Choosing The Right Soil for Your Landscape
Are you thinking about transforming your property by undertaking a big landscaping project? We bet the answer is yes- after all, who doesn’t want a lovely, intimate backyard that just looks like paradise, and an attractive lawn that gives you that much desired curb appeal?
If this sounds like you, don’t get carried away. Before you get absorbed in all the planning- from hiring landscapers, choosing plants, deciding on decorations, styles, and hardscapes- there is something you need to do first (aside from setting aside a working budget, that is).
This is important, because it serves as the groundwork and foundation of everything else that will go on in your landscaping project. Identifying and preparing it properly will set a good precedent for all the other steps that will follow.
We are talking about, well, the soil.
It’s important to know the right soil for you.
Soil is essentially just a combination of different weathered rock particles- namely, sand, silt, and clay. There are five different types of soil, one of which is what you will find on your backyard. Each of these soil types is a different composition of sand, silt, and clay, which determines its texture, moisture content and retention, among many other things.
Having said that, the composition and health of the soil that you have on your property further depends on various factors, such as the local climate and precipitation, and whether the soil has been fertilized.
It is therefore important for you to determine not only what type of soil you have, but also what condition that soil is in, so you can make the necessary preparations and adjustments in order for the soil to be suitable for planting, not to mention so you can knowledgeably pick which plants, trees, and shrubs would grow best on your soil.
The different types of soil:
Sandy soil looks and feels more or less like beach sand, in that it has large, loose, and dry particles. Given those properties, sandy soil cannot retain water, as the water just passes through quickly in between the particles, making this soil type unsuitable for most plants. On the up side, this soil type works great for areas like garden paths, under the trees, and on driveways.
This soil type has smaller particles than sandy soil, which enables it to retain water. When moist or wet, silty soil feels slick to the touch and leaves dirt residue on your palm. Although this soil type is fertile, it cannot hold as much nutrients as many plants require. Moreover, silty soil can pose problems in terms of aeration and drainage.
This one holds the most moisture due to its small and compact particles which settle together, holding all the water and nutrients in place. This quality makes clay soil a suitable soil type for plants, save for the lack of air circulation. Clay’s poor drainage makes it ideal for plants, but bad for areas that get a lot of flooding. When wet, clay soil is cold and sticky, but warm, smooth, and hard when dry.
Peaty soil can be thousands of years old, is usually found in cooler areas, and appears as dark brown or black. It retains water really well, and has a very rich concentration of organic matter and nutrients, making it really great for planting (once you reduce its moisture content). However, one downside is that peat soil is extremely tough to work with when dry, and can even be a potential fire hazard.
If you are living somewhere with a particularly dry climate, your soil may be brackish, crumbly, and appears to have a thin white layer on the surface. This is saline soil, which has a really high salt concentration, making it harmful for plants. Since the salt absorbs most of the soil’s moisture, it prevents proper plant growth and germination, and also causes irrigation and drainage issues.
The best and easiest way to test what type of soil you have is by doing a moisture and touch test- simply pour a bit of water onto the soil, then scoop up a handful of the wet soil onto your hand. When you roll the soil into a ball, you should be able to feel its texture, as well as how moist it is, and whether it stays together or crumbles onto your hand.
After that, the next step is to “fix” this soil type, by balancing the three particles (sand, silt, clay) in order to end up with loam, which is the best for plant growth, irrigation and drainage, air circulation, and many more.