The official state soil is in our gardens

Soil Texture

Soil minerals are defined by their size. Sand particles are large enough to be seen with the naked eye. Silt particles are considered “medium” in size and are too small to see individually. Clay particles are so small that they can only be seen under a microscope. The texture of a soil is made up of the relative proportions of these three quantities. Soil scientists have defined 12 types of textures and put them in a diagram that gives relative percentages of different particles. This complex image is a start for people concerned with understanding soil types, but an easier way that anyone can learn and use is called the “feel test” for soil texture. There are many resources on how to take this test, but for those who are “visual learners” like me, I’ll refer to Kansas State University Research and Extension’s awesome YouTube video:

This video will show you how to test your soil for a rough estimate of soil texture and is also great if you fancy playing in the mud.

Test your soil

Soil can present many physical and chemical problems. A major topic is the pH, ie the degree of acidity or alkalinity of the soil. An inexpensive kit for testing pH is widely available at most nurseries and home improvement centers. It features simple tests for pH, nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. Advisors Jim Downer and Ben Faber of Ventura County Extension tested five commercially available kits against results obtained by UC Davis Analytical Laboratory. The results are presented in their article on the bottom line is that home test kits like Rapidtest are easy to use and over 90% accurate.

The soil may also have an excess of salts and elements like sodium, boron or chloride. There are soil labs in our area that can give a more complete analysis. If you really want to know the details of your soil composition, call your local California Extension office for a referral. If you have soil that is impossible to amend or contaminated with chemicals, you can still have healthy plants by putting them in raised beds.

So be good to your state soil here in the San Joaquin Valley by testing, amending with compost if needed, and using mulch to retain moisture and reduce weeds.

The Master Gardeners will be live to answer your questions on Saturday, July 16 from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. at the Visalia Farmer’s Market in the southwest parking lot of the Sequoia Mall. They can also be contacted between 9:30 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays to answer your questions at 559-684-3325, or visit their website at

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