What Is Soil?

Gardening, Home & Family
on January 15, 2012

The National Resource Conservation Center claims the following about soil: Soil contains natural materials and is made up of solids (minerals and organic matter), liquid and gases found on land surfaces. Soil consists of layers that are distinct from the surface it covers. Its main purpose is to provide nutrients to plants. The top of the soil layer is called top soil, and it is what most people think of when they think of soil.

What makes soil? The three main ingredients in soil are sand, silt and clay. How the soil feels and its texture depends on how much of each is in the soil. Sand is the largest soil particle, is rough and does not hold many nutrients. The smallest particle in soil is clay, which is smooth when dry and sticky when wet. The more clay the soil has, the heavier it is. Clay holds a lot of nutrients, but it does not allow air and water through very well. Silt particle size lies somewhere between sand and clay. Silt is smooth and powdery when dry and smooth but not sticky when wet. Premium soil contains more silt than sand and clay.

[MORE: Test your soil! Soil Testing 101]

What type of soil is in the back yard? Soil types vary from region to region and even from back yard to back yard. The best way to determine common soil types in your region is to talk to your local agriculture extension service agent, experienced gardener or farmer. Determine your soil type by doing the following. Take a handful of moist soil and squeeze it. If it holds its shape and crumbles with a light poke, you have an excellent silty soil. If it holds its shape even when poked, you have soil consisting mainly of clay. If it falls apart when you open your hand, your soil is sandy.