A good gardener should know just as much about her soil as she does about the plants she chooses to grow in it. Each soil type has its own specific characteristics that are either beneficial to plants, or require change in order to improve it. By learning how to identify, modify and work with all the various soil types, you can expand not only your knowledge of gardening, but also the types of plants you can grow in your area.
Familiarize yourself with the various soil types. Soil is divided into three general categories: heavy, medium and light. Clay is an example of heavy soil, loam is a medium soil and sandy soil is considered light.
Learn how to amend soil. Soil amendment is the act of adding materials, either organic or inorganic, to improve soil. Peat or wood chips are common materials to amend clay soil, while sandy soils are often improved with the addition of peat or compost.
Find out how to test soil for its pH and nutrients levels. Soil tests are available from gardening centers for home testing, or a soil sample is collected and sent to a local soil testing facility. Knowing the pH and nutrient level in your soil will alert you to deficiencies that may affect plant growth.
Determine what materials to add to soil to lower or raise the pH level. To lower pH in alkaline soil, add sphagnum peat or organic mulch. To raise the pH of overly acidic soil, add limestone to the top 6 inches of soil.
Learn proper irrigation techniques. Different soil types require different irrigation schedules. For example, sandy soil, due to its high porosity, requires more frequent watering than clay soil.
Learn when to plant, based on your soil type. Sandy soil warms quicker in the spring and gardeners can often get a head start on planting. Clay soils, due to its high moisture content, takes longer to warm, so planting is often delayed.