Know your soil

Finding which type of soil you have is not difficult; the first clue is to look at the plants that are growing before the soil is cultivated.

 Soil conditions  Plant
 Fertile  Chickweed, Nettle
 Heavy clay/wet  Coltsfoot, Horsetail (mares tail)
 Acidic soil  Corn spurrey, azalea, rhododendrons
 Low in nitrogen  Vetch
 Sandy/dry,  Rock rose

This will give you a rough idea of what type of soil you have but a better way is to dig some up and examine it closely!

1. Take a handful of soil and add water until you can form a ball.
2. Work the soil until it is evenly moist and take out any stones or lumps.
3. Follow the flow chart below to determine your soil type.


The best type of soil is a loam consisting of one-third sand, one-third silt and one-third clay. Those gardeners lucky enough to have such a soil will find life easier than those with heavy clay or a light, sandy soil but that does not mean that you cannot grow what you want in your particular soil.

Pros and cons of different soil types

Soil type Water capacity Nutrient availability Management
Clay High High Difficult
Sand Low Low Difficult
Silt Medium Medium Moderate

Topsoil and subsoil
Most gardening is concerned only with the top few CMS (or inches) of soil which is known as ‘top soil’. This is the layer of the soil where seeds are sown and young plants are transplanted. The depth and composition of topsoil will vary greatly in different geographical locations and even in different parts of the garden.‘Sub soil’ is the name given to the soil below the cultivated area. The best growing soils have a loose, friable area on top of a soil with good overall drainage. Shallow topsoil can dictate what you grow but does not mean all is lost.

Many soils have only a few centimetres of good topsoil followed by several metres of heavy subsoil but if they are well managed they can grow decent crops.Roots will spread from the stem of plant both radially and vertically, some plants will send tap roots down several CMS (inches) into the soil and will not perform well if their path is restricted, e.g. carrots and parsnips.