The soil that you use in your garden will pretty much determine the success of your project, and that’s why we have put together this little guide to teach you more about a type that once you start working with it, you’ll want to keep doing so going forward because it’s so great for growing plants in.
It’s about making sure that it has the different attributes that the plants need in order to give them the best possible conditions. If the soil doesn’t have the necessary nutrients, what is the plant supposed to live off of? At the same time, some plants will have a very hard time growing if their roots are constantly under water, whereas others prefer moist conditions. Do you know what’s the case with the plants in your backyard?
Improving the quality of your existing soil is not that easy, but we’ll take you through everything you need to know, and how you can do it so that it doesn’t ruin your chances of growing vegetables.
What is Loam Soil?
While clay may be a good thing when it comes to making clay roofing tiles, ceramic and other things that will go in a kiln to then either serve a functional or decorative purpose, it is not the best thing when it makes up a large portion of your soil.
That’s where loam differs since it’s mostly compromised of sand and a smaller amount of clay. In addition it also has silt in it. For it to be loam, the weight of the clay usually makes up roughly 20% of the overall mass, although it’s not precisely that. By weight, there’s equally much sand and silt.
There are also different types of loam that don’t follow those exact ratios:
- Silty loam
- Clay loam
- Sandy clay
When a type of soil contains no more than 50% of either sand, silt or clay , that’s when it gets its definition as loam, and some of the benefits include the traditionally high nutrient content as well as ability to contain moisture. Sandy soils generally don’t contain many nutrients, whereas clay soils will have drainage issues.
Understandably, since plants need nutrients, a type of soil that is both good in terms of nutrients and drainage will just be a superior option to go with, and a lot of different varieties of plants will grow significantly better with these conditions.
If it’s low in either organic matter or becomes compacted, it will no longer have as many of its beneficial features.
You can also see soil, where there are equal parts of the 3 components, and the plants will still love it, although it’s obviously not a viable option to go around and check the soil of all the different gardens across the US, these approximations are kind of what you will be looking for.
What Type of Soil is Best for Growing Plants: Plants that Grow in Loam Soil
The material, clay, may be good for certain plants, those that need a lot of water, but its dense nature makes it less ideal for plants that need good drainage. Silt is generally in between sand and clay in terms of its properties, but is also rather compact, again affecting its ability to drain. Vines, grasses and colored flowers traditionally do well with these two soil options.
Which plants do you tend to see in the desert? You probably guessed it – cacti! These don’t need much water or nutrients making them more suitable for sandy soils which drains better. Other drought-lovers include tulips and shrubs. The issue is that most people aren’t just looking to grow those, which is why soil with a mixture of the different properties is far superior.
It should be mentioned that any of the plants that will grow in either clay or sandy soil will traditionally do very well with loam too, their amount of watering simply needs to be adjusted. The other types will simply have problems with either drying out or becoming waterlogged.
Vegetables are plants that both need nutrients and draining, making it the ones benefiting the most from this soil. Read our guide on vegetable gardening also.
There are a bunch of plants benefiting from this, including warm-season crops like tomatoes pumpkins, cucumbers, eggplant, so when you’re planning on growing any of these, make sure your soil’s ready.
Leafy crops will also fare better with this soil composition, although the temperature that they prefer the soil at will be different.
Semihardy crops (such as carrots and beets) need that organic matter to grow, while also benefiting from its draining abilities.
When you’re looking at a plant or vegetable with the growing instructions that it should be planted in moist but well-drained soil, you should know by now what that means.
Loamy Soil is Ideal for Gardening Because it Contains…
You’ve probably guessed it by now, so let’s go on to talk about the smaller things in life. Yes, we’re talking about the particles in the soil. The size of the particles found in the 3 different components aren’t the same, which is what causes the different properties. You’ve probably tried holding sand in your hands, and you’ll easily see that a good amount of it will simply run through your fingers. If you do the same thing with clay, that won’t be the case.
You might have also noticed how a wave at the beach might temporarily change the color of the sand as it gets wet, but that it will quickly start changing color again as the water runs through it. You’re seeing its impressive draining abilities right there.
So which particles would you think are bigger – that of sand or of clay? It turns out it’s actually the particles of sand that are significantly larger, and it doesn’t allow for the same amount of compaction as is the case with clay. Loamy soil will manage to keep the roots moist, while making sure that they aren’t drowned.
So, How Do I Go About Creating Loam For My Garden?
We’ve talked about the different elements that it consists of, and then you might simply be thinking that all you need to do is add sand if you have soil that is high in clay… Well, it’s unfortunately not that simple.
