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.
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 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.
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 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.