Evaluating Soil By Touch

One quick way to tell whether your soil has a lot of clay or sand or is mainly loam is to moisten a handful of soil and knead it into a ball in your hand.

If it contains clay, it will make a firm, sticky ball that retains the imprint of your fingers after you squeeze it. A smear of clay soil is smooth and shiny. The soil is sticky and leaves a stain on your hand.

A silty soil feels soapy, but not sticky, and it doesn’t stain your hand.

Sand in the soil makes it fed gritty. If you can’t form the soil into a ball, or if the ball shatters at a touch, the soil is very sandy.

If the soil forms easily into a ball but can be broken by prodding at it with a finger, it is loam, a blend of clay, silt, and sand. Most soils contain all three textural sizes, and may have qualities of different textures. For example a sandy clay soil will feel gritty from the sand it contains, but also form a strong ball and leave a stain on your hand from the clay it contains.

For more information, see Soil Texture.