It's important, before you start growing anything in your garden, to establish which soil type you have. There are many different soil types, identifying the type of soil you have will help to identify the types of plants that you can grow in your garden. Soil can be categorised into, sand, clay, silt, peat, chalk and loam - it is based on the dominating size of the particles within a soil.
Initially, the best way to tell which soil type you have is by feeling it. In short, clay soil feels sticky when wet and smears if you rub it between your fingers, while a sandy soil feels gritty and won't stay together. It's wise to test the soil from different locations in your garden, as it can vary enormously.
This type of soil can be either light or heavy but always highly alkaline due to the calcium carbonate within its structure. Unfortunately, as these soils are alkaline they will not support the growth of ericaceous plants that require acidic soils to grow. Often, minerals such as Iron and Manganese will quickly leach out of the soil, but this can be remedied by regularly adding fertiliser.
It is a soil often known as heavy soil, it will remain wet and cold in Winter and will dry out in the Summer. Although, it has a high amount of nutrients, this type of soil is made of over 25% clay - and, because of the spaces found between clay particles, clay soils hold a high amount of water. Unsurprisingly, this soil will drain slowly and will take longer to warm up in the Summer, combined with drying out and cracking in Summer months.
It is often described as the 'ideal' soil as it is a mixture of sand, silt and clay - combined they avoid the negative effects of each type. It has many beneficial characteristics, including, being fertile, easy to work with and providing good drainage. As this soil is the perfect balance of soil particles, it is considered to be a 'Gardeners Best Friend', however it will still benefit from additional organic matter.
This type of soil is very rarely found in a garden, and is often imported into a garden to provide an optimum soil base for planting. It is highly acidic, so is ideal for growing Rhododendrons and Azaleas - however, be careful, as it holds plenty of water and can become waterlogged.
This type of soil is light, warm, dry and often acidic with a low amount of nutrients. It is often known as a light soil due to its high proportion of sand, and little clay - clay weighs more than sand. Beneficially, it has quick water drainage which makes it easy to work with. However, it will quickly warm up in Spring and has a tendency to dry out in Summer and suffer from low nutrients as it is washed away by rainwater. The addition of organic matter can help provide plants with an additional boost of nutrients by improving the nutrient and water holding capacity of the soil.
It is made from fine particles, meaning it is free draining but will also retain moisture. Unsurprisingly, it can be easily compacted and is prone to being washed away by the rain. However, by adding organic matter the silt particles can be bound into more stable clumps. Silt soil rolls into a ball easily, but it won't keep its shape as well as clay soil.