The Effect of Soil Types on Plants


Soil is often typed by its texture, which ranges from coarse sand to fine clay, with silt in between. Soils are usually mixtures of the three basic classes, the dominant texture affecting how plants perform. Different plants like different types.


With its fine particles, clay holds little air and doesn't drain well. It can drown the roots of plants. Clay soil tends toward alkalinity; most plants like a bit of acidity. Clay retains nutrients.


Silt, though not as fine as clay, can cause some of the same problems. It can become crusty, encumbering root spread and causing germinating seeds problems in pushing through soil.


Sandy soil drains well, though sometimes too well, depriving plants of needed moisture. The drainage can also carry away nutrients. Soil becomes acid. Sand does warm up well, helping germination along.


Loam is an ideal mix of sand, silt and clay, with sand the dominant texture. The clay in loam keeps moisture and nutrients near roots, the sand prevents the moisture from getting too extreme and allows for oxygen, which roots need to absorb.

Potential of Hydrogen

Hydrogen potential--pH--restricts the ability of plants to use nutrients, while causing toxic build-ups of others. Sand and clay soil extremes thus cause problems for plants unless pH is adjusted. Lime reduces acidity; sulfur reduces alkalinity.


  • Arizona Cooperative Extension Master Gardener Manual: Soil Classes
  • Montréal Botanical Garden: Soil Texture
  • "Botany: A Functional Approach;" Walter H. Muller; 1970
Keywords: soil type effects, plant and soil type, clay, silt, sand

About this Author

S. Johnson is a freelance writer and editor of both print and film media who specializes in making the complex clear. A freelancer for over 20 years, Johnson has had the opportunity to cover many topics ranging from construction to music to celebrity interviews, learning a lot and talking to many interesting people.