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A Five Minute DIY Test for Soil Type

By: Dr Gareth Evans - Updated: 28 Sep 2012 | comments*Discuss
 
Lawn Soil Clay Loam Sand Silt Test Easy

As every gardener knows, soil is a major factor in growing anything – and lawn turf is certainly no exception. While just about every book ever written on the subject will bandy about words such as ‘clay’ or ‘loam’, it’s not always quite as easy as some authors might suggest to know just what type of soil you’ve got when you’re actually standing in it, however clear it looks in the illustrations!

If you’ve ever been left confused by the whole topic of soil type, then this five step, five minute test could be just what you’ve been waiting for – and it’s incredibly easy to do.

A Simple Test

  • Step 1 – Collect a small amount of your soil and remove any obvious large particles, stones or gravel that may be present ideally with a sieve, but you can do this by hand if necessary. If the sieved soil seems very dry, moisten it a little, but take care not to over-wet it.
  • Step 2 – Take a little of the soil and look carefully at its appearance. Is it noticeably shiny, or dull?
  • Step 3 – Next roll it between your thumb and forefinger to make a ball, paying attention to what if feels like while you’re doing it. Is it gritty or sticky?
  • Step 4 – Take the soil ball and try to roll it out into a thin sausage, measuring what length it reaches before breaking.
  • Step 5 – If the sausage you’ve just produced is long enough, try bending it round on itself to make a horse-shoe and observe what happens as you do.

Instant Results

For some soil types you’ll find that just by doing these five simple steps you’ll instantly know all you need to know, particularly the more often, and more confident you become doing it. The big give-aways are:

  • Look: a smooth or polished look is typical of a high clay content soil.
  • Feel: gritty soils are usually quite sandy, while sticky ones are either clays or rich in silt.
  • Rolling: this is a surprisingly good guide to the amount of clay in a soil.. If you can’t roll it at all, it doesn’t have much clay in it, and it is almost certain to be more than half made up of sand. If it rolls to 3–5cm it’s around 25 per cent clay, a sausage between 5–9cm clay makes up 40 per cent of the soil, while lengths greater than 9cm indicate at least half of the soil is clay.
  • Bending: A soil sausage which breaks or cracks easily when bent suggests that yours is a silty soil.

More Detailed Results

Although this approach may tell you all you need to know, if you want to get a more precise answer about what type of soil your lawn is sitting on, then this simple key should allow you to work it out in much more detail – and best of all you’ve already done all the work you need. Now it’s just a case of answering a few simple questions, and working through to the result.

1. Did it have a gritty feel?

  • Yes – go to 2.
  • No – go to 4.
2. Did it roll well?
  • Yes – SANDY LOAM.
  • No – go to 3.
3. Did it stain your skin when you handled it?
  • Yes – LOAMY SAND.
  • No – SANDY SOIL.
4. Did it bend without cracking or breaking?
  • Yes – go to 5.
  • No – LOAM.
5. Did it feel a sticky when wet?
  • Yes – CLAY.
  • No – LOAM.

There you are, that’s all there is to it – and with a bit of practice, you’ll soon be comparing different soil samples as if you’ve been doing it all your life.

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