Plant Soil: An Overview

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Plant soil 2

Plants require four things to grow big and hardy: the proper amount of sunlight, the availability of water, enough nutrients, and oxygen. Without any one of these four things, plants will struggle and can even die. Out of those four growth factors, plant-soil influences three of them: water, nutrients, and oxygen. Plant soil is the medium from where they take root, weather the seasons, and absorb water and nutrients. So, the next obvious question is the best type of plant soil?

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Most homeowners assume sunlight and water are the only two factors that matter when trying to grow plants in their gardens. They give very little thought to the soil type because dirt is dirt. You are mistaken. Plant soil varies significantly in structure, density, and composition. These differences can alter nutrient levels, drainage, compaction, and what types of organisms live and grow in the soil.

Different Types of Plant Soil

 Soil is classified into four different types based on the size of its particles.

The soil types are characterized by their size but can be identified by their moisture retention, texture, and flexibility. Each type is uniquely different in supporting the three growth factors water, nutrients, and oxygen. 

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The smallest soil particles are called clay, while the slightly bigger particles are called silt. Large and coarse particles are called sand. Soil consisting of mostly sand is called sandy soil found in deserts. Clayey soil is mostly clay, while loam soil is made of sand, silt, and clay particles. It is considered the best for the growth of plants. This kind of soil is usually rich in humus, which provides nutrients to plants.

Plant Soil – Sandy Soil

Sand particles are large and have lots of space between each sand grain. Nutrients and water flow through quickly, and there is no retention. This type of soil doesn’t bind together well. Only a few plants grow in this soil, and the soil is susceptible to erosion. Due to these features, sand is suitable for oxygen infiltration. Sandy soil is mainly sand. There is hardly any clay or silt in it.

It contains very little humus, and the soil is found in the sea beach and desert areas. Sandy soil cannot hold much water because water drains quickly through the large crevices between its particles. So, sandy soil dries out quickly, not suitable for plants growth. 

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However, sandy soil provides good aeration to the plant roots and can be ploughed quickly. Thus providing an easy condition for the plant seed. Sandy soil is light, and it tends to blow away if left bare. The soil is not as fertile as other soil types. Since the dirt in sandy areas is not sticky, you cannot use it to construct pots, bricks, toys, and statues. Adding humus in manure to You can increase the fertility of the sandy soil by adding humus. Humus improves the water retention capacity of sandy soil and provides essential plant nutrients. 

Plant Soil – Clayey Soil

Clayey soil contains mainly clay particles with very small spaces. Clay particles are tiny and close together, making the clay sticky and dense. It retains water very well, but it’s also very dense. When clay dries out, it becomes tough to till. Many plants struggle in clay due to its poor drainage and thick nature, making it difficult for roots to break through the soil. It contains very little humus.

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Clayey soil has a high water-holding capacity due to its small and tightly packed particles. Clayey soil is heavier than sandy soil as it can hold more water. The smallness of particles of clayey soil is a disadvantage as the water drains out very slowly through clayey soil. Consequently, it leads to water-logging the earth, thereby damaging the crops.

As the smallness of its pores, clayey soil types cannot trap enough air for the roots of the plants. Clayey soil is compact and sticky. Ploughing clayey soil is quite tricky.

However, clayey soil types are mineral-rich, which is good for the growth of plants. It is more fertile than sandy soil. Adding sand and humus to clayey soil can make it more fruitful. Sand will help clayey soil drain better, whereas humus will provide the necessary plant nutrients. Clayey soil has a lot of stickiness. Consequently, clayey soil is used to make pots. Clayey soil is the preferred soil for making bricks, pots, toys, and statues.

Plant Soil – Silt

Silt particles are more significant than clay but smaller than sand. Silt is often found suspended in water or deposited by streams. It is like clay as it retains moisture measured with moisture meter. However, it doesn’t allow much flow of oxygen Silt deposits are very fertile and support lots of plant growth like the rich farming near the Nile River in Egypt or the wetlands around the Mississippi River.

