Identify your soil type
Acid or alkaline?
A simple pH test with a shop-bought kit will tell you whether your soil is acid or alkaline. Both are capable of producing healthy plants – the trick is to grow the plants that like your conditions, and if you are on chalk and must have rhododendrons and camellias, grow them in pots of lime-free ericaceous compost and water with rainwater. What’s the texture?
Sandy or gravelly soil will feel gritty when it is run through your fingers and dries out rapidly after rainfall, making cultivation easy. But it quickly loses nutrients, so adding bulky organic matter regularly is vital to hold on to both water and nutrients.
Clay soil binds together in clods when dry, and when it is wet it will reveal a polished surface when rubbed. Squeeze it into a ball and it will remain tight. It is fertile and retains water. Clay with flints is particularly hard to cultivate.
Loam – every gardener’s ideal – has a moderate clay content so that when it is damp it will hold together when squeezed into a ball, but the ball can be easily crumbled and broken apart. Peaty soils from the fens tend to be dark, almost black, and will be springy when squeezed. Adding sharp sand and grit improves their drainage.
Clay soil sticks together and makes it difficult for air to get to plant roots