By Jim Ryan

There are a bewildering array of elements to bear in mind when you areseeking to establish your garden, however, what we have found in our experience is that one of the most overlooked is exactly what type of soil your garden is made up of. This is a key fundamental of gardening. Put quite simply, the elements contained within your soil will make it either one of the following. Heavy, which will make the soil seem very wet and poorly drained, or light which, obviously means the reverse is true. Light soil tends to be dry and will drain effectively. This will ultimately determine what types of plants or shrubs will thrive and continue to bloom when planted in it.

To establish the chemical nature of your soil you would use the PH scale, something I am sure you are aware of, we all remember our school days waiting for the litmus paper to turn blue during those interminable science lessons. The Ph scale goes from 1-14. Below 7 (neutral), soils are progressively acid or 'Lime Free' and above neutral they are progressively alkaline (limy). You can establish what type of soil you have just by looking at the colour, feeling the texture, and observing what type of plants will grow on it or you may also do a soil test using one of the many kits that are commercially available. The best advice however, is to take a sample and visit your favourite garden centre, where your exact soil type can be established.


What you will find with heavy clay is that the tiny clay particles stick together, making this type of soil very slow draining, especially after a heavy rain shower. It also becomes very sticky and is likely to bake rock hard in dry sun. Heavy clay can be extremely fertile and can of course be improved by putting in a decent draining system, or by adding some coarse organic matter. Heavy clay can be a total nightmare to work with, as anybody who has tried to dig out a pond in high summer can attest to.


As you can imagine this type is the complete opposite of heavy clay. The sand particles are larger than the clay molecules, making sandy soil beautifully light, free draining, and quick to warm up in the spring sunshine. Some plants or shrubs may need a little more irrigation and feeding, although this can be improved by adding compost or other types of organic matter.

Lime- Free (Acidic)

You may often hear it referred to as peaty, lime free soils are fairly dark in appearance and seem to be rich in organic matter. This type of soil is acidic in nature and will retain moisture quite easily, however, it can be made to be more free draining simply by adding some coarse sand.

Alkaline Or Limy Soil Types

The exact opposite of lime free soil types would be the limy or alkaline soils. These soils tend to quite chalky, and will often be quite pale to look at. They will also be chock full of stones or rock particles. Free draining, they will warm up quite quickly in spring, and are moderately fertile. Like sandy soils they will really benefit from the addition of some type of organic matter.

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