Soil needs a balance of soil particles, organic material and water and air circulation that will allow your plants to get the moisture, oxygen and nutrients needed to grow. The best soil is well-drained, but still retains moisture and is fertile. If you are planting in a garden bed, there are simple steps to take to learn the type of soil you have. Commercially sold bagged soil also has different qualities. Once you learn the type of soils, you can decide what plants are best for your garden and how to improve your own soil.
Garden Soil Type
There are four basic types of soil. Sandy soil is made primarily of sand. Particles are large and do not hold together. Water drains right through sandy soil and as a result washes away nutrients. Pick up a handful of soil and rub your fingers through it. If it feels gritty and falls apart, you have sandy soil. Silty soil has medium particles and holds nutrients better. It is found near rivers. To find out if you have silty soil, pick up a handful, add water to the soil and rub between your fingers. Silty soil will have a soapy feel after water is added. Clay soil particles are tiny and bind together, making soil heavy. Water does not drain well in this soil, making it hard for gardeners to work with. Roll some soil between your hands. If you can form a long shape that does not fall apart, you have mostly clay. Humus or loamy soil has the perfect structure. It holds nutrients and moisture and it is easy to work with. Poke your finger into a handful of your soil. Loamy soil will crumble easily.
Potting soils are different from garden soils. Gardeners can choose four different types of potting soils. All-purpose soil contains sphagnum peat moss for water retention and vermiculite or perlite, which makes the soil more porous. Add fertilizer to this type of soil. Premium soil contains the peat moss and vermiculite and also aged compost products, which add nutrients to the soil. This requires less work when planting because fertilizing is not needed. Soil in pots or containers do lose nutrients through watering, so add more nutrients to pots after six months. Plant-specific soil is formulated for the needs of a specific plant, such as the African violet, which grows best in acidic soil. Lime is added to this potting mixture to create the right environment for the plants. Cactus soil often includes bone meal because soil must drain exceptionally well for the cacti to thrive. Professional soil mixtures contain higher quality peat moss and organic materials. Usually the cost is not worth it for amateur gardeners.
Other Types of Soil
Gardeners often use different mixtures for specific gardening needs. Seed-starting soil mix contains sphagnum peat moss and larger quantities of vermiculite. This is a good mix for growing seeds and starting cuttings. Seedling soil is a mixture of two parts organic compost, one part vermiculite and one part sphagnum peat that provides a good growing base for seedlings with their first set of leaves.