It is important to carry out a soil texture analysis for any garden that you want to plant in. This is one of the first things I do in any garden I get my hands on – and I have moved home plenty of times over the years, so there have been quite a few gardens.
It is important to do this because of the impact that different soil texture characteristics can have on your ability to grow certain plants.
Soils breakdown into 3 groups – clays, loams and sands.
But there are further subdivisions within each of those groups and it is useful to know where your soil texture fits within these sub-divisions, so that you can plan any necessary soil improvement efforts more precisely.
It is possible to take a soil sample and send it off for professional analysis and this is probably what you would do if you were looking to plant commercially.
But there is a simple way for the home gardener to to undertake a soil texture analysis and that is what I explain how to do below.
By the way, if you have children, whether they are yet interested in gardening or not, this may well be something that they might like to do with you since essentially it involves playing around with mud.
How to do your own soil texture analysis
Here is how you can easily do your own soil texture analysis at home.
Total Time Needed :
– Hammer or pestle and mortar
Steps to complete soil texture analysis:
Scrape away any mulch or organic matter from the surface of the soil and then dig up a sample of soil. You only need enough to fit easily in the palm of your hand. If there are any stones or large particles of organic matter remove those.
If the soil sample contains individual aggregates, or crumbs of soil, you need to break those up.
You may need to do this with a hammer or a kitchen pestle and mortar. But take care not to grind the soil particles, just break up the crumbs.
Next, with a soil sample in your hand gradually add water and mix the soil and water together in a kneading motion.
The idea is to make the whole sample moist and free from lumps. It shouldn’t be so wet that it falls apart because of the moisture content. It should end up a consistency that can potentially be rolled into a ball.
And rolling the sample into a ball is the next step of the process.
Roll it between the palms of your hands and note whether the ball holds together, as this is one of the indicators of soil texture type.
The next step is perhaps the trickiest, both to do and to describe.
What you have to do is place the ball of soil between your thumb and forefinger and by sliding your thumb and forefinger in opposite directions try to create a ribbon of soil. The length of the ribbon that you create is another indicator of soil texture.
Finally, consult the table below, and try to identify the description which most closely matches the behaviour of your soil sample. You can then read across to find your soil texture class.
I’ve included these instructions and the table below in a handy, downloadable .pdf file, so that you can print them out and take them with you as you do the test. Click here to get the download.
|Characteristics of Sample
|Soil Texture Class
|Cannot be moulded, will not stick together, no ribbon created, grains of sand stick to fingers.
|Create a fragile ball that just about holds together, lease fingers discoloured, produces a short (5 mm) ribbon that easily breaks.
|A fragile ball, sticky and with many grains of sand sticking to the fingers, leaves fingers stained with clay, ribbon of 5 to 15 mm (0.2 to 0.6 inches).
|Forms a ball that just bears handling, grains of sand can be seen and felt, produces a ribbon 15 to 25 mm long (0.6 to 1 inch).
|As for Sandy Loam, but individual grains of sand cannot be seen only felt. Ribbon of 15 to 25 mm (0.6 to 1 inch).
|Fine Sandy Loam
|Creates a coherent ball with a spongy feel but no sandiness or silkiness. Forms a ribbon about 25 mm long (1 inch).
|Forms a coherent ball although somewhat crumbly, smooth and silky to the touch. Forms a ribbon about 25 mm long (1 inch).
|Creates a very coherent ball with sand grains that can be felt. Forms a ribbon of 25 to 40 mm (1 to 1.5 inches).
|Sandy Clay Loam
|Forms a coherent spongy ball with a plastic, smooth feel. Will form a ribbon 40 to 50 mm long (1 to 1.5 inches).
|Creates a plastic feeling ball, but sand grains can be felt, seen and heard. Forms a ribbon 50 to 75 mm long (2 to 3 inches).
|Creates a smooth ball with a plastic feel, some resistance to manipulation between thumb and forefinger. Forms a ribbon 50 to 75 mm long (2 to 3 inches).
|Create a smooth plastic ball which feels like plasticine, can easily be moulded, resistance to manipulation between thumb and forefinger. Forms a ribbon and 75 mm or more long (3 inches, plus).
|Smooth plastic ball like stiff plasticine. Can easily be moulded. Strong resistance to ribbonning. Forms a ribbon at least 75 mm long (3 inches).
Martin Cole has been an avid gardener for more than 20 years and loves to talk and write about gardening. In 2006 he was a finalist in the BBC Gardener of the Year competition. He is a member of the National dahlia Society.
He previously lived in London and Sydney, Australia, where he took a diploma course in Horticultural studies and is now based in North Berwick in Scotland. He founded GardeningStepbyStep.com in 2012. The website is aimed at everybody who has been bitten by the gardening bug and wants to know more.
Gardening Step by Step has been cited by Thompson and Morgan, the UK’s largest mail order plant retailer, as a website that publishes expert gardening content.
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