What are the different soil types - and why does it matter?

Kate Mitchell

January 14, 2023

Have you ever spotted a great flower or shrub in a friend's yard and bought one for yourself – only to find it didn't survive once it was in the ground? 

It could be due to the light, the watering, neighboring plants, or a number of factors, but it often comes down to one thing. 

The soil. 

So what is soil made of? What type of soil do you have in your yard? How do you find out? And what does it mean for the kind of landscape you want to create? 

What is soil? 

Your soil is made up of many small particles such as sand, gravel, silt, clay, and water - with air in the mix too. In some areas, the ground might look dry and sandy, while in others it is damp and holds together well. Soil color can vary from a pale sandy yellow to a rusty red to a deep, dark, chocolatey brown.

Different combinations and concentrations of these parts have distinct characteristics, making the soil very different to work with from place to place. And, as you might imagine, particular plants need a particular kind of soil in order to thrive.

So, what kind of soil might you find in your Floridan yard?

Types of soil

Close up of a hand holding soil, in which tiny particles of different colors are visible

There are several different types of soil across the US, and you'll even find a range of them right here in Florida. 

Sandy soil

Also known as light soil, sandy soil is made up mostly of small particles from weathered rock.

Sand weighs less than clay, so the high sand content makes this type of soil fairly light. It drains quickly and is easy to work with, but can dry out in warm weather.

Because it is dry, the nutrients in sandy soil can be washed away. The addition of compost can help sandy soil to hold water for longer and provide much-needed nutrients for any plants growing in it.

Most of the soil textures in Florida are sandy, often in combination with other elements. This article from Proven Winners will give you more information on how gardeners can make the most of their sandy soil.

Clay soil

Dry ground with cracks in the soil

Clay is a wet, heavy soil. It retains nutrients well.

These features mean clay will hold water and stay cold throughout winter weather. However, clay soils can dry out quickly in the summer. Its slow drainage and tendency to dry out and crack in the sun can make it difficult to work with.

In Florida, the heavy clay particles tend to be mixed with sand, which is good news as it makes growing in this soil type less challenging!

Silt soil

The light particles of silty soil retain moisture well but also drain well. Soil rich in silt particles is fertile because it also does a good job of keeping its nutrients.

However, the fine silt particles can be washed away by the rain. They can also compact easily.

Adding organic materials to silty soil will help to make it more stable.

Loam soil

You may have heard gardeners getting excited about loam soil. That's because this soil type is the ideal combination of sand, clay, and silt.

The excellent balance of the different soil particles in loam soil cancels out the disadvantages of each soil type. Loam is easy to work with, well-drained, and has high fertility.

Loamy soil is great for vegetable crops. In fact, it could be described as the best soil for gardening; most garden plants will grow well in loam.

Many Floridian backyards will be made of loamy sand, sandy loam or sandy clay loam.

Other soil types

A single leaf rests on a bed of chocolatey brown soil

Your North Central Florida backyard will most likely be made up of a combination of the soil types mentioned already. Unsurprisingly, sand is a particularly common element in soil here!

Apart from different combinations of sand, clay, silt, and loam, there are a couple of other soil types you may hear about too.

Chalk soil contains a lot of lime, which makes it highly alkaline. It can be either light or heavy, but will not support plants that need acidic soil in order to grow.

Peat soil, rarely found in yards or gardens, contains few rock particles and is high in organic matter. It retains water and nutrients well. It can be brought in to help improve other kinds of soil.

Acidic or alkaline?

Some plants grow well in acidic soils; other crops in alkaline. Knowing your soil's pH (acidity) will help you to choose plants that will thrive in their environment, leading to a lush, lovely outdoor space.

There's a little bit of science behind all this, but it's not too hard to get your head around.

Let's talk chemistry!

Acidity is measured using the pH scale (pH stands for 'potential of Hydrogen' - more info here if you're interested!)

The pH scale goes from 0 (highly acidic - think battery acid) through 7 (neutral, e.g. water) all the way up to 14 (highly alkaline - such as liquid drain cleaner). Most backyard soils will fall between 3.5 and 8.5 on this scale.

Sandy soil tends to be somewhat acidic. Clay tends to be alkaline, while the pH of silt can vary on either side of neutral.

What about my soil?

To find out the pH level of the soil in your backyard, you have a few different options.

If you decide to employ a landscaping or lawn maintenance company, they might carry out soil testing for you. The experts will then be able to choose a suitable type of grass, or suitable plants, that will thrive in your backyard.

You may prefer to test the soil yourself with a home kit or pH meter. There's more information here on how you can do that.

If necessary, it is possible to take steps to adjust the pH level of your soil by adding extra acidic-rich materials or alkaline matter to balance things out.

Keeping soil healthy

A woman kneels on the ground surrounded by a colorful vegetable garden

Whatever your soil type, it's a good idea to invest some time in making sure your soil stays healthy.

After all, the soil is your base for planting! The dirt in your yard is a specific blend of minerals, organic material and inorganic matter, with its own gardening characteristics. If you give it everything it needs, it will support the growth of plants and give you a lush, beautiful yard.

You can keep your soil healthy by covering it with mulch and, from time to time, adding organic materials. If nutrients are depleted, you can add topsoil. However, despite the name, topsoil needs to be mixed in rather than just spread on top. The micro gardener gives you some tips on keeping your soil healthy.


Wherever you live, it's a good idea to find out about your soil type and pH, by testing it yourself or asking an expert for help.

This will help you to choose the right plants for your soil type, giving them the best possible conditions to grow and thrive so that you can enjoy a lush, beautiful backyard for many years to come.

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