Getting to know your soil

Tending a garden can be one of the simple joys of homeownership.

If  you’re  planning on planting your first backyard  crops  this summer,  taking the time to learn a little more about  your  soil could help you reap a more fruitful harvest.

To  help you get the most out of your garden this season,  Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) offers the following tips for keeping your soil in top shape.

Many  of  the  most  common  soil  problems  are  related  to texture. The texture of a soil is determined by its relative proportion of sand, silt, and clay.

In general, clay soils tend to be fertile but are often wet and poorly drained. Sandy soils  drain easily but can be drought-prone and infertile. Loam, probably the most desirable soil texture, retains moisture and is fertile, crumbly and easy to work with.

To determine your soil’s texture, dry and crush a  small     amount by rubbing it in the palm of your hand. Then rub a pinch of the soil between your thumb and fingers. The grainier the soil feels, the higher its sand content is likely to be.

To test for clay, squeeze some moist soil in your hand and then pass it from hand to hand. The more it holds together, the higher the percentage of clay.

Other important qualities of good soil include its structure     and porosity, moisture, fertility, pH level and the presence of     earthworms, ants, and other life forms that can contribute to the health of your plants.

To find out more about these and other characteristics of your soil, contact your local garden centre, soil testing laboratory, or provincial agriculture ministry or department.

Once you are armed with a basic understanding of your soil’s properties, you can select plants that will be better suited to thrive in your garden and site conditions such as sun, shade, and anticipated rainfall.

Local nurseries, conservation agencies, plant catalogues, books, and websites can all help you identify which plants can tolerate a variety of soil textures and which are likely to have more specific soil requirements.

Although picking the right plants for your soil will minimize the need to add fertilizers or other amendments, there     may still be some situations in which these additions will be     unavoidable.

If your garden has a high clay content, for example,     you will probably need to aerate the soil and work in some     organic matter such as well-rotted manure, compost, grass     clippings or leaves.

When your soil is in a healthy state, consider installing a rain garden to help maintain your plants.

A rain garden is an attractive, easy, and inexpensive way to reduce runoff and allow     stormwater to soak more slowly into the ground.

For  more  information or a free copy of the "About  Your  House" fact sheet entitled Get to Know Your Soil or other fact sheets on owning, maintaining or renovating your home, call CMHC at  1-800-668-2642  or visit our website at

For more  than  60 years,  Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC)  has  been Canada’s  national  housing agency.