Are you Using The Right Soil? The Beginner’s Guide

Are you struggling to grow plants or perhaps discovering later down the line that they aren’t thriving? This isn’t necessarily an issue with your green fingers, but could be down to the soil you are using. Certain plants need a particular type of soil and so before you go buying the prettiest ones and just planting them, you need to find out the different soil types. There is no point buying beautiful flowers if they have no chance of blossoming. Here are the different soil types to be aware of and what grows best in them:


Clay soil feels lumpy and sticky when wet and rock-hard when dry. Clay drains poorly and has few air spaces. It warms slowly in spring and is heavy to cultivate. This may sound like planting in clay soil is impossible, however, if drainage is improved plants grow well as it holds more nutrients than many other soils.

Hardy plants do best in this type of soil such as Helen’s Flower, Aster, Weigela, Bergamot and Flowering Quince.


This soil is free-draining and gritty to the touch. It warms up quickly in the spring and is easy to cultivate, but it also dries out rapidly and may lack nutrients.

Plants that you may want to consider if you have this soil include; Tulips, Tree Mallow, Sun Rose, Hibiscus and Broom.  


Silty soil is smooth and soapy to the touch. It drains well and retains moisture and is much richer in nutrients than sandy soil. It is also easier to cultivate than clay and heavier than sand. The soil structure is weak and easily compacted, but ultimately if it is managed well it is a very good soil.

Mahonia, New Zealand Flax, Ornamental Vine and Tobacco plants are all perfect for this soil.


This soil contains a much higher proportion of organic matter because the soil’s acidic nature inhibits decomposition, but this also means there are fewer nutrients. It is dark in colour and, like sand and clay, warms up quickly in spring. It is highly water retentive and may require drainage, however it is ideal for plant growth if fertiliser is added.

Heather, camellia and rhododendron are all great for peaty soil.


You can quickly recognise chalky soil because it is usually stony and often overlays chalk or limestone bedrock. It is Alkaline, with a pH of 7.5 or more and is free draining. Some minerals are unavailable to plants through this soil which can cause poor growth however this can be remedied by adding fertiliser.

Chalky soil is suitable for the likes of lilac, weigela and Madonna lily.


This is the perfect soil – it has a good structure, drains well, retains moisture, is full of nutrients and is easy to cultivate. It warms up quickly in spring and doesn’t dry out in summer.

Wisteria, delphinium and rubus are just a few of the plants that will do well in this soil.

Not sure what soil you have? You should have some idea by comparing it to the descriptions above or by putting it into a large glass jar filled with water and seeing how it looks after it settles. But you can also test this to find out more such as the pH, just don’t forget to test the soil from different areas as this can vary enormously. You can also improve your soil by incorporating organic matter, such as manure or home-grown compost.