Knowing your soil type can be crucial to planning out the planting in your garden. The soil provides your plants with nutrients, water and air that they need for healthy growth and development, but depending on the plot of ground, that can determine what plants, shrubs or trees can grow their successfully.
3 Step System to Test Your Soil
- Dig a hole 6 to 10 inches deep in the soil.
- Separate an intact section about the size of a soup can and break it apart with your fingers.
- Determine whether the soil is cloddy, powdery or granular (ideally your soil should be made up of different sized crumbs that hold their shape under slight pressure).
- Known as heavy soil (sticky when wet, rock hard when dry).
- Feels smooth (not gritty) between the fingers.
- Drains slowly after rain.
- Takes a long time to warm up in spring.
- Heavy to dig and cultivate.
- Usually rich in plant nutrients.The following plants are well-adapted to clay soils:
This shrub is an underrated evergreen shrub for clay soil. The opening of its flowers announce the end of winter and its white flowers (pink in bud) provide a pretty backdrop for a border in early spring. Dense, compact growth make this a useful plant for screening off a view and creating a feeling of enclosure in the garden.
A sweetly scented honeysuckle is a true summer treat and this species of honeysuckle will grow well on clay soil. A scented climber is always a memorable plant, the perfume easy to access, especially if you grow it by your front door. The variety ‘Serontina’ has flowers that display a vivid deep red colouring.
This evergreen perennial produces spires of pink or red flowers in spring. The leaves (the ‘elephant’s ears’) are tinged with red in winter. A good plant for ground cover, it looks at its best planted in a block because the flowers have more impact in big numbers. A very tough plant for clay soil and tolerant of partial shade too.
- Add Organic Matter (compost, aged manure) – this helps improve drainage, lighten heavy soil and adds nutrients. Before planting in spring add the organic matter to the soil with a 2-3 inch layer.
- Build Raised Beds – As clay soil holds water, raised beds can improve drainage by encouraging water to run off.
- Mulch Beds over Winter – Mulch with organic matter during the growing season and winter to help protect the soil from compaction and minimize weed growth.
Sandy soil is the largest particle in soil and does not hold nutrients well.
- High proportion of sand and little clay.
- Drains quickly after rain or watering.
- Easy to work and cultivate.
- Warm up quicker in spring than clay soils.
- Low in nutrients – very acidic.
The following plants are well-adapted to sandy soils:
There are an incredible diversity of Sedums available. They are succulents, so by nature they are adapted to dry, sandy soil. Most are ground covers that make great rock garden plants. There is also a taller variety called Autumn Joy that is a good choice for its extremely late bloom.
Giant Alliums will perform well year after year in sandy soil with little care, making them a great choice for a semi-naturalized meadow planting. Alliums are an easy to grow, very distinctive late spring and early summer flowering bulb, being very showy when planted in beds, borders or rock gardens.
One of Britain’s most beautiful and popular summer flowering shrubs. Buddleia (Butterfly Bush) is an excellent choice for sandy soils, since they can adapt to most soil types. These upright deciduous shrubs are a wildlife haven. Their tubular, fragrant flowers are a superb way of attracting butterflies and bees into the garden.
- Prepare planting sites with moisture-retentive, well-rotted organic matter (farm manure, compost or leaf mould).
- When planting in spring, incorporate a slow-release fertilizer.
- Water thoroughly and regularly during dry periods.
- Ideal soil for gardening.
- Mainly organic matter.
- Feels spongy.
- Very fertile and hold moisture well.
- Easily compacts.
The following plants are well-adapted to peaty soils:
A fragrant and effective and colourful mixture of summer flowering Heathers offer an increasing superb display every year. This beautiful and colourful ground cover not only adds beauty to the garden but can help cut down on the weeding too.
Nothing is more beautiful than an Azalea shrub in spring bloom and can be grown in nearly any garden. Azalea Tunis is a highly fragrant deciduous variety which has gigantic red flowers boasting long, decorative stamens. The blazing red, showy flowers are truly a sight to behold on a sunny spring day.
