Learning about the types of soil is essential it is the main ingredient of any garden and it helps to have a little understanding of it before you plant anything. Lots of plants will grow in most soils but some do better in a certain types of soil. You need to look at the texture of your soil and what makes up it’s ingredients which will be sand, clay and organic matter known as hummus. The percentage of those ingredients will make up your soil type. You also need to know the pH of your soil.
Clay soil will make up 25% of the soil. It is very heavy to work with, making gardening a lot harder. It will drain poorly and sometimes become waterlogged.
It will warm slower in the spring but retain its warmth until late autumn. It is quite a fertile soil and suitable plants will flourish in it. Clay is sticky when wet and can be rolled out in your hands and hold a shape. The heavier the clay the more shiny it will be.
To help clay soil break it into smaller particles until it is crumbly this will make the soil warmer. You can also add hummus and lime to make it more workable.
Sandy soil will have a high percentage of sand and a small percentage of clay. It is a light soil, easily worked. It will be free draining and plants will need regular watering otherwise they will suffer. It can be planted early in the season. It can be low in nutrients as nutrients will run off with rain water. Sandy soils can also be highly acidic. It is course and cannot be rolled out in your hands it will not hold the shape.
To help sandy soil bind and hold more nutrients you can add organic matter
Silt soil is comprised of particles larger than clay and smaller than sand. It is intermediate. It holds water better than sandy soils but because of the clay particles it can become compacted. It is a fertile soil. It has a slippery texture and will not hold a shape easily.
To help silt soil become more crumbly you can add organic matter.
Loam is made up of clay, sand and silt. Out of all the types of soil this is the perfect blend of gardening soil as loam does not go to the extremes of either clay or sandy soil. It is fertile and easily worked. It can be a combination of clay-loam or sandy-loam.
To help loam become more fertile especially if its cultivated; for example on the vegetable patch, add organic matter each year.
Once you know your soil type you need to know the soils pH. This is a measurement of how alkaline or acid it is. It is graded on a scale from 1-14. The neutral point is 7. Acid soils are under pH 7 and alkaline soils are over pH 7. Just as you need to understand different types of soil you need to know your soils pH to decide what plants will thrive there. A pH test is a must when you are planning and designing your cottage garden.
You can buy a pH test kit at most larger garden centres or buy online.
The soil comprises of several different layers. At the top is hummus which is partly decomposed plant remains such as leaves. Below this is top soil which is more decomposed plant remains, mineral particles, air and water; this is the layer that most of the root growth takes place in and is prized by the gardener. Below this is sub-soil which is low in nutrients and does not do much for plant growth. Below this is the parent rock or other base material.
The depth of your soil will determine which plants will grow in your cottage garden too. If your soil is very shallow there is very little you can do; planting trees for example may not be an option. You can create a raised garden bed for some plants but buying fresh top soil can be expensive.
Soil should be treated with respect the nutrients that are taken from it during a growing season should be replaced before re planting for the next. The soil should always keep its crumbly texture to help root growth. To test this take a handful and see if it feels like crumble topping, it should not fall through the fingers like sand or clump together.
To create a good texture you should add an organic compost. Adding compost will help a clay soil drain and a sandy soil retain water and nutrients. To learn about making compost click here.