In common terms, we use to call loam, clay, sand, silt, etc., dirt. It is important to know the soil type in your area for growing the right plants. However, most plants prefer loam soils to thrive better. By definition, loam is a balanced, healthy mixture of sand, clay, and silt soils.
This article focuses on loam soil, its properties, and also its uses.
Loam soil contains nutrients and also texture to retain water for short periods so that the roots access it without difficulty. This type of soil also drains well. Hence, the roots are safe from water logs and soggy environments.
This type of balanced, healthy soil is important for the plants to thrive healthily. Otherwise, you may have to care for them additionally by watering and feeding more as required.
Naturally, many areas have loamy soil. But you may have to work it a bit to achieve a good composition. Though the job is tiresome, it will pay you back in the future.
Properties of Loam Soil
The three components of loam soil include:
Sand – Particle size > 63 micrometres (0.0025 in)
Being larger in size, sand particles do not hold moisture. But they provide good drainage and aeration.
Clay – Particle size < 2 micrometres (7.9×10−5 in)
Having smaller particles, clay is rich in nutrients. Typically, this soil is easy to compact. Hence, it is used in making firewood stoves, bricks, etc. However, this type of soil has poor drainage and aeration properties. Hence, plant roots may face difficulty while passing through them.
Silt – Particle size > 2 micrometers (7.9×10−5 in)
Comparatively, the silt has medium-sized particles. It can retain moisture better than sand and has lesser nutrients than clay. In fact, silt is a perfect medium for mixing sand and clay.
Ideally, the loam contains sand (40%), silt (40%), and clay (20%). However, these proportions can vary a bit depending on the usage.
Loam is a friable soil having crumble and loose texture. It allows the air and water to pass through it almost freely. Typically, an ideal loam soil drains about 15-30 cm (6-12”) every hour.
This simply means loam retains moisture to some extent. It also has sufficient nutrients. Hence, most plants love to grow in this soil.
The plant roots can easily absorb water and essential nutrients. This encourages healthy, stress-free growth in plants. Also, the natural resilient capabilities of the plants increase to some extent
Creating Loam Soil
Although it is easy to mix these soils, they may not result in perfect loam. In fact, you have to work your soil every season.
You can use organic matter to encourage richness in loamy soils. Organic matters include peat moss, garden compost, dried leaves or grass clippings, composted cow manure, straws, etc.
As they decompose, they enrich the soil by attracting beneficial organisms. They also improve the drainage of the soil.
However, the organic matter depletes quickly while decomposing. Hence, it is necessary to amend the soil every year, to maintain it healthy.
During fall, lay about 2 inches of organic matter on the soil. Wet the spot leave it until spring for saturation. In the spring, work the top few inches of the soil. Repeat the process every year. In most cases, this is sufficient.
Fixing Extreme Clayey or Sandy Soils
If your soil is extremely clayey or sandy, it is not possible to fix it in a year. However, you can improve its quality year by year. It may take about four-five years to transform it into optimal loamy soil.
Working the Soil
In the late fall, after the harvest, apply organic matter (at least two inches) on the soil surface. Then, scatter some water and wet the area to saturate the organic matter. After that, leave it to overwinter in cool months.
In the spring, start working the soil to about 6 – 8 inches deep using a rototiller or shovel. Repeat the process every year.
In the second year, plant a cover crop just for soil enrichment during the fall. Some of the well-known cover crops include ryegrass, sweet clover, buckwheat, and alfalfa. However, contact your county extension agent to know which crop grows well in your location.
When the crops grow about 3 – 6 inches in height, till them down. Then, leave them as they were to overwinter. In spring, work the soil for about 6 – 8 inches and start planting your new crops.
You can also till the annual plants like vegetables and convert them into the organic matter just like cover crops.
During summer, cover the plant surroundings with about 2-3 inches of mulch. Some of the well-known commercial mulches include dry grass clippings, dry leaves, and hardwood barks. Mulching helps to retain the soil moisture to a great extent. it also keeps the soil cool in the hot summers.
After the harvest, work the soil deep with the then decomposed mulch. Thus, these types of mulches, after decomposing, serve as organic matter also.
Gardening and Agriculture
Generally, Loam is ideal for both gardening and agricultural farming. As discussed above, it contains nutrients and holds moisture to some extent. It also drains quickly. This property is essential for the plants to thrive healthier and stress-free.
However, the healthy growth of the plants depends on the organic content also. Hence, it is necessary to amend the soil every year. Depending on the quality of soil, you can determine the organic quantity.
Right from ancient times, humans have been using loam and other like soils for constructing various structures. Even in modern days, these soils can be used to construct houses using some old methods like post and beam construction.
A layer of loam inside the wall can help controlling air humidity. The loam and straw combination can form a rough construction material. In fact, this is one of the oldest and successful construction technologies in the world.
The two widely used methods within this technique include adobe (unfired bricks) and rammed earth.