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Know Your Soil

Charlie Dimmock shows Harry Smith different kinds of soil
CBS/The Early Show
Just because you don't live on the sunny side of the street doesn't mean you can't garden. In fact, The Early Show's resident green thumb, Charlie Dimmock, says it's possible to turn any shady spot into a beautiful oasis if you pick your plants wisely.

Many people complain of poor soil, but Dimmock says that may not be true. All soil types are good, but there are some problems you can run into with specific kinds of soil. So it is important to be aware of the type of soil you have.

Dimmock talks about four common soil types, gives advice on how to fix the main problems surrounding the soil and offers advice on which plants work best with specific soils.

The most commonly found soil is a mixture of clay and sand in varying quantities. To find out what kind of soil you have, Dimmock offers a few tests:


  • Pick up the soil and squeeze it. If it feels spongy, it has a lot of organic matter in it and means you have peat soil. If it feels like sand, then the soil is sandy. And it if feels hard, it will be clay soil.
  • Rub it between your fingers. If it feels gritty, it has sand in it. If it feels soapy or silky, it is clay.
  • Make it into a ball. If it makes and holds the shape, there is clay in the soil; if it does not hold shape, there is more sand. If you can make a shape that looks like a cigar, then there is a lot of clay in it. If it falls apart, it must be a sandy soil.

What you need to know about the different types of soil:

Clay Soil
In summer, this kind of soil goes hard; in winter, it goes sticky and wet. Clay can hold a lot of nutrients, but doesn't let air and water through well. The best way to remedy this is by putting organic matter or compost, like rotten leaves, manure, and grit, on top of the soil. The compost breaks the structure of the clay and allows moisture to run out in the winter. In the summer, it will hold moisture. This is a good soil, but just hard to work with physically.

Plants that will work well with clay soil are Rose, Daylily, Peony, Cornus, and Crocosmia. They will be fine without the compound.

Sandy Soil
This soil is good in winter, but bad in summer because the hot weather and rain wash out nutrients. When you rub it, it feels rough because of its sharp edges. Putting compost on this soil will also make it less dry and make it easier to use.

Plants that work well with sandy soil are Spurge, Cistus, Ice Plant and Mullen.

Peat Soil
This soil is high in organic matter. It tends to be acidic, which means it will hold moisture in winter, but can dry out totally in summer and can be difficult to re-water if it is dried out. It is not commonly found. It feels bouncy and spongy.

Plants that work best in peat soil are Azalea, Camellia, Hydrangea, and Rhododendron

Soil With Stones
There is really nothing specifically wrong with this soil except that many people don't like how it looks. When digging, it is possible you could hit a stone.

Any plant works with this soil.