild Marjoram, Polemoniums (Jacob’s Ladder), Lavender, Honeysuckle, Spindle and Lilac.

Where any building work or landscaping has occurred it may have mixed up different soils so it may be hard to observe what type of soil you have. At Holt Garden Centre we have both single-use and multipacks of soil testing kits available for sale to help you specify which type you have. Now you have a better understanding of soil types and what type/s you may have in your garden you can start planting according to the soil to help them grow and thrive.

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