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What’s Your Soil Texture?

By   /  May 13, 2013  /  Comments Off on What’s Your Soil Texture?

Figuring out your soil’s texture is as easy as mud pie. Here we show you how to do a little hands on testing.

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Texture is one of the most important properties of a soil, and it greatly affects forage production, land use, and management. Soil texture is directly related to nutrient retention and drainage capabilities. If you’d like a quick way to test your soil’s texture, here it is.

Get a golf ball size of soil in one hand, wetting it slightly as you knead it. Make sure it is well mixed in your hand. If you don’t mix it completely, little clumps of silt and clay may stick together, fooling you into thinking that they are really grains of sand.

Texture by feel: from ball, to smoosh, to ribbon. That looks like a clay soil!

Texture by feel: from ball, to smoosh, to ribbon. That looks like a clay soil!

While you are working on this ball of soil, gauge its stickiness and how easy it is to knead. Does it feel rough and gritty, suggesting a fair bit of sand, or smooth and silky, as though it has a lot of silt? Hold it to your ear and rub the soil between your fingers. Do you hear a grinding sound?

Now you can try and squeeze a ribbon from the soil, using your thumb to push soil over your forefinger. The longer the ribbon, the more clay is present.

Answer these questions to see what your soil texture is:

  1. Can you form a cohesive ball with the soil? No: sand.
  2. Can you form a ball, but not a ribbon? Yes: loamy sand.
  3. Does the ribbon break at less than an inch and
    1. Soil makes a grinding sound and has a gritty feel? Yes: sandy loam.
    2. Soil feels smooth and floury, with no grinding sound? Yes: silt loam.
    3. Soil is a bit gritty, but no grinding sound? Yes: loam.
    4. Is the soil medium sticky, and forms a 1-2 inch ribbon and
      1. Soil makes a grinding noise, with a gritty feel? Yes: sandy clay loam.
      2. Soil feels smooth and floury, with no grinding sound? Yes: silty clay loam.
      3. Soil is only slightly gritty and has no grinding sound? Yes: clay loam.
      4. Is the soil pretty darn sticky and firm, and makes a good size ribbon of 2 inches or more and
        1. Has a grinding sound and grittiness? Yes: sandy clay.
        2. Has a smooth, floury feel and no grinding sound? Yes: silty clay.
        3. Has a slight bit of grittiness, but no grinding sound? Yes: clay.

There you go – a useful tool that also can be a fun party trick. And here’s the soil textural triangle from the Natural Resources Conservation Service that describes what you just learned:

Click to get a full size version.

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About the author

Rachel and Kathy are co-editors of On Pasture. They often collaborate on articles so that you get the best they have to offer.

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