Soil 101

Learn which soil is right for your plant! 

Written by Natalie Anstey

 In This Article:

Different types of soil have different properties and nutritional value, meaning the type of soil used for your plant can make or break the success of its overall growth and maintenance. 

There are multiple types of soil, with there being six main categories: clay, sand, silt, chalk, loam, and peat. You can mix and match the ratios, but knowing the right mixtures is key to your plant's health. 

The best way to figure out the right soil type for your plant is by becoming a Flora Plus member. You'll get access to recommended soil type and potting mixtures, making sure all of your plants from the philodendrons to the roses get what's best for them!

Chart of different soil compositions and their ratio of components.

Clay soil is best for plants in need of firm roots

Clay soil is a popular choice for many a plant parent because it is fairly fertile and holds water well. Being that this soil type is so dense, it also does a wonderful job at securing a plant's root system in place, as well as maintaining nutrients for longer. 

On the other hand, some gardeners balk at the idea of clay soil due to the density of the medium. Being that clay is so heavy, plants with more delicate root structures, such as vegetables like arugula and onions, have a harder time breaking through the clay.

Clay soil also can prove to be problematic for some plants for a number of other reasons. Those reasons being it struggles to warm up in the spring, does not drain easily, and compacts quickly in wet weather. It can also bake and crack in the summer and can be hard work to cultivate and dig over.  

Plants that grow well in clay soil include: roses, fuchsias, climbing hydrangeas, birch lady’s mantel

Rule of (Green) Thumb: Adding manure to your clay is an excellent way of adding nutrients the soil. However, make sure the manure is at least 2 years old; fresh manure will burn roots and leaves.

Sandy soil is great for drainage

Sandy soil is a light, free draining soil that is easily compactible and super easy to dig. Plants with sturdy root systems, such as Mediterranean plants like the cyclamen, love sandy soil as it replicates that of its natural habitat. 

When using sandy soil though, you will likely need to incorporate some nutrient dense supplements such as manure or compost, because this soil tends to be low in nutrients. It's also worth noting that this type of soil can be quite acidic, so it is worth testing with a soil pH kit to ensure optimal conditions for your plant.

Plants that grow well in sandy soil: lavender, rosemary, hollyhocks, eucalyptus, conifers

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Silt soil is the more nutrient-dense counterpart to sandy soil

Silt is very similar to sandy soil in that it is light and airy, and easy to cultivate and dig, with the extra bonus of being more nutrient rich. Silt soil also has less free drainage so it holds the water better than its sandy counterpart. This type of soil is great for agricultural use, and many vegetables can benefit from its properties. 

However, silt soil can compact very easily, leaving water to remain trapped in the soil. This can lead to poor root growth, so be mindful of watering when using silt. 

Plants that grow well in silt soil: roses, buddleja, hostas, hardy geraniums, 

Chalky soil is perfect to alkaline loving plants

Chalky soil is a free draining soil that tends to dry out rather quicky. Chalk can be fertile, but because it is usually high in lime, it tends to be very alkaline, making chalk a good mixture for plants like rosemary and several sempervivum species. 

Due to the high alkalinity, it is recommended to add organic matter to chalk in order to add nutrients to the soil.

Plants that grow well in chalky soil: poppies, cornflowers, chamomile, ivy, apple trees

Rule of (Green) Thumb: If you're unsure if your current soil has chalk in it,  you can pour a little vinegar in the soil to see if it froths. If it does, there's chalk present!

Loamy soil is the holy grail of soil 

Loam is a free-draining mixture of clay, sand, and silt, so it is high in nutrients and easy to cultivate. Most plants will grow and thrive in a loamy soil, so it's a safe option for almost any garden. 

That isn't to say loam couldn't stand an extra boost; it is best to add organic matter or a soil improver to your mixture to optimize your plant's growing conditions. 

Plants that grow well in loamy soil: Madagascar dragon trees, wisteria, delphiniums, honeysuckle, most fruit and vegetables

Peat soil is a perfect ingredient to a soil mixture 

Peat soil is rarely found in gardens as a stand-alone soil base, but is rather mixed in with compost or topsoil. It is very high in nutrients and typically  very cheap, which is why it is so popular. It is great at adding air circulation to the soil and holds moisture relatively well. 

Peat does tend to err on the more acidic side, so be conscious of your plant's particular needs when using peat in your potting mix. 

Plants that grow well in peat soil: rhododendrons, azaleas, heather camellia, birch trees, fir trees

Rule of (Green) Thumb: You can add organic matter or compost to almost any soil mixture to give an added nutrient boost.

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