The type of soil in your garden has consequences for the flora and fauna in your garden. So it is important to know which type you are dealing with. The most common soil types in the United States are chalk, sand, and mulch. Which soil occurs in your garden depends largely on the place where you live. Take a close look at the structure and feel of your soil to discover the kind of soil you have in your garden.
Which types of soil are there and how do you recognize them?
The most common types in the Netherlands are clay or loam, hereinafter referred to as clay, sand, peat, and forest soil.
If the soil consists of more than 25% Lutum particles, it is clay soil. Lutum are particles in the soil that are smaller than 2 µm. 2 µm is 2 micrometers, which is equal to 0.002 millimeters. The higher the percentage of Lutum particles, the heavier the clay is. Clay soils are poorly permeable to water. In dry times they retain the water much longer. In wet times, the water does not flush through, causing the plants to get wet feet. Due to their density, clay soils suffer less from the leaching of minerals, such as nitrate and phosphate. As a result, they retain nutrients better and are therefore generally nutrient-rich soils.
In the Netherlands, you will find clay soil mainly in the coastal areas (sea clay), along the rivers (river clay), and more inland on higher areas.
If you have clay in your garden, you can make it more manageable by:
- In the winter period, before or during the frost, lightly dig out your garden
- Add chalk in early spring
- Add a layer of compost about 2 to 3 centimeters. You can do this from spring to autumn, approximately every 2 months.
Sandy soils are soils that consist of at least 50% sand. They are mineral soils that consist of less than 8% lutum particles. It is therefore a lot coarser in structure than the clay soil discussed earlier. Sandy soil is well permeable to water. The disadvantage is that during dry times the small sand particles dry out quickly, so they cannot retain the nutrients properly.
Sandy soils in the Netherlands can be found in Noord-Brabant, Overijssel, Drenthe, and part of Limburg. Areas such as the Loonse and Drunense Duinen, the Veluwe, or the Utrechtse Heuvelrug are natural areas with sandy soils.
If you live in an area with sandy soils, the following tips are useful to provide the plants in your garden with good soil:
- Before you start planting, it is wise to dig a lot of well-rotted farmyard manure or compost through the soil. This ensures better water management and more nutrients in the soil.
- You can add chalk to the soil to correct the acidity, this also ensures better absorption of the nutrients
Peat soil is a type of soil that is composed of residues or composted plant material. This is a moist type of spongy soil, formed by dead plants in swamps and preserved under a wet low-oxygen layer. This soil is dark, almost black. Due to its good water permeability, peat soil retains nutrients well in the soil. The acidity is often low. You will find an explanation of the acidity in the soil later in this article.
In the north and west of the Netherlands, extensive peatlands are mainly used as pastures.
When you live in a peat area, the most important factor to consider is humidity. Adjust your planting accordingly. The peat soil is generally quite acidic, so adjust the choice of your planting accordingly. Another option is adding chalk to the soil.
Why do I want to know what type of soil I have?
There are several factors to consider when choosing plants for your garden. For example, whether the plant prefers to be in the sun, partial shade, or shade. Plants grow best in their best-suited environment. Some plants prefer a specific PH-value of the soil. And the type of soil, sand, clay, or peat is a factor. Some plants like to have their roots in the water, and some plants hardly need any moisture. For example, the cacti in the desert.
How do I know which type of soil I have in my garden?
There are two fairly simple ways to check the type of soil you have in your garden. Collect a handful of soil in 3 to 5 different places in your garden. Do not grab the top layer, but the soil at a depth of about 20 centimeters. Try to filter out as much other material as roots, plant remains, and stones. Now take a glass or a transparent pot and fill it with the soil for about a quarter. Add up to about three-quarters of tap water. Leave this mixture alone for about an hour and then watch closely.
Check out what the mixture looks like. If there is a small layer at the bottom of the pot with coarser particles and above that a large part with small silt particles, then you have clay soil. Sandy soil has much coarser particles at the bottom. Peat soil consists mainly of organic material, in this pot, it will look like an almost black mass.
What is PH value?
Both the type of soil and the PH value has a major influence on how your plant will flourish in your garden. You read about the soil types above, but what does the PH value have to do with this and how do you measure the PH value of the soil in your garden. The Ph value is important for your vegetable and ornamental garden, but also for the pond. Ph value is the measure of the acidity of the soil or water. I will limit myself to how you measure the value of your ground. If you want to measure the PH value of your pond, there are similar test methods.
The PH value of soil has a value from 0 to 14, where 7 is neutral. Soil with a PH value of less than 7 is acidic soil. Soil with a PH value higher than 7 is called a basic or alkaline environment. There are ready-to-use test kits you can buy at a garden center or the more extensive DIY store.
Gather some soil from different places in your garden at about 20 cm deep. It is best to dry this soil for a period and next put 1 centimeter of the soil in a tube. Pour 2 centimeters of distilled water into this tube and add a tablet.
The water will turn yellow, green, light blue, or dark blue. You can compare the colors with the colors on the packaging or in the leaflet. From this, you can determine which acidity you are dealing with. If you want a higher PH value in your garden, you can add chalk to the soil. By adding organic material, such as compost, you can lower your PH value. An additional advantage of this is that the drainage and ventilation of your soil improves.
Measure PH value
I found an inexpensive way to measure the PH value of your garden on the internet, by using red cabbage. Take a top of red cabbage and cut it quite fine with a food processor or knife. Boil some distilled water. Add the finely chopped red cabbage and let it cook for about 10 minutes. Then drain it.
The juice you just drained has a neutral PH of about 7. To be sure, test the red cabbage juice first. You do this by pouring the juice into 2 cups, add vinegar to one cup and some baking soda to the other. Vinegar is sour and should turn bright pink. The baking soda solution is basic and should turn blue or green. After testing this, you are ready to test the soil.
Put the soil in a glass and pour some cabbage juice on it. Wait for about 30 minutes. If the color of the solution turns pink, it means that the soil is acidic, with a PH lower than 7. The pinker the solution, the more acidic the soil. If the solution remains purple or violet, then you are dealing with a PH value of between 1 and 7. With a blue or green color, there is a PH higher than 7, the brighter green, the higher the PH value.
Which plants thrive in which type of soil?
Once you have figured out which type of soil you have, you can go looking for suitable plants. You still have to take into account other circumstances, such as a border in sun, partial shade or shade, and the moisture content in the border of course.
Plants for clay soil
Lilac (Syringa vulgaris), Hydrangea (Hydrangea “Grandiflora”), Goat’s Beard (Aruncus Dioicus), Sunwort (Helenium “Moerheim Beauty”), Black Cohosh (Cimicifuga simplex), and Zeeuws Knoopje (Astrantia Major).
Plants for sandy soil
Broom (Cytisus Scoparius), Cranesbill (Geranium Himalayense), Donkey Ears (Stachys Byzantina), Oyster Plant (Acanthus Mollis), Red Valerian (Centranthus Rubber), and Pea Bush (Caragana Arborescent).
Plants for peat soil
Solomon Seal (Polygonatum Multiflorum), Sage (Salvia Nemorosa), Rhododendron (Rhododendron), Royal Fern (Osmunda Regalis), False Hazel (Corylopsis Sinensis), Christopher’s Herb (Actea Rubra), Rock Heide (Pieris), and Japanese Maple (Acer Palmatum).
This is of course a brief summary, if you search the internet, you will come across many other types that are suitable for various types of soil. Some plants are very fussy about this and others not at all.