The Q&A Archives: Differences Between Sand, Silt, And Clay?

Question: What are the characteristics of clay, sand, and silt, and how do they compare in porosity, particle size, etc?

Answer: Sand is the largest particle, silt the intermediate, and clay the smallest. Sandy soil drains well, but doesn't retain moisture and fertilizer well so more applications are needed. Clay soil doesn't drain as well, but retains moisture and fertilizer so fewer applications are needed. However, clay's poor drainage and aeration can cause roots to rot. A mixture of the three types of soil particles with generous amounts of organic matter such as compost makes an excellent garden soil. An easy way to find out approximate percentages of each in your soil is to put a cup of sifted soil (to remove stones, sticks, etc.) in a quart jar with straight sides. Add one tablespoon each of table salt and laundry detergent. Almost fill to the top with water. Shake for five minutes or so, then let settle. Sand will reach the bottom first, then silt, then clay on top. You can determine the approximate percentages by the thickness of the layers. I hope this info helps!

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