Loam is the best type of soil for your garden or landscape. It feels loose and crumbly in your hand and its dark color tells you that it is filled with nutrients for your plants.
On average, loam consists of 40% sand, 40% silt, and 20% clay. Those numbers can vary, but you get the general idea. This mix of different sized materials provides plenty of spaces for roots, water, air, and garden tools to move through. Loam is easy to till and it contains more accessible nutrients, water, and organic material than sand or clay. Loam is just porous enough, providing excellent drainage and water infiltration rates. Loam is the stuff of gardeners’ dreams. And you can make it happen in your garden.
Start where you are
You can’t get somewhere else if you don’t know where you are. Start improving your soil by learning more about what it contains now. This is done with a lab-based soil test and a DIY ribbon test. I wish I could say that those colorful plastic over-the-counter soil tests worked, but they don’t. Not well enough, anyway. Send a sample to a local lab. It’s one of the best things you can do for your garden.
Next, you can conduct a ribbon test to see how much loam is already present. This is a simple test that costs nothing.
It is a good idea to use several different samples to get a more accurate feel for your soil. [Sorry, I couldn’t resist!] If you cannot form a ribbon, your soil is predominantly sand. If your ribbon is longer than 1.5”, you have clay. If your ribbon is less than 1.5” long, you have loam.
In the soil textural triangle, you will see several different types of loam. Each type is described according to the presence of more sand, silt, or clay. Those types are called clay loam, sandy clay loam, sandy loam, silty clay loam, silty loam, and simply loam.
How to build loam
Your soil is the result of ancient bedrock beneath your feet, weather conditions, and hundreds of other variables you have no control over. Changing soil texture does not happen overnight, but there are several steps you can take to improve your soil’s texture. And there is one thing you should never do: if you have clay soil, do not add sand. You will simply create a bigger problem that looks and feels a lot like concrete. Instead, use these tips to improve your soil:
Each of these actions increase the amount of organic material in your soil. Organic material (living things and dead things) are what makes your soil nutrient rich and friable. These steps need to be done on a regular basis. The wood chips, compost, and other materials will eventually break down and become nutrients that are attached to soil particles and absorbed by your plants.
Every 3 to 5 years, send out soil samples for testing, to see just how well your soil is improving!
You can grow a surprising amount of food in your own yard. Ask me how!