Soil for planting can be described with many terms. Sometimes, gardeners talk about their soil as neutral, acidic or basic, which refers to the soil's pH levels. This is actually an attribute that is secondary to the quality, looseness and composition of the soil. These characteristics are described in three general types as sandy, clay or loamy soils. Scientists also classify soils by their drainage properties.
You can tell if you have sandy soil by sinking a spade into the ground and overturning a blade full of soil. If the color is light and the soil does not clump, but runs through your fingers, it is sandy soil. This isn't necessarily a bad thing; many plants can be selected that like sandy soil because of its excellent water drainage. You can add compost or humus for a richer soil mix.
Clay soil is the most difficult to garden with, and usually will need to be amended with sand or organic matter like mulch or compost. You can identify clay soil by its reddish or light brown color, and its sticky texture. Water is pooled and contained by clay soil, which is ideal for very few plants.
Loamy soil is the richest type of soil. It is dark in color, clumps and is finer than sandy soil. Loamy soil is ideal for many plants, and necessary for most fruits and vegetables. It doesn't always drain properly, however, so gardeners often add a loosening mulch or sand mixture to loamy soil that is very dark and dense.
Most plants prefer a neutral or slightly acidic soil. You can find out the pH level of your soil by using a home testing kit available at garden or home improvement stores. If the pH level is strongly acidic or basic, opt for plantings that will thrive under those conditions, or amend the soil with lime or peat moss, or their equivalents.