Home Improvement Expert Danny Lipford

DIY Soil Texture Test for Your Yard

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Jars with soil being tested
Good soil is the secret to healthy plants, so the more you can understand your soil, the better. This easy soil texture test will help you determine the percentages of sand, silt, and clay in your soil.

The ideal soil makeup consists of about:

  • 40% sand
  • 40% silt
  • 20% clay

Determining the texture of your own soil will guide you in amending it to the perfect balance. Here are simple step-by-step instructions for testing the texture of your soil.

Materials Needed

  • Shovel
  • Water
  • Ruler
  • Indelible marker
  • Clear quart-sized jar (straight-sided jar best)
  • Spoonful of powdered laundry or dish detergent (dispersant to aid in settling)

How to Test Soil Texture

Step 1: Dig Soil Sample

digging soil sample with shovel
Remove the top 2” of soil and all the grass roots. Dig a small, straight-sided hole at least 8” deep. Pointing the shovel straight down, slice off a chunk of soil about 1” thick and carefully lift it out of the hole. Remove any roots, twigs, or rocks.

Step 2: Deposit Soil Sample in Jar

Soil being put in jar with shovel
Use the shovel to slice off a small cross section of the soil sample. Place the soil in the jar, so that the jar is about 1/3 full of soil.

Step 3: Add Water and Detergent to Jar

Filling jar with water
Fill the jar with water, add a teaspoon of detergent, and shake for several minutes until the soil is thoroughly suspended in the water.

Step 4: Wait and Measure

Soil settling out in jars
The coarse sand particles will settle out first; followed by the darker, finer silt. Last will be the lighter, superfine clay while organic matter will float. If you wait until everything has settled, it can be hard to sort out which is which. To make identification easier, mark the sand level on the jar after one minute, the silt level after 4-6 hours, and the clay level after two days. The sample above was taken from my yard.

Step 5: Calculate Soil Percentages

Soil settled out in jars
Once the soil has settled, it’s time to determine the percentage of sand, silt, and clay relative to the total soil level. To calculate the percentage, divide the depth of each layer of soil by the total soil depth in the jar, and multiply by 100. The above sample was taken from farmland in eastern North Carolina – note the high sand level and near-absence of floating organic matter.

Interpreting Soil Test Results

Now that you have calculated the percentages of soil components, you have a general idea of your soil type and can choose plants that are well-suited to your native soil. If you’d like to get more scientific about it, consult the soil pyramid below to find the scientific classification of your soil based on the percentages of each layer.

Soil Texture Pyramid Chart

Soil Texture Pyramid Chart

Printable Soil Pyramid

Here’s how the soil tests I conducted came out:

  • Farm Soil: (sandy loam) 70% sand, 20% silt, 10% clay
  • Yard Soil: (sandy clay loam) 50% sand, 25% silt, 25% clay

In my experiments, it appears that the farm soil is sandy loam, while the soil in my yard is sandy clay loam. Both soils can benefit from improvement in both texture and fertility. Neither contain much in the way of organic matter, which fits with the low nutrient levels in my chemical soil analysis.

I was surprised to find that my home soil had such a high sand content, but I took the sample from an area that was amended with trucked-in soil during a grading project. Multiple samples – from different spots – would give a better overall picture.

Soil texture test results for farm soil on Soil Texture Pyramid

Soil Texture Pyramid results for farm soil


As a comparison, I also did a jar test with some commercial potting mix as well (see photo at top), which is very high in organic matter and sand, making it perfect for the delicate roots on potted plants.

Improving Soil Texture

So what now? The good news is, adding organic matter will help all types of soil. It makes clay soils looser, helps sandy soils retain water and nutrients, and generally improves the texture and drainage of all soil types.

Organic matter such as compost, leaf mold, and humus add both soil particles and organic nutrients that balance out soil types. After amending your soil, conduct another jar test to see how your soil measures up, then add more or less organic matter next time to even out the ratios.

Further Information



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