Soil types in the UK

Soil Types and how to tell them apart.

There are 6 different soil types and although herbs are very tolerant of less than perfect growing conditions they do thrive in more ideal conditions,

  • Loamy
  • Chalky
  • Peaty
  • Sandy
  • Silty
  • Clay
Loamy soil
Loamy soil


Loamy soil which is pretty much the ideal that most gardeners are striving towards!

  • The perfect soil
  • Good structure
  • Drains well
  • Retains moisture
  • Full of nutrients
  • Easy to cultivate
  • Warms up quickly in spring and doesn’t dry out in summer
  • Consider yourself very lucky if you have this soil

Chalky soil – typical of south-east England, chalky soil is very shallow, full of clumps of white chalk or flint and is very free-draining.

Chalky Soil
Chalky Soil
  • Alkaline, with a pH of 7.5 or more
  • Usually stony
  • Free draining
  • Often overlays chalk or limestone bedrock
  • This means some minerals, such as manganese (Mg) and iron (Fe), become unavailable to plants, causing poor growth and yellowing of leaves
  • This can be remedied by adding fertilizers

Peaty soil – the fens of eastern England are very peaty and are some of the country’s best farmland.

Peaty Soil
Peaty Soil
  • Contains a much higher proportion of organic matter (peat) because the soil’s acidic nature inhibits decomposition
  • But this means there are few nutrients
  • Dark in colour
  • Warms up quickly in spring
  • Highly water retentive and may require drainage if the water table is near the surface
  • Fantastic for plant growth if fertiliser is added.

Sandy soil – feels rough and gritty when handled and will not form distinct shapes like clay. It usually has a sandy brown colour and is easy to dig over.

Sandy Soil
Sandy Soil
    Free-draining soil

  • Gritty to the touch
  • Warms up quickly in spring
  • Easy to cultivate
  • Dries out rapidly
  • May lack nutrients, which are easily washed through the soil in wet weather (often called a “hungry” soil.)

Silty soil – is made up of fine grains, originally deposited by a river. The tiny particles give it a silky feel if rubbed between the fingers. It does not form distinct shapes like clay when wet, but it can be rolled into sausage-like strips

Silty Soil
Silty Soil


  • Smooth and soapy to the touch
  • Well-drained soil
  • Retains moisture
  • Richer in nutrients (more fertile) than sandy soil
  • Easier to cultivate than clay
  • Heavier than sand
  • Soil structure is weak and easily compacted
  • A very good soil if well managed.

Clay soil – this is sticky to handle and can be easily rolled into a ball shape. It is naturally high in nutrients so plants that like these conditions should do particularly well. It does pose some problems.

Clay Soil
Clay Soil
    Feels lumpy and sticky when very wet

  • Rock-hard when dry
  • Clay drains poorly
  • Few air spaces
  • Warms slowly in spring
  • Heavy to cultivate

If drainage is improved, plants grow well as it holds more nutrients than many other soils.

An easy way to help determine what type of soil you have is to simply feel it to determine texture and thus what the primary makeup of the soil is. Grab a baseball size portion of the soil in your hands and wet the soil with water, working the moist soil with your hands. The stickier it is, the more clay there is. The soapier the soil feels the higher the silt content. Grittiness is indicative of sand. The soil texture triangle to the right shows the 12 major soil texture classes and what percent of each type soil makes them up.


Soil triangle showing the different ratios of the types of dirt in any given sample.
Soil triangle showing the different ratios of the types of dirt in any given sample.

As I stated earlier this is for information only as most herbs will grow in most habitats as long as there is adequate sunlight and water but it is good to know what you are aiming for.