Landscaping Tips for Different Soil Types

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Lawn & Garden

If your yard becomes a pond after a rainfall, it is time to consider landscaping to enhance drainage, improve the appearance of your home, and maintain your land. This article will provide you with information on the three basic soil types, as well as irrigation, plants, and erosion that are specific to each type. Whether you are concerned about preventing floods or erosion, continue reading to learn how to landscape your soil type effectively.

Before delving into the topic, it is important to understand soil types. There are three primary types of soil: clay, sand, and loam. To work with soil, you must first understand its composition. Loam is the easiest and best soil to work with because it is a combination of clay, silt, sand, and organic matter. This provides the richest soil with the most diverse combination of materials. Clay holds water for too long, and sand does not hold water for long enough, which can limit your landscaping options. Loam balances out the soil by holding the proper amount of water while also incorporating silt and organic matter. Clay and sand can be enhanced by adding organic matter, such as yard clippings, straw, and manure (after it has been composted). The darker the soil, the more nutrient-rich, fertile, and balanced it is. Loam is the most nutrient-rich, fertile, and balanced soil, and it can be identified by its almost black appearance in farmland.

Although you may not be fortunate enough to have loam soil in your backyard, you are not limited to a desolate wasteland. Continue reading to learn how to irrigate your specific soil type and achieve a fantastic backyard.

Soil Types and Landscape Irrigation

Soil is a layer of earth comprising organic matter and air pockets. The size of the organic bits determines the soil type. Sandy soil is made of large particles, clay soil is composed of very small bits, and loam is a medium build that includes silt. Regardless of your soil type or what you are growing, your lawn must be watered until there is no more runoff. This requires roughly two inches of water each week, or enough to penetrate 8 to 10 inches (20 to 25cm) into the soil. If you have sandy soil, which drains quickly, you may need to water it more often to ensure that roots are reached. Automatic sprinklers, which can run frequently for short periods, are ideal for this soil type, as are drip-line systems, which provide a consistent amount of water and eliminate runoff. Adding organic matter to soil also helps it retain moisture.

If you have clay soil, watering needs to be spaced out as this type of soil holds water well but doesn’t drain easily. You can use hose watering to control watering times and visually check soil saturation, or try the easy drip-line method. Be careful not to overwater, as too much water can cause the roots to drown by preventing air from reaching them. When working with clay soils, it’s important to monitor the soil until you establish the best watering cycle and amount for your yard.

On the other hand, if your soil is consistent loam, you have more flexibility with watering methods. You could install an automatic sprinkler system or use a hose as needed, but keep in mind that different plants have different irrigation needs. For more information on plant basics for each soil type, continue reading.

There are several signs you’re watering your plants wrong. Overwatering symptoms include yellow or mottled leaves, pale or light green leaves that may fall off, plants that look floppy and spindly, and plants that grow poorly. Underwatering symptoms include dull, flat leaves that don’t recover when watered, lawn that loses its shine and may not bounce back after you walk on it, and leaves falling off as the plant tries to protect itself against drought.

Developing a good landscaping plan involves identifying your soil and watering needs. When you add plants to your yard, you not only beautify the space but also help the soil maintain its moisture and nutritional value. Native plants may require less maintenance since they are naturally occurring in a certain region. It’s essential to pick plants that thrive in your soil type. For instance, evergreens like Adam’s needle or bearberry do well in sandy soils, while trees such as elm, maple, Cypress, birch, and oak thrive in clay soils. Adding compost to your soil can help retain moisture.

Rain Gardens

The art of garden design has taken on a new dimension as homeowners learn to value their soils [source: New York Times]. Even dry areas can flourish with the right plants, while low-lying wetlands can burst into life after a rain shower, even in April. If you live in one of these low-lying wetland areas, consider adding a rain garden to your landscape. These “depressions” catch runoff and drain within a few hours. Best of all, you can leave the watering to Mother Nature. Water garden plants, mostly native to the area, develop deep root systems and thrive on their own [source: Metzger].

