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Types of Garden Soil

By Cindy Hill ; Updated September 21, 2017
Good soil makes gardens bloom.

Soil is the heart of the garden. Without good, fertile, well-drained soil, flowers will not bloom and vegetable plants will not produce a harvest. The type of garden soil you have will determine what you can grow and how productive or attractive your garden will be. If your garden soil type is not ideal, proper soil amendments and management can still create a healthy garden.

Fertile Sandy Loam

The Ohio State University Extension advises that plants grow best in loamy, well-drained, fertile soil with a sufficient supply of organic matter and nutrients as well as a neutral pH. Most perennial and annual flowers, as well as vegetables, thrive in a fertile sandy loam.

The Utah State University Extension notes this ideal garden soil is rarely available to most gardeners until they expend considerable effort improving the existing soil. Buying topsoil from a nursery supply store may be an option for some gardeners, especially for filling newly raised beds. Trucking in dirt may create as many problems as it solves, though, because it's likely to contain weeds and may not be any better than the existing dirt, according to the Utah State University Extension.


Clay soils are hard to work and remain wet well into the gardening season, according to the Ohio State University Extension. Clay soils also often form a hard crust. In the hot, dry portion of the summer, clay can harden and crack like concrete, especially if it has been overworked when wet. Adding copious amounts of soil texture conditioners like coarse sand, composted animal manure and wood shavings will improve clay soil texture for the garden, the Ohio State University Extension suggests. Drainage systems such as perforated tile drains under garden beds help dry out clay soils for garden use.


Sandy soil is easy to dig, but doesn't hold water well and may cause plant roots to dry out and become stressed, stunting plant growth. Nutrients are also easily washed out in sandy soils. The Utah State University Extension recommends amending sandy soils with significant quantities of organic matter--shredded leaves, compost and peat moss--to improve water-retention characteristics. Another alternative is to plant sand-loving species. In dry areas, this may include cactus and yucca. In regions with more rainfall, sandy soils are often acidic, providing growing conditions for azaleas, strawberries, blueberries and other acid-loving plants.


About the Author


A freelance writer since 1978 and attorney since 1981, Cindy Hill has won awards for articles on organic agriculture and wild foods, and has published widely in the areas of law, public policy, local foods and gardening. She holds a B.A. in political science from State University of New York and a Master of Environmental Law and a J.D. from Vermont Law School.