Knowing what type of soil your area has is essential to successful gardening. All plants need nutrients and moisture, which they absorb through their roots from the soil, in order to thrive. Being aware of how well a soil holds moisture and its natural nutrient levels will help you assess what, if any, changes need to be made to a soil in order to create an optimum growing environment.
This soil type is comprised mostly of clay. When wet, clay soils become sticky, compact and waterlogged. This soil takes longer to warm after the spring thaw, due to its high moisture content, which can delay planting. What clay soil does provide, in abundance, is a nutrient-rich environment for plants. By adding peat moss to the soil it becomes lighter and drainage is improved. Autumn is the best time to amend clay soil, as it will have the entire winter to break down the peat moss.
Medium density soils are often referred to as loam. This soil type is made up of a mixture of clay, sand and silt. Loam needs little to no amendment beforehand in order to grow plants successfully. It takes the best characteristics of its components, such as clay's nutrients and sands porosity, and provides a balanced growing medium. This is why loam is often considered the ideal type of soil to have, and when amending other soil types, a gardener is trying to create a loam soil.
The term light soil is used to describe three main types of soil. Sandy soils are the most common type of light soil and are highly porous, containing little to no nutrients. Sandy soils are also at a higher risk of erosion, by water or high winds, than other soil types due to their light weight. The addition of compost into a sandy soil will help it retain moisture longer and provide the proper nutrients for successful plant growth.
Peaty soils are often found on forest floors. This soil type has the distinction of being too porous in some instances, such as during periods of drought, and becoming waterlogged in consistently wet conditions. Adding a mixture of compost and gravel helps balance out this soil.
Chalky soils are, by far, the most difficult soil type to amend. While chalky soil, also known as basic soil due to its high alkalinity, is nutrient-rich, the alkalinity makes it impossible for plants to absorb iron. For this reason, chalky soil is not considered amendable and those who live in an area with this soil type will likely have to create raised beds filled with a nutrient rich soil mixture.