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The Variety of Soil

Gardening is about nourishment. It is about carefully tending to each individual plant and that plant's needs. It's about providing water, sunshine, food and pruning when needed. Gardening is not the simple matter of tossing seeds into the dirt and waiting for something magical to happen. There are many different things you should take into consideration when it comes to planting. Some of these are obvious and include things like exposure to sunlight and temperature.

This article will look at one of the less obvious factors to consider: the different types of soil. There are six main soil types: clay, sand, peat, silt, chalk and loam. Each of these has a different set of advantages and disadvantages, and will yield some plants more successfully than others. Today we will look at each soil type, its advantages and disadvantages, as well as which plants grow best in each.

Clay soil is composed of a minimum 25% clay (usually a lot more), as the name suggests. Clay soil will dry out during hot weather, becoming hard and crumbly, and become thick and compact when exposed to wet conditions. Although it takes a long while for the soil to heat up during spring, once it has it will retain its warmth. Clay soil is very fertile and able to hold water well. Unfortunately, it is unable to drain that same water fast enough. This means that the soil becomes waterlogged very easily. To use clay soil to its full potential, and nurture the best plant growth possible, contain it in a well drained area (such as a hanging basket). Clay soil holds many nutrients, another factor which aids in rewarding growth. Of course, as with any soil, fertiliser or compost can be added to give it an extra boost.

Many Scottish favourites can be grown in clay soil. Three such examples are the Buddleia, commonly known as the Butterfly Bush, Fuchsias and Geraniums. The fire coloured flowers of the Helenium will also bloom brighter when planted in well drained, fertile clay soil.

Next up is sand soil. As the name suggests, this type of soil contains high contents of sand, as well as small amounts of clay. The soil, as we might expect, is gritty to touch and dries out easily in the warm weather. Sand soil does not contain many nutrients and, for the ones it does hold, risks washing them out effortlessly. Furthermore, sand soil has a higher acidic content than we might realise. A tip for lowering the pH level of a soil is mixing it with some lime and grit. While everything described so far may seem disadvantageous, these conditions benefit some plants. Plus, two advantages of sand soils is that they are easily cultivated and warm up quickly.

There are many plants which will thrive in sand soil. Tulips, for example, flourish in well drained, acidic soil (so long as they are regularly watered and exposed to plenty of sunlight). Lavatera, or Tree Mallows, and Snow Drops grow successfully in sand soil too. With Snow Drops, add some fertiliser or compost as they require more nutrients than sand soil will naturally provide.

Peat soil is found commonly all across Scotland. It is made up from decomposed organic matter and, like sand soil, has a very high acid content. Peat soil lacks in some nutrients so it is best supplemented with a good fertiliser or compost. Furthermore, it does not drain well and can become too boggy for many plants. It is still, however, a very useful soil. It heats up fast meaning that, come spring, there is no need to wait outrageous amounts of time before you begin planting.

Heather blossoms successfully in peat soil. There are over 700 species of Heather across the world and many of these grow all over Scotland. A few varieties to try in your own garden are Velvet Knight and Apricot Charm, as well as Fiddler's Gold and Lilac Time. Another plant which has fantastic growth in peat soil is the Rhododendron.

Silt soil is a lot rarer in Scotland than the other soils described in this article. It is well drained, holds moisture and is very easy to cultivate. Furthermore, silt soils contain many of the nutrients required for successful, healthy plant growth. As with any soil, if managed well it can produce some wonderful garden displays. One disadvantage of silt soil is its weak structure. When pressure is applied to the soil it collapses and compacts. The other unfortunate disadvantage is the fact that silt soil is, as stated above, rare in Scotland.

Assuming you were able to purchase some silt soil, there are a number of plants that grow well in it. Two examples of these are the Pharmium, commonly known as the New Zealand Flax, and the Mahonia. The Mahonia grows generally well across all parts of Scotland, with the exception of Orkney and The Shetlands.

The fifth type of soil is chalk soil. Composed mainly of stones, this soil has a high alkaline content and drains very well. Unfortunately, this soil type is renowned for containing little nourishment and being notoriously poor for aiding in overall plant growth. As stated earlier, this can be remedied somewhat by mixing it with a good fertiliser or compost.

Even soils which are known for having poor growth overall have specific plants which thrive when planted in them. No soil is even close to be useless. The Lilac, Lilium Candidum (Madonna Lily) and Dianthus all flourish in chalk soil. The Dianthus in particular will grow well in any soil with a high alkaline content.

The final type of soul is loam soil. It is a soil which takes the best aspects of clay, sand and silt soils but with none of their weaknesses. It is often considered to be the perfect soil. Loam soil retains moisture, warms up quickly and drains well. It does not have the same weather weariness as clay soil either.

Due to the composition of loam soil, almost any plant with thrive when grown in it. The pH level can be altered between batches to allow for completely optimal growth for every plant.

Knowing the differences between all the types of soil is the difference between having a nice garden and a beautiful, blooming paradise. Always pay attention to the individual needs of each plant you intend to grow and, come spring and summer, your neighbours will be jealous due to your perfect garden.Ã?Â

By Dylan Blyth.

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