How to tell what type of soil you have – The 6 types determine what you can plant in them

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Gardening has become massively popular over the last year, with Brits eager to improve every nook and cranny of their outdoor space while in lockdown. Whether you’re a gardening newbie or an expert, it’s important to understand the basics of gardening. Soil type plays a huge role in what you can plant in your garden and how to care for these plants.

If you’re just getting started, you might be tempted to go out and splurge on a load of new plants and seeds… but don’t!

Before you spend your money, you need to check your soil type and pH. chatted to Gardening-Guru at Miracle-Gro, Kate Turner to find out what you can grow in each type of soil.

Kate said: “Gardening isn’t as daunting as it sounds! It is first of all important to start with your soil as that will help you figure out what plants will thrive depending on your soil type.”

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What are the six types of soil?

There are six types of soil determined by the size of its particles, but two of these are uncommon.

You probably don’t have peat or chalk in your back garden, but you will have one of the other main four types. They are:

  • Clay – heavy but high in nutrients, cold in winter, bakes hard in summer
  • Sandy – light and dry, free-draining, low in nutrients
  • Silt – light, fertile, holds onto moisture. Can be compacted
  • Loam – the best of all! A mixture of all of the above without the negative sides

The type of soil is determined by the size of the particles- clay has the smallest size and sand the largest.

How can I tell what type of soil I have?

There is a simple and quick at-home test you can do to determine what soil type you have.

Kate explained: “Take a handful of soil and roll it in your hands. If it forms a smooth sausage that keeps its shape and is shiny, then you have heavy clay soil. If it is sausage-shaped but not too shiny, you have clay loam.

“If your soil doesn’t keep its sausage shape at all and feels gritty, it means you have very sandy soil. However, if it sticks together slightly, you have sandy loam.

“Pure silt will have a soapy feel to it and doesn’t clump together very well. However, this is quite rare, as normally you would have silty loam.”


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As mentioned, loam is considered the best soil of them all. However, it is quite rare to have loam soil.

Kate said: “Don’t panic if you don’t have loam soil as very few people are lucky to have this.”

You probably don’t have just one type of soil in your garden, as all soils are normally a combination of two.

Kate explained: “Generally, all soils will be a mixture of two, such as sandy loam, silty loam or clay loam.

“If you have clay or sandy soils you can improve all of them by adding organic matter, which will help it retain moisture and nutrients.

“This will mean that hungrier and thirsty plants will be happier. It does take some hard work, but your garden will thank you later.”

The pH level of your soil plays a role in the type of plants you can grow too, so you should find out how acidic or alkaline your soil is.

Kate said: “If your soil has a pH level below 6.5, your soil is acid, however, if it is above 6.5, it is alkaline.

“Knowing your soils’ pH Level can be an advantage as it will affect what types of plants you can grow.

“A pH monitor isn’t expensive and can be found in any gardening centres or online, so it is definitely worth investing in one.”

What can you plant in each type of soil?

Kate said: “As mentioned previously, it’s always worth checking what type of soil and pH level you have before spending a lot of money on plants.”

If you have clay soil that is heavy and hasn’t improved over time, you should avoid planting Mediterranean plants.

Kate explained: “Mediterranean plants such as lavender and rosemary will not be happy in heavy clay soil.”

However, Kate said trees and shrubs will thrive in heavy clay soil. The gardening expert recommends going for any of the following:

  • Berberis
  • Buddleja
  • Cotoneaster
  • Fuchsia
  • Hydrangea Paniculata
  • Malus and Viburnum
  • Astrantia
  • Geranium
  • Hosta
  • Sedum
  • Golden Rod.

Sandy soils can sometimes be quite acid and will only be a good host to specific plants.

Kate said you can plant Heather, Rhododendrons, Camellias and Acers in acidic or sandy soils and they will thrive.

She said: “Otherwise, you could plant Silver Birch, Ornamental cherries, Eucalyptus, Holly, Juniper, pine trees, hardy Fuchsia, crocosmia and euphorbia.”

If you don’t have the right soil for the plant or tree you want to grow in your garden, there’s an easy hack to get around this.

Kate said: “If you want to plant a specific tree or plant but don’t have the right soil for it, you can always plant them in containers with their needed compost.

“For example, if you have chalky soil and you want rhododendrons then you will have to plant them in containers filled with a special compost such as Miracle-Gro Azalea, Camellia and Rhododendron compost.

“Whereas if you want a Mediterranean garden and you have heavy clay soil then planting in containers with a free-draining compost is what you will need.

“Never forget, work with what you have, and you and your plants will be happy! It’s all about the right plant and the right place.”

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