What type of soil have I got in my garden?

 Your soil is probably a combination of these soils commonly found in gardens in the U.K., I have described them in more detail here;


Sandy Soils

Sandy Soil has a gritty texture and is formed from weathered rock like limestone, quartz, granite, and shale. It is easy to cultivate, but does not retain moisture or nutrients very well. Adding lots of organic matter helps and on the plus side sandy soil is easy to dig over. The easy solution is to grow plants that like sandy soil, like most  herbs. 


Silty Soil

Silty soil is very fertile soil, holding more nutrients than sandy soil holds moisture and drains well. It has a smooth dark texture and looks like dark sand.

 Clay Soil

When clay soils are wet they are very sticky, lumpy and pliable, but when dry  form rock-hard clots. Clay soil is hard to work and prone to water logging. Blue or grey clays have poor aeration and would need to be improved to grow most plants. Red clay soil has good aeration and drains well, but is still difficult to dig over.  However, because clay soil has high nutrient levels, it is worth sorting out the garden drainage as most plants will grow well in it. 
These plants thrive in clay plants to grow in clay

Loamy Soil

 Loamy soils are a combination of  sand, silt and clay. Loamy soils are mostly easy to dig over very fertile and full of organic matter, they drain well, retain moisture and hold a lot of nutrients. The perfect soil.

Peaty Soil

Peaty soil contains more organic material than other soils, but fewer nutrients and is prone to sogginess. You may need to add compost and sort out the drainage to get the best out of your plants.

Chalky Soil

Chalky soils are alkaline and full of stones, dry out quickly and lack trace elements such as iron and manganese causing poor growth and yellowing of leaves. Chalky soil is extremely poor quality and would need to be greatly improved to grow most garden plants.


These plants will grow in chalky soil  plants for chalky soil 

 Soil in UK gardens is usually a combination of these types of soil.
Soil in UK gardens is usually a combination of these types of soil.

Simple way to test for type of soil in your garden

A simple way of testing your garden soil is to take a small amount of wet soil in your hand. Knead it into a smooth paste, then roll it about between your hands to form a ball.

  • If it is Sticky and gritty its loam.
  • If it easily rolls into a ball and becomes shiny, but not gritty its clay.
  • If it won't roll into a ball and feels gritty it is sandy soil.
  • If it feels slippery and silky it is probably a silty loam.

Tools to test the pH of garden soil


It is easy to test the pH of your soil using a simple soil pH meter, which is simply pushed into the soil available from amazon.

Or for a more detailed pH test, use the kit that includes colour charts and tubes featured here.

What do the results of your soil pH test mean?

This is what the results of a soil pH test show and mean.

A pH test measures soil acidity or alkalinity. A pH 7.0 is considered neutral. An acid soil has a pH value below 7.0. Above pH 7.0 the soil is alkaline.

pH 3.0 - 5.0

  • Very acid soil.
  • Most plant nutrients, particularly calcium, potassium, magnesium and copper, become more soluble under very acid conditions and are easily washed away.
  • Most phosphates are locked up and unavailable to plants below pH 5.1, although some acid tolerant plants can utilise aluminium phosphate.
  • Acid sandy soils are often deficient in trace elements.
  • Bacteria cannot rot organic matter below pH 4.7 resulting in fewer nutrients being available to plants. 
  • Action: Add lime to raise the pH to above 5.0. The addition of lime can help break up acid clay soils.

 pH 5.1 - 6.0

  • Acid soil.
  • Ideal for ericaceous (lime-hating) plants such as rhododendrons, camellias and heather.
  • Action: Add lime if other plants are grown.

pH 6.1 - 7.0

  • Moderately acid soil.
  • A pH 6.5 is the best general purpose pH for gardens, allowing a wide range of plants to grow, except lime-hating plants.
  • The availability of major nutrients is at its highest and bacterial and earthworm activity is optimum at this pH.
  • Action: It is not usually necessary to add anything to improve soil pH at this level.

pH 7.1 - 8.0

  • Alkaline soil.
  • Phosphorous availability decreases.
  • Iron and manganese become less available leading to lime-induced chlorosis.
  • But an advantage of this pH level is that clubroot disease of cabbage family crops (brassicas) is reduced.
  • Action: Sulphur, iron sulphate and other acidifying agents can sometimes be added to reduce pH. Clay soils often require very large amounts of acidifying material and soils with free chalk or lime are not usually treatable

It is costly to change the pH of your soil and doesn't work over the long-term, instead try growing plants that will be happy in your type of soil.


Essential minerals for healthy gardening explained here  minerals for heathy soil