What kind of garden soil do I have? The 3 most important soil types at a glance

Last updated on October 23rd, 2023 at 08:16 pm

Recognize the different types of soil and know which plants grow best where

In order for the plants in your garden to grow well, it is important to know what kind of garden soil you have. Depending on the composition, the properties of the soil types differ and determine the quality of the soil. We explain what types of soil there are, how you can recognize them and what plants grow where.

Soil is not just soil

Our garden soils are made up of quite a few ingredients. On the one hand, there is an enormous number of microorganisms and microorganisms that ensure an active soil life. And then there are the soil crumbs themselves, which are formed mainly from humus, sand, silt and clay.

What kind of garden soil do I have? The 3 most important soil types at a glance

The ratio of these components to each other determines the properties of the soil types and which plants grow well there. Roughly, soils can be divided into light, medium and heavy.

Some like it light: sandy soils

Light soils contain a lot of sand (so-called “sandy soils”) and tend to be low in nutrients. They are also often quite acidic, which not all plants like. Sandy soils are usually airy loose, but hold little water and dry out quickly. However, this can be counteracted by adding humus in the form of compost, lime or clay.

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Mulching is also highly recommended for sandy soils. We have prepared a great guide to mulching for you – you can find it here. You can safely do without mineral fertilizer, because it is washed out by the rain again quite quickly and only pollutes deeper soil layers and the groundwater.

Recognizing sandy soil

How do we recognize sandy soil? Quite simply – if you squeeze a handful of it, nothing sticks to your fingers and immediately falls apart again. The pH value of sandy soil is usually between 5.3 and 5.7. How you can determine the pH value is also summarized further down in the article. On such soils especially weak growers like most garden herbs feel well. Strawberries also love acidic and sandy soils.

What kind of garden soil do I have? The 3 most important soil types at a glance
In the right garden soil, the plants thrive particularly lush and healthy

Medium-heavy soils contain a lot of clay and silt (very fine grains). Such soils usually store water very well, are somewhat denser than sandy soils, but still sufficiently loose. They also contain enough nutrients, and you only need to add lime or compost as needed, depending on pH and planting.

How to recognize a medium-heavy soil

When you squeeze it in your hand, it shapes well, but falls apart relatively quickly. Medium-heavy or loamy soils usually have a pH between 6 and 7. Most plants thrive here and weak growers very rarely need additional nutrients. If you are growing heavy growers such as tomatoes or cabbage varieties in medium-heavy soils, additional compost is often sufficient.

Clay in clay: The heavy garden soil

Heavy soils contain a lot of clay and thus store a lot of water. However, you should know that clay consists of very fine particles, which release water only with difficulty and it is therefore not fully available to the roots. Consequently, such soils are also not particularly permeable and carry the risk of waterlogging. They are also slow to warm up, which is why it is essential to wait for permanently frost-free weather for planting in the spring.

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Recognizing heavy soil

You can recognize a clayey soil very quickly by the fact that it can be kneaded and shaped wonderfully and sticks everywhere. If you have such soil in your garden, it is not the end of the world! There are, of course, a few things you can do to help your plants thrive in heavy soil.

To loosen the heavy clay soil

Dig it up properly in the fall, the frost lets the stored water tear and thus loosens the soil as if by itself. Before you sow in spring, you should hoe the soil well and make it more permeable by adding sand and humus. A layer of mulch is also highly recommended here, as it is helpful in preventing waterlogging. Heavy or clay soils often have a higher pH (at least 6.9) than clay soils and are rich in nutrients. In these types of soil, cauliflower and cabbage in general, pumpkins and other high-growth crops are particularly happy.

Medium growers like carrots are most comfortable in medium-heavy soils, but will tolerate sandy soils.

The right pH value in the garden soil

The correct pH plays a major role in healthy plant growth. There are different ways to determine this. Since other factors, such as agricultural land in the vicinity can also influence the pH value through overfertilization, it makes sense to determine it in advance.

Alkaline or acidic? Determining the pH of your garden soil

To first determine whether your soil is more acidic or more alkaline, there is a very simple trick. All you need are two cups, distilled water, baking soda and vinegar. In one cup you fill the water and dissolve a packet of baking soda in it. In the other cup you put the vinegar.

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We now have an acidic liquid and an alkaline solution in front of us. Now take a handful of soil and put some in each cup. If the vinegar starts to foam, the soil is alkaline. However, if the baking soda solution starts to fizz, it is acidic soil. If nothing happens at all, the soil is in a neutral state and therefore perfectly suitable for almost all plants.

However, if you want to know exactly, there are test strips or soil testers in the garden center with which you can determine the exact value and thus the type of soil.


  • James Jones

    Meet James Jones, a passionate gardening writer whose words bloom with the wisdom of an experienced horticulturist. With a deep-rooted love for all things green, James has dedicated his life to sharing the art and science of gardening with the world. James's words have found their way into countless publications, and his gardening insights have inspired a new generation of green thumbs. His commitment to sustainability and environmental stewardship shines through in every article he crafts.