There are three types of soil particles: sand, silt and clay. Most soils are made up of a combination of sand, silt and clay particles. The ratio of these particles in any given soil sample identifies it as one of the three main types of soil: sandy, loam or clay.
Sand is the biggest soil particle. If blown up to an easily visible size, compared to other soil particles, a sand particle would be the size of a basketball. Soils classified as sandy typically contain 80 to 100 percent sand, zero to 10 percent silt and zero to 10 percent clay by volume. Sandy soils, because of the large size of their particles, do not hold water well and have low nutrient value. Grasp a handful of sandy soil in your hand and it will crumble easily when you let it go.
Silt is the next largest soil particle. If blown up to an easily visible size, compared to other soil particles, a silt particle would be the size of a baseball. Soils classified as loam have the largest amount of silt particles and typically contain 25 to 50 percent sand, 30 to 50 percent silt and 10 to 30 percent clay by volume. High-silt-content soils are often found along riverbanks. Silt soils feel smooth when wet and powdery when dry. Grasp a handful of loam or silty soil in your hand and it will retain its shape when you let it go if it is moist but crumble away when dry.
Clay is the smallest soil particle. If blown up to an easily visible size, compared to other soil particles, a clay particle would be the size of a golf ball. Soils classified as clay typically contain zero to 45 percent sand, zero to 45 percent silt and 50 to 100 percent clay by volume. Because of the small size of clay particles, clay traps water and air, making it difficult for plants to grow. Grasp a handful of clay soil in your hand and it will retain the shape of your hand, like modeling clay, when you let it go. When dry, it is often too hard to easily penetrate with a shovel.
Based in Houston, Texas, Meg Butler is a professional farmer, house flipper and landscaper. When not busy learning about homes and appliances she's sharing that knowledge. Butler began blogging, editing and writing in 2000. Her work has appered in the "Houston Press" and several other publications. She has an A.A. in journalism and a B.A. in history from New York University.