Saturday, March 27, 2010

"What is your soil?" is the new "What is your sign?"

Vertisol at the playground.  8-foot baby used for scale.  See the shrink/swell cracks?
I'm a Taurus, and I love asking people this question.  But more and more, instead of looking at the stars, I'm going to look you up via the ab-fab NRCS Web Soil Survey (WSS) to see what kind of soil you have.  

For example, I proudly (and digruntled-ly, given its issues with construction and amateur gardening) live on the state soil of Texas, the Houston Black clay, a Fine, montmorillonitic, thermic Udic Haplustert.  The "ert" in Haplustert means it is a vertisol- a shrink-swell clay (we've discussed the joys of this before).

Ultisol Analysis!
Anyways, my friend and fellow soil-o-phile over at the Bipartisan Victory Garden lives in Florida, and on the (drum roll please) Millhopper-​Urban land complex, 0 to 5 percent slopes! Ooooooh!  What does this mean for her?  Let us consult the WSS, shall we?

This series is a Loamy, siliceous, semiactive, hyperthermic Grossarenic Paleudult.  The "ults" in Paleudults means it belongs in the soil order Ultisol. Booooohhhhh.  Very sad.  Why? Ultisols are naturally low-nutrient soils.  Not only are there not many nutrients, it has a low cation exchange capacity (!), which means even if you add nutrients, the soil will have a hard time storing them.  However, there is a lot of good news.  Especially considering the woman on this soil- she can pay attention, and this soil responds well to good management.  Here is the good news-

  • these soils are formed in areas with long growing seasons and plenty of water (this is where the "ud" in Paleudult comes from: humidity),
  • the silicate clays in ultisols are usually not sticky (unlike my lovely smectite vertisol, sigh), meaning they are pretty workable,
  • with lime (to counteract the soil's acidity) and proper fertilization (and compost, mayhaps?), this soil competes with the breadbasket mollisols and alfisols we all pine after ;-) HOWEVER, liming an ultisol to >6.5 pH can reduce phosphorus and micronutrient availability.  Why? Not sure yet.  It has something to do with precipitation of Ca or Mg phosphates.

Más definiciones:

Hyperthermic: >22 degrees Celsius average annual temperature
Thermic: 15-22 degrees Celsius average annual temperature
Ultisol: soils with low base saturation (<35%) and an argillic or kandic horizon (translocated silicate clay) or fragipan. Base saturation decreases with depth (reference).
Vertisol: Soil with 30% or more clay and that shrinks when dry (and cracks) and swells when wet.


  1. You're on fire. Don't stop.

  2. I'm Lewisville soils and urban land. I think. I'm around next weekend and this week after work if you want to come by and see the dirt. Let me know what works best for you. We could even have a cookout and drinks on the deck. I am loving this weather!

  3. Cool. When is after work for you?