Knowing the 4 Types of Soil

What You'll Need
Soil samples
A glass jar with a lid

If you plan to start a garden, it is important to know the type of soil you will be working with. Different types of soil will need different treatments and amendments to make them more suitable for growing. You can send soil samples to a soil lab for testing, but you should be able to tell the type by using some easy self tests.

The four major varieties of soil are Loam soil, Sandy soil, Clay soil, and Silty soil. Loamy soil is considered the best and most optimal for gardening, but most areas contain other types which may be difficult to work with, but can be amended for better results. Here are some ways to determine what type of soil you have.

Step 1 - The Rope Test

This test is the easiest to preform as it requires no special tools. Start by squeezing a moist, 1 inch ball of soil in you hand. Rub the ball between your fingers to form a skinny, rope. Sandy soil will not cooperate to either form the ball or the rope. It will fall apart, and you will be able to feel it's gritty quality. Loam soil will be smooth and only partly gritty. It will form a ball that crumbles easily. Clay soil will feel very smooth and the ball will not crumble easily. When rolled between your fingers, Clay soil will form long ropes. Silty soil is very close in properties to clay soil, and it may be difficult to tell them apart. However, silty soil is most often found near rivers.

Step 2 - The Jar Test

Use a clear jar, and fill it 2/3 of the way full with water. Then take a sample of the soil and add it to the jar until there is only about an inch of space to the top of the jar. Put the lid on the jar and shake it hard, making sure the soil is broken down as much as possible. Set the jar down and let the soil settle for a minute. After a minute, mark the jar where the top layer has settled. This will be the sand layer. It is first to settle because it is the heaviest. Set the jar aside for an hour. At that time, mark the jar where the next layer has settled. This will be the silt layer. Wait a full day before checking the jar again. Make sure the jar sits somewhere safe so it is not disturbed over this period. After a day, mark the top layer. This is the clay layer.

You can determine your soil type based on the percentage of each layer. Loam soil will have 25 to 50 percent sand, 30 to 50 percent silt, and 10 to 30 percent clay. Sandy soil will have 80 to 100 percent sand and the rest silt or clay. Clay or silt soil will have 0 to 45 percent sand, 0 to 45 percent silt, and 50 to 100 percent clay.