What Ground/Soil Types Are You Planting In? 

Soil is soil. It’s brown, you plant shrubs in it, and when you look after those plants, they use the earth to grow and thrive. However, there is more to soil than its name. Did you know that in New Zealand alone, we have 15 primary soil types? If you’ve ever struck trouble with trying to get your plants to grow, then the soil you have on your property may be to blame.

Read on to find out more about ground and soil types, and their role in your planting success. 


What Soil Types Do We Have in New Zealand? 

Around 43 percent of New Zealand has brown soils. They form our moist lowlands, hills, and mountains. In the North Island, there is a more significant percentage of Pumice soil. Much of this is around Taupo and surrounding townships. Around 1,800 years ago, a volcano erupted and sent pumice flying in all directions. 

We even have ancient soils at around 50,000 years old, and young soil that evolve with sediment every time a flood occurs. Then there are artificial soils— these form from landfill sites and earthworks, rather than thousands of years of creation.  

Every soil type plays its part in growth, but would it matter which type you had for fruit, vegetables, and other plants? It just might. 



What Soil Type Do I Have? 

Not everyone is an expert on soil. We’re more likely to take what we have and plant anything in it, hoping for the best. If you want to offer your plants the best fighting chance or match your plants to what soil you have, then read on. We can help you to work out what soil type you have.

Dig a hole that’s about twice the depth of your spade. The top, a darker layer is called topsoil. The layer beneath it which is pale and denser is subsoil. The subsoil is where all the nutrients are, but it’s structurally inferior to the other layers.

If there is red or brown soil underneath your subsoil, you have hardpan. Hardpan is compacted soil that does not allow water to drain or fine roots to take hold. If the earth in this area is grey or pungent in odour, it’s water logged. If you plant in it, nothing will grow well. You will need to break through it to change its composition over time. 

Is My Soil Full of Sand or Clay? 

Establishing whether you have clay or sandy soil is straight forward. Take some dirt in your hand and try to form a solid sausage shape. If it develops well, it’s clay-based. If it’s gritty and doesn’t create a shape, it’s sand. If it holds together, then falls apart once you touch it, it’s loamy and is the perfect soil type for a range of plants. 


How to Improve Soil Type for Vegetable Planting 

Different soil types can affect vegetable planting quite dramatically. Organic matter is going to improve almost any soil type, but you can also try different material combinations with sand-based and clay-based soil too.

With sand-based soil, incorporate as much organic matter as possible. Mulch it, add water, and use fertilisers such as blood and bone. Stay away from highly-soluble fertilisers that wash away. It can also help to keep digging the soil over. 

Clay-based soil may take a bit more hard work before you plant vegetables. If you don’t put in the hard yards, however, you might find it affects the growth of your vegetables. Add grit or sand to the soil to enhance its drainage capabilities. 

Avoid fine sand as it worsens the drainage rather than improves it. Add lime every couple of years if you’re happy to play the long game. If not, buy around 20 centimetres of topsoil to put on top so you can start planting immediately. 


 What is the Best Soil for Planting? 

So many things contribute to the best soil for planting in New Zealand. Very few people will get it 100 percent right the first time. If you are having trouble, there’s nothing wrong with calling in the gardening experts who know how to make plants thrive.  

Healthy soil has plenty of air and water. It also has soil fungi, earthworms, microbes, and bugs to promote healthy soil life. However, you need to strike a healthy balance. Too much water prevents plant roots from being able to breathe. Too much air causes acceleration of organic matter decomposition. 

Then there’s acid and alkaline soil. Acidic soils are low in phosphorous, and alkaline soils lack iron and manganese. Aim for a pH level of between 5.5 and 6.5. You can buy a testing kit to find out what yours is.  


The Right Soil

Different soils affect the growth of various plants. It can be a balancing act to put the right plants into the right soil environment. Once you establish what soil type you have, it’s about altering it to become one you can work with, or changing the plants you use. 

If you still aren’t sure how to create the most workable soil, then get in touch with other local gardeners. There are bound to be plenty of gardening experts near you who are willing to offer a helping hand.  

Zach White