We’ve talked about taking your soil type into consideration when you add plants to your yard, re-sod or reseed your yard, or try to find solutions to problems you may be having in your yard. So how exactly do you know what kind of soil you have? What are the differences, and can you figure them out yourself? The good news is, a simple handful of soil and a few tests can help you determine what kind of soil you’re working with.
Your soil is generally made up of a combination of three types of particles – clay, sand, and silt. The goal of the gardener should be to have an even mixture of the three. The closer the three types are to being equal, the better the soil will be for growing plants. There are two ways you can check to see what your soil is made of:
- Take a handful of damp soil and try to roll it into a ball. If it forms a hard, compact ball, the soil has a bit more clay content than is good. If it feels gritty, and falls apart easily, it has a bit more sand content than is recommended. This is a quick, rough test, but can give you a good idea of what step to take next. If it ends up being between the two, you probably don’t need to worry as much right now.
- To get a better idea of the exact composition, use an old elementary school science class experiment. Take a scoop of dry soil, and put it in a quart jar with a lid. Fill the quart jar two-thirds of the way up, then add a teaspoon of an non-sudsing dishwashing detergent. Shake the jar vigorously, until everything is well-blended – 5-10 minutes should be plenty. Then, let the jar sit for a few days. The particles should settle in even layers, with sand on the bottom, clay on the top, and silt in the middle. This will give you your soil composition ratio for further treatment.
How your soil retains moisture is important, especially when you consider that different areas of your lawn may retain moisture at different rates. To see what soil is best for planting, take samples from different areas and compare the moisture levels – you won’t want to put new plants in dry soil that doesn’t retain water.
The color of your soil is fairly important – black soil can be the indicator of an issue. Black soil indicates too much organic matter, or poor drainage and the presence of anaerobic bacteria. In the first case, cut back or eliminate the addition of organic matter to the soil. In the second case, improve drainage. The goal is to have soil that is dark brown with possibly a reddish tint.
Soil pH Level
The sweet spot for the pH level of soil is between 6.8 and 7.2. The pH level can inhibit the ability of a plant to take up nutrients, leading it to weaken or even die off. Just like with checking moisture, this should be done in a number of spots throughout the lawn, as it can change from one area to another. You can get H test kits at local garden centers, or check out this little tool that can measure pH, moisture, and more, and is reusable.
So get to know your soil better, and you’ll be able to adjust it from there. Having good soil is the key to having a successful lawn and garden – no matter what else you do, a poor base will make for poor growing conditions. Before you do anything else, before you plant any more flowers, run these tests, it might save you from some serious frustration.