The 6 Types of Soil and Why the Type You Have Matters

by Laura Mueller

Are the plans that you have for your property going to be able to take root? It might depend on what type of soil you have.

If you’re seeking out land for agricultural purposes—even if it’s just to grow plants or crops for your own enjoyment—then knowing what type of soil you’re going to be working with is crucial. Soil has huge implications for land use, and if you purchase a plot of land with soil that’s not amenable to your purposes, you could end up with a costly and time-consuming project that you hadn’t originally intended on.

Here’s what to know about the different types of soil, plus a few tips for figuring out which variety a property might have.

The 6 Main Types of Soil

The term “soil” refers to the loose, top layer of earth covering the planet’s surface. It’s formed from the breaking down of rock over hundreds of years, with large variations in soil variety depending on location and climate.

Here are the six most common types:

1. Sandy soil – This soil contains small particles that feel gritty to the touch. While it’s good for drainage, it’s not ideal for crop cultivation since it doesn’t hold on to moisture for long.

2. Clay soil – The densest type of soil, clay soil provides very little air space in between particles which can make it difficult for roots to flourish. However, it retains moisture quite well, so plants are certainly possible with drainage enhancements.

3. Silt soil – This soil contains even smaller particles than sand, but it holds on to water much better. It’s quite fertile, and is typically found by bodies of water like rivers and lakes.

4. Peat soil – An acidic soil that lacks in natural nutrients but is a pro at water retention. It can be good for plant growth, but requires the addition of drainage channels, pH balancing soil amendments, and rich organic matter.

5. Loam soil – Also known as “agricultural soil,” loam is a mix of sand, silt, and clay, and offers both high nutrient counts and strong water retention capabilities. It can get acidic however, so monitoring of pH levels is a must.

6. Chalk soil – This is a stonier soil that’s alkaline in nature—both of which can stand in the way of proper plant growth. Added fertilizer is recommended for balancing out the pH, as well as added humus for improved water retention capabilities.

What Type of Soil Do You Have

The type of soil that you have will affect what you can grow and how much work you’ll have to put into it.

It’s a good idea to find out what type of soil a plot has before investing, which can be done in a couple different ways:

• Reach out to a local soil expert
• Have soil testing performed

You may also be able to garner some information by visiting the USDA’s Natural Resources and Conservation Services website (when you’re there, go to “Map View” and enter the property’s address).

Depending on how serious you are about planting on your land, you may want to go all three routes. This will help ensure you’re making a sound investment—and that you’re not signing up for a much bigger project than you originally planned.

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