Plant Soil – Loam Soil

Loam soil is a combination of clay, silt, sand, and humus in the right proportions. It is a mixture of large and small rock particles which impart the desired properties. For example, loam soil has a suitable water-holding capacity for the growth of plants. You can also drain excess water through it.

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Loam soil has adequate air spaces between its particles to hold sufficient air needed by plant roots. You can also plow loam soil quickly. It contains a good amount of humus. It has all the necessary nutrients for the growth of plants. Loam soil is the most fertile soil. Additionally, it is the finest soil for growing crops.

Which is the Best Plant Soil

Loam or loamy soil is the ideal blend of soil for plant growth. It is referred to as topsoil or black dirt by landscape companies. The estimated combination is 40% sand – 20% clay – 40% silt. It is just the right mixture of all three that it holds nutrients well, retains water but still drains appropriately, and allows oxygen to infiltrate.

Plant Soil and Crops

The soil types vary at different places. They can be sandy, clayey, loamy, or a combination of them. The colour and texture of the soil also vary according to other areas. Some soil types are brown or black, and some are of mixed colours.

The soil is affected by the climate, rainfall, wind, and temperature at a place.

Depending upon the soil quality, availability of moisture in the soil, climate of the area, and the soil texture, the land is identified for cultivating different kinds of crops. 

  • Cotton grows in black soil and sandy loam.
  • Millets and sorghum crops are grown in sandy regions. They grow well in sandy and light soils, maybe with scanty rains.
  • Sugarcane and Wheat are grown in loam soil with more clay. 
  • Vegetables and fruits are grown in humus-rich soils under different climatic conditions. 
  • Coarse crops and Maize are summer crops grown in all the regions.
  • Plum and apple trees grow well in hills (contour ploughing) below the snow-covered peaks, mango in plains with clayey soil, banana in yellow-brown soil, etc.
  • Peanuts grow well in partly sandy soil.
  • Rice and jute are cultivated in clayey soils, which retain a good amount of water.

Plant Soil Interaction

Soil plays a vital role in plant growth. The beneficial aspects to plants include providing physical support, water, heat, nutrients, and oxygen. Mineral nutrients from the soil get dissolved in water and become available to plants. Many aspects of soil are beneficial for plants. Excessively high levels of trace metals occurring naturally or applied herbicides can be toxic to some plants.

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The soil solids/water/air ratio is essential to plants for water availability and proper oxygenation levels. Excessive water in poorly drained regions can lead to anoxic conditions in the soil, which may be toxic to some plants. Excessive porosity with air space, as in gravelly or sandy soils, can lead to less water to plants, especially when the water table is low during dry seasons. 

Nutrient Uptake by Plants

Several elements obtained from the soil are regarded as essential for plant growth. Macronutrients, including C, H, O, N, P, K, Ca, Mg, and S, are needed by plants in significant quantities. C, H, and O are mainly obtained from the atmosphere or rainwater. These three elements are the main components of most organic compounds, such as proteins, lipids, carbohydrates, and nucleic acids.

Micronutrients are essential elements needed only in small quantities but can still be limiting to plant growth since these nutrients are not so abundant in nature. Micronutrients include iron (Fe), manganese (Mn), boron (B), molybdenum (Mo), chlorine (Cl), zinc (Zn), and copper (Cu). Some other elements have to aid plant growth but are not essential.

Mineral nutrients are helpful for plants only if they are in an extractable form in soil solutions, such as a dissolved ion rather than in solid minerals. Due to concentration gradients, many nutrients move through the soil and into the root system. Some nutrients are selectively absorbed by the root membranes, enabling concentrations to become higher inside the plant than soil.

Take Away

Now, most people don’t get to choose what type of soil their yard sits on, but they can amend it if necessary. Many homeowners complain of dense clay soil that is difficult to work with or very dry soil that has been stripped of nutrients. You can bring in a layer of topsoil for new construction homes if this is the case. There are steps for existing yards to remediate the soil by tilling in other soil types to get closer to the loam mixture. 

Read related articles on layers of soil, soil erosion, soil profile, soil fertility, causes of soil erosion, and more.

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