That grilled salmon fillet or strawberry and banana smoothie to us is soil to your plants. And like humans, plants need the proper nutrients from healthy food to grow up big and strong.
Soil can be broken down into five types: clay, sand, silt, peat and chalk, and each has its own characteristics.
Clay has the smallest particle makeup of all the soils, and is like a camel when it comes to storing water. Because of these characteristics, clay does an excellent job at holding a tight grip on plant nutrients, but it also means air has a hard time passing through often leaving your plants gasping for air, and the soil taking longer to warm up.
Sand is to clay, as a Monday in the office is to a Friday in the office—polar opposite. Because of its large particle size, sand warms up fast in the spring, but water escapes it and rapidly steals nutrients as it goes, making it hard for plants to snatch any.
Silt is sort of the jack-of-all-trades in the soil world, and is reminiscent of Goldilocks. Thanks to medium-sized particles, it holds some water but not too much, and does a good job at holding onto nutrients while also warming up relatively quickly.
Peat has a darker look to it, and a damp and spongy feel. This soil heats up quickly in the spring and can hold large amounts of water, but it decomposes slowly which yields fewer nutrients. For plants, peaty soil is comparable to us eating only one or two meals a day.
Chalky soil is often derived from chalk or limestone, resulting in a soil that is shallow, stony and free draining. Organic matter also decomposes rapidly making it a challenge to keep any form of plant life alive.
What’s the best type for growing a garden? None—on its own, that is. The ideal soil composition is right around 40 percent sand, 40 percent silt and 20 percent clay—a perfect storm known as loam. Loam combines the best from all three worlds for a result that drains well, breathes and is packed with nutrients.
If your soil falls short of this magical composition, do not fret. The answer to this problem is an easy one—organic matter. If your soil were Popeye, the addition of leaves or undecomposed manure would be like giving it a can of spinach to transform it into a nutrient powerhouse.