Soil Conservation and Soil Classification

Lawn care is made easier with a full understanding of soil types, soil conservation practices and soil classification. 

Topsoil conservation is a chief concern in areas with lots of residential or industrial development.  If you live in a new house or a recently developed neighborhood, chances are great that the good topsoil that was once on your house lot is now gone, scraped away and sold by the developer.  You have to determine what is left, and how to conserve good soil and improve less than desirable soil. Soil classification is an important first step to building a lawn. Without properly identifying the type of soil your lawn contains or if the soil has any problems, a newly planted lawn may have trouble getting off to a healthy start.  

What is in Soil?

  • Pebbles and rocks
  • Air
  • Water
  • Mineral particles (large and small)
  • Nutrients dissolved in water, and nutrients bonded to soil particles
  • Organic matter (twigs, leaves and other un-decomposed items)
  • Humus (completely composted organic matter)
  • Bacteria, fungi, insects, worms, animals and other living things

Soil Structure

The soil structure is partially affected by the types of particles in it.  A sandy soil will be loose, with lots of large air spaces in between particles.  Silty soil will also be loose, but it's particles are smaller, so these soils have smaller pores (spaces for air or water).  Clay soil can become highly compacted.  You can tell if your soil is compacted by pouring water onto it.  If it splashes right off, and does not soak in, your soil is compacted.  You can remedy this by aerating the soil, or forking it up with a four pronged, short-handled garden fork.  The fork pictured, right, is the right type of fork to aerate your soil.  (Not your lawn!)  Simply stick the fork into the ground and use your feet to push the fork at an angle closer to the ground, lifting the soil.

Soil Texture

soil-conservation-soil-classification-imageYour success with lawn care relies upon understanding your soil.  That will help you identify what things need to be added to the soil to make it more hospitable to plants and to beneficial organisms living in the soil.

Soil Classification

Soils are classified by the amount of sand, silt and clay in the soil.  (Sand, Silt and Clay are soil particles that have different properties.)  There are entire contests devoted to correctly identifying the official "soil type."  Soil types include:
  • Clay
  • Sandy Clay Loam
  • Loam
  • Silty Clay Loam
  • Sand
  • Sandy Loam or Silty Loam
  • Silt
It is not necessarily important to know exactly what your soil type is.  It is more helpful to be able to identify whether your soil has a high concentration of one of the three types of particle sizes.  Here is what to look for:

Sandy Soils

  • Easy to cultivate
  • Does not form clods or clumps
  • Warms quickly in spring
  • Feels gritty
  • Moderate risk of soil erosion

Silty Soils

  • Not as easy to dig when wet
  • Very dusty if dry
  • Moderate to high levels of organic matter
  • Difficult to correct soil pH if out of line
  • High erosion risk from wind and water
  • Feels silky and smooth

Clay Soils

  • Cannot dig easily when wet or dry
  • Cannot cultivate while wet, at the risk of extreme compaction
  • Soil is sticky
  • Low risk of erosion
The best soil feels like pie crust before rolling it out when you push it between your thumb and your hand.  If your soil feels out of balance-too much clay or sand, the best way to improve it is to add organic matter.  Organic matter to soil is like spinach to people:  it cures almost all soil ailments.  Organic matter improves drainage, and water retention.  Healthy lawns start with healthy soil.  Understanding different types of soil classification can help with soil conservation efforts and overall lawn care.
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