Many different factors can affect plant health. And while most people consider water, soil additives, sunlight, and climate important, soil texture is often overlooked. Are all soils created equal, or is soil texture an essential part of your garden’s success?
Loam is the ideal soil texture for planting. A balanced mixture of sand, clay, and silt, loam improves water retention and drainage, soil workability, root support, and nutrients.
This article will discuss the beneficial characteristics of loamy soil and how to improve the texture of your soil. It will also explain why some plants prefer specific soil textures.
The Best Soil Texture
All soil is a mixture of sand, clay, and silt. There are 12 types of soil, each with different mixtures of these three materials.
Since each material contributes different characteristics to the soil, a balance of the three is usually ideal. This mixture is called loam. There are several types of loam that describe which material has a higher percentage in the mix:
- Clay Loam
- Silty Loam
- Silty Clay Loam
- Loamy Sand
Loam is the best soil texture for planting because it includes the benefits of sand, clay, and silt. The benefits of this balanced mix include:
- Water Retention: The porosity of loam created by its sand content allows for moderate water retention. Water retention ensures that plants have consistent access to water, making them less dependent on rain or manual watering.
- Water Drainage: Drainage is essential to plant health. Water pools around the roots of plants without proper drainage, leading to root rot. Root rot is irreversible and will kill plants by cutting off their oxygen and nutrient supply. Loam is porous enough to allow for a healthy balance between water retention and drainage.
- Workability: Soil that is too dense is challenging to work manually. Digging, tilling, and hoeing is easier with less resistance. The sand in the loam keeps the soil from compacting too much and makes it resistant to compaction.
- Root Support: Loam is the ideal soil for plant roots because it is structured enough to support them while being porous enough to allow them to grow and spread. Structure is essential for plants with shallow root structures, and permeability is most important for plants with deep root structures.
- Nutrients: The nutrients found in loamy soil come from silt, a mixture of rock and minerals. Plants require many nutrients, including phosphorus, potassium, and zinc, to grow and stay healthy.
How to Improve Soil Texture
Unfortunately, not all soil is loamy. But when it comes to your yard or garden, you must work with what you’ve got. There are many ways to supplement your soil to help achieve a better texture. The proper additives depend on what it is that your soil is lacking.
What to Do If Your Soil Is Mostly Clay
Clay is very dense and low in nutrients. It does not allow for water drainage and has little to no airflow. To balance out soil that’s heavy in clay, you will need a light material to make it more porous and a better source of nutrients.
- The easiest way to increase the porousness of clay is to add sand. Sand is inexpensive and easy to find. When mixed with clay, sand will increase water drainage and ensure that the roots have access to enough oxygen. However, sand does not provide any nutrients to the soil.
- Perlite is another option, but it is often more expensive than sand and does not contain any nutrients, so you would need an additional supplement.
- Compost or vermicompost is one of the best options for soil heavy in clay. It is light, porous, and rich in nutrients (vermicompost has more nutrients than traditional compost). Vermicompost is easy to make yourself. Take a look at this article for a thorough guide on that: How To Make Vermicompost from Kitchen Waste
- To increase nutrient levels in your soil, you will need an additive with lots of minerals. These minerals can be found in natural nutrients, including manure (never use fresh manure for food plants), eggshells, ground coffee, and Epsom salt.
What to Do If Your Soil Is Very Sandy
If your soil is sandy, it will have trouble providing plants with structural support or nutrients.
The best additives for sandy soil will have a neutral pH, good water retention, and plentiful nutrients.
- Compost or vermicompost. This is a great option for sandy soil because it is high in nutrients and holds water well. It also provides a structure that will support the roots of plants, especially during early development.
- Peat moss, vermiculite, and coconut husk. These are all natural additives that will increase the soil’s water retention. However, none of these mediums provide nutrients and would need to be supplemented with a slow-releasing fertilizer.
- If your soil is especially sandy, use a mixture of the options above. Vermicompost should never make up more than 40% of the soil mixture. If you need more substrate than that to make up for the sand, add one of the other additives until you achieve the right texture.
What to Do If Your Soil Is Silty
Silty soil is difficult for most plants because it is acidic and has poor water drainage. Unlike clay and sand, silt is high in nutrients. Although this is often a good thing, you should be careful when using additives high in nutrients. They could lead to nutrient toxicity.
These are some of the materials you can add to silty soil.
- Peat moss, vermiculite, and coconut husk. These naturally airy materials help to improve drainage in silty soil. They also have a neutral pH, which can help balance out the acidity of silt.
- Lime and dolomite. These are both carbon compounds, which means they have a high pH. You can use them to balance out the low pH of silt. Don’t just take a guess—instead, you should test the pH of your soil before and after introducing carbon. You can check this article to learn how to take soil samples: Can You Test Soil Quality in the Winter?
Plants That Do Best in Other Soil Textures
While loam is the best option for most plants, some prefer different soil types. Often, this is because their preferred soil mimics the texture of the soil in their natural environment. If amending the soil texture is not an option, you should select plants that do well in the texture you have.
Interestingly, not all plants need soil. They can grow in the air, water, or other plants. You can learn about these plants in this article: This Is Why Some Plants Don’t Need Soil
Plants That Prefer Sandy Soil
Sandy soil has poor water retention, which is not ideal for most plants but perfect for a few.
Sandy soil is suitable for vegetables that grow underground because it keeps water from pooling around the vegetable and creating rot. Sandy soil is also similar to the native home of desert plants, which naturally require less water and nutrients.
Vegetables that grow underground include:
Desert plants include:
- Desert Lily
- Joshua Tree
Plants That Prefer Soil Heavy in Clay
It takes specific types of plants to grow in clay soil. The plant must be able to push its roots through dense soil and withstand heavy water pooling, as clay soil becomes compacted and muddy very easily.
Plants that can tolerate clay soil include:
Plants That Grow Best in Silt
Silt is often a problem for plants because it has poor water drainage. That’s also why it’s suitable for plants that prefer wet environments. There is a lot of overlap between plants that grow in clay and silt because both types of soil retain a lot of water.
Plants that grow well in silt include:
- Butterfly bushes
Loamy soil has all the necessary characteristics necessary to support most plants. The even balance of clay, sand, and silt makes it great at:
- Water retention
- Water drainage
- Root support
There are several options for making your soil loamier depending on what type of soil you begin with.
Ensuring you have the right soil for your plants will result in a healthy, thriving garden!