Creating this wonderful material is a lengthy process, and is not something you simply do overnight. You need to take the time to get organic matter into the soil, and that’s in fact a process that will be repeated each year. With additional organic matter, organisms will be attracted, and their work is what actually improves the quality of the soil.
The solution to your situation also depends on the current condition in your garden. Either of the extremes, whether it’s very sandy or very clay, will both require large masses of organic matter to be added to rectify the situation, and it might not even be enough for you to do it once per year. Yikes! Yes, we told you it’s a lengthy project, and you can already now prepare yourself that it’s a project that will need to be repeated year after year.
Don’t fret, most situations won’t be completely unworkable. Generally it will be enough to add 2 inches of organic matter and taking steps to get it into the soil, where a mulch mover can help.
You basically can’t add too much organic matter to it, and the more you add, the better the quality of the soil will also become.
Types of Organic Matter
There are different types of organic matter you can add in order to get the job done. Basically, it contains organic compounds, meaning it’s either animal material or plant material. Here are the most common types:
- Green manure
- Animal manure
- Leaf mold
You can also read our article specifically on composting, since there are a lot of different things that can either help or slow down the process. For example, do you know that turning it can significantly speed up the process?
This added matter will affect the positive micro organisms in the soil, and in turn limit the bad ones.
Using a Tiller
we already told you that improving the soil will be significant work, because it’s better if the matter actually mixes with the soil. This can be done using a rototiller to mix the different materials. Working this organic matter back into the soil will help you get rid of the very sandy soil that you’ve been having, but it’s also clearly a lot of work, as you can see.
What Type Do You Currently Have?
Getting a feeling for what type you currently have shouldn’t be too difficult as you will want to look at the texture of it. You already know what sand is like when you hold it. It goes through your fingers. The opposite, clay, will basically not leave your hands. When you crumble it and it goes through your fingers, you’re in luck!
Consideration During the Whole Process
But wait… There’s more. Yes, you thought you were about done, but there are still things you need to know. While it may be a good idea to work plants back into the soil, it isn’t the case if they’re diseased. Instead, you should simply get rid of it so all those bad things aren’t being reintroduced into the soil.
Besides making sure that it has enough organic material, there’s also the issue of testing the pH value and figure out how the potassium, phosphorus and nitrogen levels are like, since they also play a part in keeping high quality soil.
This is something that can be tested, and those values will also determine the best organic matter you can go with. If the pH level is already too low, you will want to avoid using peat moss.
Where is Loam Found: Topsoil vs Loam Soil
Are you one of those people believing that topsoil is where you will be finding that high quality stuff that will kickstart your plant plans? The topsoil refers to the top 12 inches (maximum) of soil, and it’s also usually the darker layer because of organic matter. It’s also where you will find the undesirable leftovers from gardening too (think chemicals).
However, it’s important to know the difference between the two terms. Topsoil refers to a certain depth of soil, whereas loam refers to the composition with the different materials, not where it’s in fact found. Topsoil, given the organic matters that it usually receives naturally, is where loam will traditionally be, but if the conditions aren’t right, topsoil could also simply heavily constitute of sand. Next time you go out and start buying for your gardening needs, you’ll definitely be impressing an employee or two by knowing the difference in definitions.
Can You Buy Loam Soil?
You can surely buy high quality soil, but the issue is that you don’t quite know what you’re getting. It might seem easy to simply go out and buy it off the shelves, but that doesn’t necessarily ensure that you’re getting high quality loam. Soil quality does not have a standard, making it kind of a bet whether or not you’re actually getting what it is you want.
Where do the hardware stores get their soil from? You’ll probably be surprised to hear that it often comes from excavated sites, meaning if construction is going on, and there’s a lot of soil left over from preparing it for a foundation, then that’s often what’s being resold. Needless to say, that’s not necessarily what actually makes for the best soil for your yard if you have garden ambitions.
Because there’s no standard that’s being used, what you will need to do is actually to rely on the information provided by the company, meaning you’ll need to look into them and their reputation. If the soil that’s being brought in, that you spent money on, isn’t better or in fact worse than the one you already have, then you’re now even further behind in the project than you were previously. We’re not saying that all the different companies will provide bad product, but it’s hard to tell the quality ones from the ones that will basically just sell you anything they have.
We never said it would be easy but with hard work and dedication, you can definitely improve the quality of the soil in your garden.
If you’re curious for more gardening information, we also put together this guide with tips on making gardening really easy.