Essential gardening tip: Know your soil type

The key to any garden is the soil. How well do you know yours?

All soil is made up of sand, silt, clay and organic matter. Mixture vary, depending on ratios of the sand, silt, clay and organic matter.  Once you know what kind of soil you have, and its acidity level, you can work to improve it and then choose the most appropriate plants for a successful growing season.

Acidic soils are good for heathers, azaleas, rhododendrons and blueberries, which won't tolerate alkaline conditions, although most vegetables and fruit prefer slightly acidic soils.

  • Neutralize them by adding lime as per package directions.

Alkaline soils are good for daphnes, pinks, mulleins, sage, lilacs and laburnums.

  • Organic matter will help to neutralize and acidify them.

Use a testing kit to measure the acidity of the soil on the pH scale. Follow the instructions and take samples of soil from different parts of the garden. A pH reading of seven is neutral, lower than six very acid, above eight very alkaline.

THE pH SCALE is usually shown as a strip of 14 colours. Test results may consist of the colour or number, or both, all of which are explained in the kit.

Essential gardening tip: Know your soil type

What soil do you have?

Test your soil at different locations in your garden by scooping up a handful and trying to make it into a ball with your hands.

Soil type, properties, and treatment


  • Won't form a ball, very loose and gritty
  • Free draining
  • Lacks fertility
  • Needs generous composting

Silt or loam:

  • Holds some shape
  • Smooth but slightly gritty in texture.
  • Fertile, holds water well but also free draining
  • Requires composting annually


  • Holds some shape
  • Pale in colour often with traces of white limestone
  • Fertile but quick draining
  • Alkaline
  • Requires some composting but never add lime.


  • Easily forms a firm ball
  • Soapy in texture
  • Tends to waterlog
  • Bakes hard in hot weather but can be very fertile
  • Usually acidic
  • Requires sand to help to break it up
  • Requires generous composting

Peaty or organic:

  • Crumbly and fibrous
  • Dark in colour
  • Very fertile
  • Retains water well.
  • Can be acid or alkaline in nature
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