Soil Types and Erosion

According to scientists at Vanderbilt University, even the smallest raindrop can pound the earth like a hammer, causing erosion [source: Salisbury]. Erosion occurs when the earth is worn away by wind, ice, or most commonly, water. Sandy soil is the most susceptible to erosion, but clay soils, despite having larger particles, are also easily eroded by water. However, clay appears to be more durable against the wind. Erosion is more than just disappearing dirt. Chemicals and fertilizers can leach into other water sources, and soil quality is depleted. This pollution is called non-point source pollution and is virtually impossible to trace back to the main source. Adding organic materials such as mulch, compost, woodchips, or jute to your land can help prevent erosion and replenish the important nutrients and minerals that might otherwise leach out of your soil.

Once you have tested your soil and selected plants with good ground cover, such as shrubs or native plants with deep-reaching roots, add grass to complete the coverage. Vetiver grass is a global solution for preventing soil erosion, as it grows in most climates and soils [source: Farm Radio International]. With these tips in mind, you can beautify your landscape and protect the environment.

If you want to determine the moisture content of your soil, look at your plants. If they are droopy, dull, or yellowed, the soil needs more water. The way soil looks at the base of the plant may be different from how it feels to the roots. Dig down a few inches and check the areas you can’t see. Grab a handful of dirt and squeeze. If you can’t squeeze your soil into a ball that will maintain its shape, it’s too dry [source: UCD Children’s Garden Program].

Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

  • How Landscaping Principles Work
  • How Landscape Irrigation Works
  • How Urban Landscape Design Works

More Great Links

  • U.S. EPA: Landscaping with Native Plants
  • American Nursery & Landscape Association
  • Ecological Landscaping Association


A list of resources for soil management and gardening is available on this webpage. The sources cover a range of topics, including determining soil type, preventing erosion, conserving water, and selecting plants that thrive in different types of soil. There are also articles about using compost materials to reduce erosion and irrigation techniques that are suitable for home gardens. The links include academic publications, news articles, and guides from government agencies. The resources offer practical advice for individuals who want to create sustainable and healthy gardens.


1. What are the different types of soil?

There are several types of soil, including sandy soil, clay soil, loamy soil, and silt soil. Sandy soil is made up of larger particles and drains quickly, while clay soil is made up of smaller particles and has poor drainage. Loamy soil is a mixture of sand, silt, and clay, making it ideal for many plants, and silt soil is made up of mostly fine particles and has good water retention.

2. How do you determine your soil type?

You can determine your soil type by conducting a soil test. Many garden centers offer soil testing kits, or you can send a sample of your soil to a laboratory for analysis. The test will include information on your soil’s pH level, nutrient content, and texture, which will help you determine the best plants to grow and how to improve your soil.

3. How do you landscape with sandy soil?

Sandy soil requires more frequent watering and fertilizing, as it drains quickly and does not retain nutrients well. To landscape with sandy soil, choose plants that thrive in well-draining soil, such as succulents, lavender, and rosemary. Add organic matter, such as compost or peat moss, to improve the soil’s nutrient content and water retention.

4. How do you landscape with clay soil?

Clay soil can be challenging to landscape with, as it retains water and nutrients, making it heavy and difficult to work with. Choose plants that can tolerate wet soil, such as ferns, hostas, and irises. Add organic matter, such as compost or leaf mold, to improve the soil’s drainage and texture.

5. How do you landscape with loamy soil?

Loamy soil is ideal for many plants and is easy to work with. Choose plants that prefer well-draining soil, such as roses, peonies, and dahlias. Add organic matter to the soil to improve its nutrient content and water retention.

6. How do you landscape with silt soil?

Silt soil has good water retention and is ideal for plants that require consistent moisture, such as hydrangeas, astilbes, and ligularias. Add organic matter to improve the soil’s texture and nutrient content. Be careful not to overwater, as silt soil can become waterlogged.

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