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Simple Soil Test

Most people think knowing your soil’s pH is the most important thing you need to know. It is only part of what you need to know about your soil. Finding out what type of soil you have is the first thing you should do. Following is a simple test to determine the texture of your soil.


Collect some soil from the area you wish to plant in, about 250g. You will need to do a test for each area you wish to grow plants in as soil type does change throughout your property. Place the soil into a bowl, remove any sticks and vegetation. Wet the soil. You need enough water to make a damp mud pie. Mix well but don’t over mix. Grab a handful of the mud and scrunch it in your hand. Gently mould it into a sausage shape. Next step is what will determine you soil type. Carefully bend the soil to form a circle. You will notice one of the following will happen:

  • If the sausage of soil can be formed into a circle without crumbling, you have clay soil.

  • If the sausage of soil crumbles, you have sandy soil.

  • If the sausage of soil hold together but can’t be bent, you have loam.

Clay Soil

Clay soil is actually is very rich in nutrients and hold water well. The problem is that it is prone to compaction and waterlogging. This makes it very hard for a lot of plants to access the soil’s nutrients.


Working with Clay Soil

  • Never work clay soil when it is wet.

  • Add organic matter (compost, mulch, manure) and lots of it. It will take a couple of years to see an improvement, so you need to be patient. However, adding organic matter to your soil will be something everyone regardless of soil type never stops doing.

  • Mulch (around 5 to 7cm deep) with organic matter eg sugar cane mulch.

  • Applying gypsum to damp not wet soil. Gypsum is a natural substance; it will bind the small clay soil particles creating larger soil particles. This will allow for better draining soil particles. This process will need to be repeated over a few years.

  • Grow comfrey. You can get both tall and dwarf varieties. I have both. The dwarf is very pretty and is perfect for most garden styles. Mine grows around the base of my roses. The roots from the comfrey plant go deep down into the soil and break up the compacted soil. Click here to read more about comfrey.

  • Right plant, right spot. Select plants that are happy to grow in clay soil.

  • Raised beds are an option to consider.

Sandy Soil

The biggest problem with sandy soil is that it does not retain moisture and they are low in nutrients.


Working with Sandy Soil

  • Add organic matter (compost, mulch, manure) and lots of it. It will take a couple of years to see an improvement, so you need to be patient. However, adding organic matter to your soil will be something everyone regardless of soil type never stops doing.

  • Mulch (around 5 to 7cm deep) with organic matter eg sugar cane mulch.

  • Right plant, right spot. Select plants that are happy to grow in sandy soil, many Australian natives enjoy these conditions.

  • Raised beds are an option to consider.

Loam Soil

If you have loam soil, you have horticulture gold! Most Australian loam soils are a combination with either clay or sand. Mine is loamy clay. This means that my soil is mainly loam with some clay. All you need to do with loam soil is keep adding organic matter such as compost, mulch and manures.


In my garden I have both chicken and ducks. The chicken house has sugar cane mulch in their nesting boxes. Every week or two I remove the sugar cane mulch and add it directly to my garden as a very fine layer of mulch. I work around the garden so that by the time I get back to the starting point the old mulch has broken down.


The water from the duck pond is used as a liquid fertiliser which I apply directly to the plants.


Remember this is a simple soil test. There are other tests you can do that will give you a more detailed result.


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