A healthy, thriving garden starts with good soil, one that is best-suited for the type of plants you grow. Clay, silt and sand are the three primary types of soil, and loamy soil is a blend of all three soil types. Although of all the soil types clay retains water best, it runs the risk of becoming waterlogged, and so it may not be suitable for growing all types of plants.
The ability for a soil to retain water is partly determined by the size of the soil's particles. The smaller a soil's particles are, the greater the soil's surface area is, and so the more water the soil retains. Clay soil has small, fine particles, which is why it retains the most amount of water. Sand, with its larger particles and low nutritional content, retains the least amount of water, although it is easily replenished with water. Silt and loam, with medium-size particles, retain a moderate amount of water.
The amount of organic matter in soil also affects how much water the soil is able to retain. This is because organic matter has a natural attraction to water. So the more organic matter a soil contains, the greater the affinity it has with water. Clay soil is very rich in organic matter while sandy soil has very little. Silt and loam have a moderate amount of organic matter and can be amended with compost to have more.
Cultivation and Nutrition
Because clay soil retains a lot of water and is high in organic matter, it can be damaged easily when cultivated while wet. Clay soil is also harder to cultivate than other soil types because it is naturally denser. Because the particles in clay soil swell and shrink as the soil becomes wet and then dries, clay soil can cultivate itself. In turn, sandy soil is simple to work, and loam soil is moderately difficult to work. Loam and silt are rich nutritionally and easier to work than clay soil, and loam's and silt's particles are not damaged when the soils are worked while wet.
Selection of the Right Soil
Although nutritionally poor, sandy soil is well-suited for some kinds of plants. In turn, the heaviness of clay soils makes it less than ideal for some plants, despite clay's high nutrition content. Loam soil is considered ideal for a wide variety of plants as a consequence of its rich nutritional content and ability to retain moisture while resisting becoming waterlogged; it drains well. Improve the overall nutritional content and structure of your garden's soil by adding organic matter, such as compost, to it each year.
About the Author
Benjamin Shorter has been a writer for publications such as the "New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal," "National Post" and the "Edmonton Journal" since 2001. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in history from McGill University, a Master of Arts in history from Central European University and a diploma in journalism from Concordia University.
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