Gardeners deal with three main soil types: sand, clay and loam. Loam is the most widely appreciated for its airy texture, good drainage and nutrient content. Although adding organic matter to improve nutrient-poor sand is possible, adding enough to vast expanses of property is quite costly. The same is true of improving drainage in clay soils. It is important to know which you have before purchasing plants.
Loam is the soil type where most common garden plants thrive. Its light, airy texture makes working in it easier than clay or rocky soils. This loose texture ensures plants find fast footholds without the worry of compaction, as with heavily clay-laden soils. Loam also contains desirable amounts of organic matter, which feeds plants and retains moisture. Gardeners achieve loam soils by tilling in composts, bark mulch and other organic elements. Plants that thrive in loam soils include mums, maple trees, roses, dianthus, soapwort, catalpa trees and irises.
Sandy soils drain quickly and contain little nutrient content, making it difficult for many plant species to survive. Once watered, this soil type becomes bone dry in a matter of hours beneath the sun because of the lack of organic matter. Its capability to drain quickly is a boon for certain plant species that require sharp drainage. Amend sandy soils by tilling in water-retaining organic matter and mulching plants to prevent evaporation. Plants suitable for sandy soils include cacti, succulents, wiregrass, blue fescue and daylilies.
Clay soil is dense, slow to drain and generally contains useful minerals. Its heavy nature makes it hard for gardeners to work in and difficult for weak-rooted plants to penetrate. The poor drainage creates a problem for plants such as dianthus, lavender and pepper plants. When exposed to lengthy sittings in water, these plants experience root rot, ending in eventual death. Improve drainage by digging in composts and by adding drainpipes throughout the growing area. Plants that thrive in clay soils include willows, daylilies, roses, horsetail rush, bittersweet vine, barberry bush and, in wet areas, lotuses.