Shrubs such as Witch Hazel do particularly well when planted in peaty soils. Our exotic collection of three Chinese Witch Hazel is the perfect way to breathe some life and colour back into the winter garden. These deciduous, winter flowering shrubs produce clusters of sweetly scented, crinkled flowers in a range of fiery shades.
- Blend peat soil with rich organic matter, compost and lime to reduce the acidity.
- Even mix of sand, silt and clay.
- Feels fine-textured and slightly damp.
- Adequate drainage, great structure and moisture retaining.
- Easily cultivated and full of nutrients.
- Ideal soil all year round.
The following plants are well-adapted to loamy soils:
A vigorous climbing plant. Wisteria looks particularly effective when trained over a bare wall or pergola, making it a superb feature plant, and its exquisite aroma make it particularly attractive to bees and butterflies. Our ‘Multijuga’ variety produces delicate trailing clusters of highly fragrant lilac flowers from May through to September.
One of the earliest flowering varieties, this lovely shrub will produce an abundance of rose-purple blooms as early as February and throughout March. For a truly stunning effect plant above a carpet of dainty white Snowdrops, which will flower around the same time.
These daisy-like flowers are one of the most familiar and renowned of all the Anemones White Splendour is excellent for naturalising in areas with full sun or partial shade. They bear large, pure white flowers with a pink flushed reverse in spring and will produce a superb carpet of white if left to multiply over the years to come.
- Maintain its fertility with regular dressings of manure or compost.
- Feels soft and soapy.
- Fertile and drain fairly well.
- Rich in nutrients.
- Hold more moisture than sandy soils.
- Easily compacted.
The following plants are well-adapted to silty soils:
These spring-flowering bulbs are well-suited for silty soil. There is nothing to match the breath-taking sight of a sweeping carpet of snowdrops, a marvellous herald of spring. Galanthus Woronowii is a giant white snowdrop with green markings. It’s beautiful nodding honey scented flower heads appear as early as January.
Hellebore is a group of flowering perennials that are well-suited to the moist, well-draining conditions of silty soil. These fine Hellebore Orientalis Mixed produce pretty bowl shaped flowers in February to March in an array of hues, some will be spotted within. When left undisturbed, they can produce expanding clumps of evergreen foliage.
Moisture-loving trees such as Dogwood perform well in silty soils. Cornus Midwinter Fire stays true to its namesake, slowly revealing brilliant flame-coloured stems as the leaves fall away. Shoots begin a yellow-orange, with the tips turning a brilliant red as the season goes on, giving the shrub a flaming look.
- Add an inch of organic matter (compost, decaying sawdust, or wood shavings) yearly, then add organic fertilizers and then cover with a further 2-3 inches of mulch.
- Avoid compaction – minimize walking on garden beds or consider planting on raised beds.
- Silty soil has a tendency to become waterlogged – avoid overwatering.
- Lumps of white chalk or flint stones are visible in the soil.
- Either ‘heavy’ or ‘light’ depending if the soil mixed with the chalk is clay or sand.
- Very alkaline.
- Largely made up of calcium carbonate.
The following plants are well-adapted to chalky soils:
Trees and shrubs such as Mock Orange perform beautifully in chalky soils. The heady fragrance of the beautiful ‘Belle Etoile’ is a fantastic addition to the summer border. This Mock Orange, prized for its citrusy scent presents an abundance of single, pure white flowers through late spring and early summer.
Lilacs are perfect shrubs that will thrive even in chalky soils. The delicious fragrant flowers of lilac are not to be missed in the garden in spring and they are one of the season’s best cut flowers. Lilacs can become very big plants so the best place to plant them is at the back of a border or at the perimeter of the garden.
Lavender thrives in soils that are sandy, chalky or alkaline. A beautiful option for the summer garden is a traditional evergreen fragrant Lavender, Lavender Hidcote. Producing an abundance of purple-lilac coloured flowers in July through to September, they enjoy the free-draining soil provided by chalky soils. Grow them in full sun to get the best from them.
- Break up the chalk to a depth of 30 inches so that plant roots can spread out and establish.
- Add plenty of well-rotted organic matter (compost, composted green waste or manure) to improve the soil.
- Attention to watering will be required for a longer period than other soil types.