How To Evaluate The Texture Of Your Soil In 3 Simple Steps

Discover the easiest way to gauge the texture of your soil for next season.

September 12, 2016
soil Photograph by funnyangel/Shutterstock

Soil texture—the relative proportion of sand, silt, and clay particles—is one factor in soil’s ability to provide a healthy environment for roots. Soils that contain more than 40 percent clay, the smallest mineral particles, are easily compacted and often lack pore spaces. Here’s a simple way to gauge the texture of your garden soil.

Related: 10 Easy Soil Tests

(Whether you're starting your first garden or switching to organic, Rodale’s Basic Organic Gardening has all the answers and advice you need—get your copy today!)

soil sample
Gather A Sample

Dig a representative sample from the top eight inches of soil. You might wish to dig soil from several spots in your garden and mix them in a bucket. Remove stones, roots, mulch, and other chunks of organic matter. Break up clods.

Related: What To Do If Your Soil Is Too Alkaline

liquefying soil sample
Liquefy Your Soil

Put about two inches of soil in a straight-sided, flat-bottomed quart jar. Add one teaspoon of powdered dishwasher detergent to help disperse the soil particles. Add water to within two inches of the top. Screw on the lid tightly and shake the jar for five minutes or until the soil is thoroughly liquefied.

Place the jar in a spot where it can remain undisturbed for several days. After one minute, use a wax pencil to mark the level of sediment in the jar; this represents the sand in the soil sample. Make a second mark after one hour; the sediment between the two lines is silt. Clay particles will settle to the bottom last and can take up to a week. Some organic material may remain floating after all the mineral particles have settled out.

measuring a jar of soil
Measure Your Sample

Use a ruler to measure the depth of sand, silt, and clay, as well as the total soil depth in the jar. If the silt layer has become more compressed as the clay settles, measure by observing the slight variations in color instead of the wax pencil marks. Use the measurements to calculate the percentage of each soil component by dividing each particle depth by the total soil depth.

Related: 5 Ways Home Gardeners Can Make A More Robust Soil