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What type of soil will work best for your landscape design?

There are three basic types of soil:

  • Sandy soil is made of large particles and holds water too long to allow plant roots to properly absorb moisture. You will need to water sandy soil more often to make sure enough water is available to your plants.
  • Clay soil is composed of small particles which release water too quickly, creating an environment too damp for most plants. Be sure not to overwater plants in clay soil.
  • Loam, a combination of sand, silt, clay and organic matter, has a "medium build" and holds water for just the right amount of time to ensure that plants have a steady supply of moisture without drowning.

Adding organic matter, such as yard clippings, straw and composted manure, will improve the quality of sand and clay soil [source: Cox].

The best watering methods for sandy soil are automatic sprinklers and drip-line systems. For clay soil you can use a drip-line or a hose. For loam, use whatever watering method feels right to you, but remember to consider the irrigation needs of your specific plants.

Compost will help retain moisture in sandy soil. Plants that do well in sandy soil include:

  • Evergreens, such as Adam's needle and bearberry; both need full sun.
  • Sumac
  • Trumpet vine
  • Virginia creeper
  • Grevilleas
  • Daisies

Clay soil provides a suitable foundation for most trees, including:

  • Elm
  • Maple
  • Cypress
  • Birch
  • Oak

Hardy perennials, like black-eyed Susan, daylily and aster, will also thrive in clay if you add some extra compost. In addition to adding visual interest, these plants help prevent soil erosion.

One type of grass, called vetiver grass, grows well in any soil (and pretty much any climate) [source: Farm Radio International]. Vetiver grass is used all over the world to help prevent soil erosion.