Five easy steps to soil texture

You will need:

  • rainwater or clean water
  • soil samples
  • a sieve (if there is gravel in the soil).

Note: if a soil corer has been used, look over the length of the core first. Generally, sandy and loamy soil breaks up easily, while a layer that is high in clay will be highly cohesive.

Repeat the following steps on each part of the soil to be tested.

Use these directions along with the table How to determine soil texture.

1. Take enough soil to fit into the palm of your hand. Remove any large stones, twigs or stubble.

2. Moisten the soil with water, a little at a time, and knead until the ball of soil just fails to stick to your fingers. Add more water to get it to this sticky point (this is the soil's Drained Upper Limit).

3. Work the soil in this manner for one to two minutes, noting its behaviour. Inspect the sample to see if sand is visible. If not, it may still be felt or heard as the sample is working.

A soil with a high proportion of:
  • sand - will feel gritty
  • silt - will feel silky
  • clay - will feel sticky

4. Press and slide the ball out between thumb and forefinger to form a ribbon. Note the length of self-supporting ribbon that can be formed.

5. Use the table How to determine soil texture to classify the soil.

Remember that soil texture can change as you go down the soil profile and this variation is described by the following terms:

  • Uniform - the texture is the same throughout the profile.
  • Duplex - the texture changes significantly at a certain depth; there is often about 150 mm of loam over a dense clay subsoil. (These are also called texture-contrast soils.)
  • Gradational - the texture changes gradually down the profile. Many soils vary from a loamy surface to a clay loam and then to clay.

(adapted from Chapman and Murphy, 1991)