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What Type of Soil Do I Have?

Clay Soils

Clay soils are also known as heavy soils. Clay has small particles, when it is wet the soil is very sticky and it will crack when dry.

Clay soils hold a high proportion of water which drains slowly and as a result, they are cold and slow to warm up in spring. The soil can be very fertile as it holds nutrients well. When the soil is very wet it is best to avoid walking on it, or carrying out any cultivations as it is easily compacted.

During autumn and early winter months dig the area leaving large clods of soil to expose as large a surface area as possible which will be broken down by frost. Organic materials, such as well-rotted manure or garden compost and leaf mould, may be incorporated to improve the soil.

In the spring, cultivation should be deferred until the surface soil has started to dry out, when it should break down more easily. Avoid sowing and planting too early unless the soil can be warmed up by covering the soil with cloches or a polythene sheet.

soil triangle illustrating variations of soil from sand clay to silt

Sandy Soils

Sandy soils contain a large amount of sand and little clay or organic matter and are also known as light soils. Sandy soils are often acidic, very free draining, dry out quickly and are low in nutrients as they are quickly leached out of the soil by rain. They warm up quickly in spring and earlier sowing or planting than in clay soils.

To improve moisture and nutrient retention dig in plenty of well-rotted manure or garden compost.

Silt Soils

Silt soils have an intermediate particle size between clay and sand. They hold more moisture than sandy soils, fairly well drained and fertile. The soil is easily compacted and if there is little plant cover the surface can become capped by rain making it difficult for seeds to germinate. The soil can be improved by adding manure or compost.

Soil Chart

soil types diagram


Loams are considered to have the best texture for plant growth they are fertile, well-drained and easy to work. They can be sandy loams or clay loams depending on their composition.

Chalky Soils

Chalky soils are alkaline and plants that require an acid soil cannot be grown. Many chalk soils are shallow, well-drained and have a low fertility. Where clay is present in the soil it has better retention of moisture and nutrients. To improve the soil, dig in plenty of well-rotted manure or garden compost to improve moisture retention.

Plants for a lime-free soil:

More articles below regarding different soil types you may have in your garden or allotment.

Plants for partial shade

Plants for coastal gardens

Plants that show drought resistance

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3 thoughts on “What Type of Soil Do I Have?”

  1. Mr Roger Chillingworth says:

    In receipt of order this morning containing forty-five polyanthus …. delighted not only with my purchase but also with the packaging. Thank you.

  2. Hi Donna, thanks for your question regarding which plants grow best in clay soil.

    Our detailed list below will hopefully provide you with a good starting point and where applicable, we’ve included web links for you so you can see additional information on Suttons’ website.

    Top five performers on clay: Mahonia japonica, Hydrangea, Sorbus aria ‘Lutescens’, Hardy geraniums, Viburnum

    Trees: Acer japonicum, Birch, Hawthorn, Eucalyptus, Laburnum, Crab Apple,Liquidamar

    Shrubs: Berberis, Buddleja, Cotoneaster, Escallonia, Fuchsia, Roses, Spirea, Weigela

    Ground-covering plants: Bergenia, Euonymus fortune, Juniperus communis

    Climbers: Chaenomeles, Lonicera japonica, Pyracantha, Roses

    Perennials: Alchemilla mollis, Astrantia, Geranium, Helleborus, Hosta, Sedum

    Suttons Gardening Grow How Team.

  3. Donna Gabbitas says:

    What plants are best for planting in clay soil?
    Thank you

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