Assess Your Garden Conditions

Determining the Texture of Garden Soil

Some gardeners get lucky with naturally rich, fertile soil. However, you may need to amend your soil so that it meets your plants' needs.

Garden soil consists of sand, silt, and clay, and for plants to grow well, it must have all three in the right proporitons. There are a few ways to determine which kind of soil you're dealing with. For a quick test, simply squeeze some slightly moist soil in your hand. Clay soils form a compact lump and retain their shape. Loam soils form a ball but fall apart if poked. Sandy soils won't hold their shape at all. 

You can also check the texture of your soil in a jar filled with water. Gather some soil from the garden, choosing a sample from near the surface and down to a depth of eight inches. Let it dry, pulverize it into fine granules, and mix well. Put a one-inch layer (a little over a cup) in a quart glass jar with 1/4 teaspoon of powdered dishwasher detergent. (Dishwasher detergent won't foam up.) Add enough water to fill the jar two-thirds full. Shake the jar for a minute, turning it upside down as needed to get all the soil off the bottom, then put the jar on a counter where it can sit undisturbed. One minute later, mark the level of settled particles on the jar with a crayon or wax pencil. This is sand. Set an alarm for four hours, and when it goes off, mark the next level, which is the amount of silt that has settled. Over the next day or two, the clay will slowly settle and allow you to take the final measurement. These measurements show the relative percentages of sand, silt, and clay in your soil. 

Organic matter provides nutrients to the plants in your garden. Keep reading to learn about assessing the organic content of your garden soil.

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