Soil Texture Testing For Garden Soils

Ashley
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Soil texture testing for garden soils allows you to determine the best course of action for soil care. When you don’t know your garden soil texture it can be difficult to know what needs to be added. This gardening in Canada article is going to look at different methods you can use for soil texture testing.

If you are new to this blog my name is Ashley and I am a soil scientist. I am located in a Canadian Zone 3 and a USDA Zone 4. I write articles, make YouTube videos, Instagram & Facebook posts all designed for Canadians and Cold Climate gardeners using science-based methods. If you are looking for anything specific be sure to let me know in the comments down below.

Why Is Understanding Garden Soil Texture Important

Soil texture is important to many functions of a soil system. Once you identify your soil texture, you will be able to manage your land in a way that will maximize productivity. Texture can affect water movement and retention. As well as aeration and organic matter content, which has a direct correlation to microbial activity and ultimately nutrient cycling. Understanding soil texture will also help manage erosion. And it may even help you understand which plants will do best in your area due to Cation exchange capacity and pH buffering capacity.

What Does Clay Garden Soil Feel Like?

Clay soil can feel slimy or sticky when wet. This soil type can have a higher water holding capacity which may result in an anaerobic environment after prolonged periods of time when saturated. This is the opposite of what we want. In aerobic conditions, things such as root development and microbes can survive and thrive. However, the higher CEC can be beneficial to the nutrient profile that is provided to plants.

If you read the article on soil profile you will be able to determine if this clay is potentially suffering from poor drainage. You can also try to perform a percolation test to see if amending is needed to help with water movement. Another this you look for is the soil colour, if you are noticing red staining in the soil profile this is another sign of prolonged water exposure.

Another thing you may want to consider for heavy clay soil is whether or not the soil is compacted. If you dig a soil profile you want to look for air space and cracks/aggregation in the soil. This is a sign that the soil is able to provide air, water and nutrients in the appropriate proportions. If you are looking for ways to fix a compacted garden soil check out this article.

At Home Soil Testing & Garden Workbook
If you want to learn more about at-home garden soil tests you can perform be sure to grab your undated planner. Inside I have several activity sheets for soil.

What Does Silt Garden Soil Feel Like?

Feels like flour and has the benefits of draining similar to sandy soil but the Cation exchange capacity (CEC) like clay soil. It is not uncommon for clay and silt to be located in the same area and a “perfect soil” will contain a bit of each soil component.

If you dug a soil profile you may notice strips of silt deposits. This is a sign that your area was historically a flood plain or near a body of water. This means you should look for ways to encourage a soil that is able to allow for proper water movement to avoid waterlogged soils.

What Does Sandy Garden Soil Feel Like?

Feels and looks like grains of salt. This soil has drainage that is too high for most plants. The lack of negative change also means the soil has a low (CEC) which is also not ideal for plant health. If you are noticing the garden soil appears to be lighter in colour this is a great sign that the sandy texture is harming the soil.

Combinations Of Each Garden Soil Texture?

This is going to be likely the case for most gardeners. The best way to determine what your combination soil’s texture is will be through the textural triangle. The soil textural triangle will help you determine where you sit in regard to soil type. This will be incredibly helpful for anyone that is looking to repair and optimize their garden soil.

To test garden soil texture, you will want to follow these steps:

  1. Collect your sample from each horizon you identified in the previous tests.
  2. Add a small portion of the sample to the palm of your hand.
  3. Add five or more drops of water until the consistency is like a creamy soup.
  4. Take the index finger of the opposite hand and try to figure out the % of sand, silt & clay by volume in the sample through feel.
  5. Use the Textural triangle to determine what soil type you have and document.

Soil Textures And Their Feel

  • Sand – Gritty
  • Silt – Flour
  • Clay – Slippery

Ideal soil for gardens includes:

  • Loam
  • Sandy Loam
  • Sandy Clay Loam
  • Loamy Sand
  • Silt Loam
  • Silt

Garden soil types you may consider amending include:

  • Clay – compaction & waterlogging
  • Sand – poor water holding capacity & nutrient leaching
  • Sandy Clay – Poor drainage and hardpans
  • Silty Clay Loam – considered heavy and may have poor drainage
  • Silty Clay – considered heavy and may have poor drainage
  • Clay Loam – considered heavy and may have poor drainage

Soil texture testing for garden soils allows you to determine the best course of action for soil care. When you don’t know your garden soil texture it can be difficult to know what needs to be added. This gardening in Canada article is going to look at different methods you can use for soil texture testing. Please feel free to send me your results over Instagram!

Garden Soil texture testing
Garden Soil Texture Testing

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