Good soil is the foundation of any beautiful garden. At Alair Homes, we believe that by understanding the soil in your yard, you can determine the right plants to ensure your garden will thrive. The following are a few simple tests you can do to get a better idea of the structure and chemistry of your soil.

Sand, Silt, and Clay

All soil contains a combination of sand, silt, and clay. The best mixture is roughly 40 percent sand, 20 percent silt, and 40 percent clay. This composition, referred to as loam, provides optimal moisture retention, drainage, and structure for plants. Sandy soil is coarse and drains moisture very quickly. Silt is usually found near rivers, streams, and floodplains. This soil is very fertile and has a smooth texture that does not stick to your fingers. Clay is composed of tiny particles that tend to stick together, which provides for poor drainage. A simple way to determine the composition of your soil is to squeeze a handful of damp soil between your fingers. If the soil clumps together and retains its shape when you open your fingers, you most likely have clay. If the soil simply falls through your fingers, you have sandy soil. Soil with a high nutrient content will have a slightly crumbly texture that is similar to cornbread.

Infiltration Rate

The next step is to determine how well your soil drains. This will help you determine if you should look for drought-resistant plants or plants that survive in poorly draining soil. The following is a simple test you can do to determine your soil’s infiltration rate:

-Dig a one-foot-deep hole and fill it with water.

-Record the time it takes for the water to drain completely. Use a tape measure to determine how many inches drain away per hour.

Ideally, you will have an infiltration rate of two inches per hours. If your rate is one inch per hour or less, you have poorly draining soil. If the rate is faster than 2 inches per hour, you have drought-prone soil.

Look Around

Observe your yard for signs of potential soil or drainage issues:

-Ponding is usually a sign of soil compaction indicating the presence of clay. For these areas, choose plants that can thrive in water-logged soil.

-If you notice erosion and bare spots on slopes, look for ground cover plants that will colonize and help hold the soil in place.

-Cracking soil usually indicates the presence of clay, and you should look for clay-tolerant plants.

Know Your Soil’s pH

The pH balance of the soil affects how plants absorb nutrients. The pH scale ranges from zero to 14. A pH of 6.5 to 7.0 is considered neutral. Acidic soil will have a lower number, and alkaline soil will have a higher number. Arid climates tend to have alkaline soil while the soil in rainy areas tends to be more acidic. You can test the pH of your soil by purchasing an inexpensive testing kit at your local hardware store.

Finally, if you live in an urban area, it is a good idea to submit a soil sample to your county extension office to determine if it contains lead. Lead in the soil does not prohibit you from gardening, but you will have to take some precautions.