Best Types of Soil for Vegetable Gardens

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In order to have a successful garden, you must have good soil! At the very least, you should know what type of soil you have, and what plants grow best in those conditions.

You also should know how to optimize your soil and stop wasting money on things you don’t need. There are so many types of soil that it can be tricky learning how to have a successful garden in less than ideal conditions.

So, how do you know what type of soil you have? Even more so, how do you improve soil to it’s optimal level?

Here, we’ll dive into commonly found soil types, their profiles, and getting the best soil for the garden. I’ve also noted which vegetables grow well with each soil type!

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Types of Soil

Clay Soil

So clay soil is probably the least lucky hand you can be dealt when it comes to soil types and growing a garden. It is what I’m currently living with now. I say this from a flower garden and vegetable garden perspective. So, how you do you know if you have clay soil?

You likely have clay soil if you notice a very dense material. It could also be slightly red or orange in color. If it is wet, it’s mucky and sticky. If dry, it is hard and heavy. When you dig, you have great resistance. These are all signs of having clay soil.

How do you fix clay soil? Well, the good news is, you can amend it and force it to work for you, but it’s a lot of sweat equity. What you’ll need to do is impart as much organic matter you can. To do this, you need to aerate the soil and then till in top soil into the first 2 inches.

Your other option is to loosen up the top layer and lay down garden beds. Then, you can use the raised garden beds to pile in a more garden friendly soil, without the back breaking work.

This is the option I use and it’s been great. I recommend layering organic material (like manure) and all-purpose garden soil to your desired depth.

Types of vegetables that grow best in clay soil

Typically, shallow root vegetables will do best in clay soil. The best plants to grow in clay soil are cabbage, bean varieties, broccoli and cauliflower. You can also grow some root vegetables that will break up the clay more, like carrots and daikon.

Sandy Soil

Sandy soil is just what it sounds like. Quick draining, quick drying, and hardly holds it shape. Luckily, it’s a little easier to amend sandy soil than it is clay.

To make sandy soil work for your flower or vegetable garden, you’ll need to loosen up the dirt in your targeted area, trying to get a good 3 inches deep. Then, you’ll want to add a nice composted potting mix, and a bit of organic matter. Aim for a 2:1 ratio. It’s also a good idea to include grass clippings, which will help in retaining water.

To maintain optimal health, watch your watering. You may need to water your garden more often that you would otherwise. Additionally, it’ll be a good idea to fertilize at the beginning of your grow season and halfway through to ensure there are enough nutrients feeding your plant.

There are actually quite a few veggies that do very well in sandy laden soil. It’s not the worst problem to have!

Types of vegetables that grow best in sandy soil

Root vegetables; carrots, parsnips and potatoes, leafy greens such as lettuce and collard greens, and garden favorites like strawberries, a variety of peppers, squash, and zucchini.

Silty Soil

Silty soil is characterized by its soft, powdery texture. It is finer than sandy soil, and holds more moister. When wet, it can be very slippery. It is typically comprised of the ‘run-off’ from other soils. It’s the middle road between sandy and clay!

To have a successful garden with silty soil, you’ll want to add organic matter to enrich it on a regular basis. This type of soil is also slightly acidic, so you might want to do a soil test. If needed, balance the acidity with Lime.

To maintain, it’s best to add a mulch, or clippings, or similar cover at the beginning of the season and again at the end. Allow the cover to decompose and mix into to the existing soil, which will help with aeration and drainage.

Types of plants that grow best in sandy soil

There are many vegetables you can grow in silty soil and do well with loose, and quick draining soil. Shallow root vegetables thrive here, such as beets, garlic, radish, beets, parsnip, onion and a variety of herbs.

Loamy Soil

Loam is soil mostly comprised of sand, silt, and clay.  It is the most desired type of soil to use in your garden. The reason loam soil is perfect for gardening is because it retains moisture well, but also drains at a proper rate. It contains nutrients that are necessary for plant growth. It also retains nutrients better.

You don’t need to do much if you naturally have loamy soil, lucky you! You’ll just want to maintain them for continued use by fertilizing.

Testing Your Soil

If you’re not sure what type of soil you have, you can test it to figure it out! This is a simple, but effective way to identify your soil type.

To start, take a clean mason jar to the area you plan on planting. Dig into the ground to about 6 inches deep. Then, scoop a a big handheld shovel of your soil into the mason jar.

You want to fill the jar with your soil. Once you have the soil, you will then fill the jar with water and shake well.

As the mixture begins to settle, you’ll be able to see the layers of the composition that make up your soil type! Sand will sink to the bottom, clay will stay at the top, and silt will sit in the middle, separating the two.

Another option is to purchase an inexpensive soil testing kit. Simply add the soil sample as instructed and mail it back to the company.

In a few short days, you will have a fully personalized overview of the current soil conditions and how to improve it.

Everything from water level, to nutrient levels and type, will be provided with a full end to end analysis. The best part is that you will also receive recommendations on how to best balance your soil, with what mix of macro and micro nutrients, and how much!

You should also think about testing the pH of your soil as well and water retention rate. A simple meter will be able to do this for you and provide an on-the-spot reading.

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