Soil types and soil health principles

Understanding the inherent properties of different soil types can inform soil health management approaches.

Back to: Principles to improve soil health

Sandy soils

Biological

  • Know: Low capacity to hold organic matter
  • Act: Add organic matter regularly to maintain biological activity
  • Act: Use composted organic matter to improve soil structure and stability
  • Act: Move to ley-arable rotations in very sandy soils, where possible

Chemical

  • Know: Low cation exchange capacity
  • Act: Lime little and often to maintain pH
  • Act: Manage nutrients to match supply and demand

Physical

  • Know: Drought risk is significant
  • Act: Avoid trafficking wet subsoil
  • Act: Install and maintain drainage where groundwater is high

Profile of a sandy soil

Image © Environment Agency, thinksoils

Medium soils

Biological

  • Know: Slow to change organic matter content
  • Act: Add organic matter regularly to maintain biological activity
  • Act: Monitor organic matter levels, at least every five years
  • Act: Add diversity to the crop rotation, while maintaining seasonal flexibility

Chemical

  • Know: Some capacity to buffer changes in pH and nutrients
  • Act: Monitor pH, P and K regularly
  • Act: Manage nutrients to match supply and demand

Physical

  • Know: Assess soil structure to know its workability and trafficability limits
  • Act: Optimise timeliness of operations to minimise damage
  • Act: Install and maintain drainage

Profile of a medium-textured soil

Image © Environment Agency, thinksoils

Heavy (clay) soils

Biological

  • Know: Naturally high in organic matter
  • Act: Add organic matter regularly to maintain biological activity
  • Act: Use composted organic matter to improve soil structure and stability
  • Act: Move to ley-arable rotations, where possible

Chemical

  • Know: High cation exchange capacity and some clay soils have good reserves of K
  • Act: Develop good rotational strategies to manage lime, P and K
  • Act: Optimise seedbed quality to maximise nutrient use efficiency

Physical

  • Know: Waterlogging can be a major issue, especially in soils without active roots
  • Act: Optimise timeliness of operations to minimise damage
  • Act: Install and maintain drainage

Profile of a heavy (clay) soil

Image © Environment Agency, thinksoils

Useful links

Read more about the properties of different soil types

See how soils are classified into different texture classes

Read the Principles of soil management guide

If you would like to order a hard copy of Principles of soil management, please contact publications@ahdb.org.uk or call 0247 799 0069

Have a question? Ask a member of the team:

Image of staff member Amanda Bennett

Amanda Bennett

Senior Environment Manager (Soil Health & RB209)

See full bio

×