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3 Easy Ways to Test Soil

Soil can make all the difference to which plants thrive and which don't make it very far. But growing in public places means that you're unlikely to know the soil history. So how can you be sure what to plant? Poppy Okotcha explains.

Knowing your soil type is key to knowing what to plant in it. Luckily, basic soil testing doesn't require a fancy lab or lots of apparatus. Here are my top three quick and easy methods to get to know soil type, so that you can pick the right plants!

Sausage Test

Don't worry, this is totally suitable for vegans! Grab a handful of moist soil (if that’s safe to do), squish it into a ball in your hand then try to roll it out into a sausage. If it holds well, you’ve got clay, if it’s not holding, you’ve got sandy! Somewhere in the middle, you’ll find silty soil.

Check out an example video to get a feel for this.

Rubbing Test

Place some of the soil in the palm of your hand and add some water (or spit). Use your finger to rub the soil against your palm in circles. If it feels gritty (like there are little bits of sand in it) you’ve got sandy soil. If it feels super smooth and velvety (almost like flour) you’ve got silty, loamy soil (this is rare). If neither gritty nor soft dominates, and it feels smeary and sticky – you’ve got clay!

Check out this article for more details.

Indicator Plants

A hands-free way to understand the soil better is to just have a look at what's growing in the space already. The plants that are happily growing away will give hints as to the conditions of the site and which other plants might be happy there too!

  • Dandelions: grow in compacted soil, tolerate low fertility and acid soil.

  • Daisies: tolerate acid and neutral, low fertility, shallow soil. Often found in dry/sunny spots with compaction.

  • Moss: likes to grow on a wet, compacted soil surface.

  • Nettles: prefers fertile soil, can grow in compacted soil, tolerate acid soil

  • Yarrow: often grown in low fertility, dry soils in sunny spots.

  • Pineapple weed: grow in compacted soil, sunny, often found where there’s lots of footfall.

Happy soil testing!



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