Forking manure into the soil

How to improve soil texture

Are you looking for a secret to healthy plant growth and development? The answer is good quality topsoil. A semi-skilled gardener can recognise a good quality topsoil just by the single glance and you can too. 


The soil colours. Topsoil of good quality is darker brown colour, whereas clay is light brown or yellow and sandy soil greyish with clearly visible course material. Furthermore, during maintenance or preparation, sandy soil breaks up easily to very small parts and clay tends to hold its form of clumps. Good loam soil is in between of the two. It breaks up easily, yet the small clumps hold the form. If you are still unsure, you can carry out a squeeze test. 


Watch our free video of “How to carry out squeeze tests” or find out more here.

Every soil contains clay, sand and silt. These components can be found in soil in different percentages, categorizing soils into clayey, sandy and loamy. 


Clayey soil is efficient in retaining the nutrients but unfortunately due to the poor texture of clay they often become unavailable. Clay contains very small particles only allowing for microscopic air pockets. These are unable to accommodate excess water, leading to poor drainage accompanied by waterlogging. 

Sandy soil, as opposed to clay, hardly retains any moisture or nutrients. Large particles of sand create large air pockets, allowing the water to penetrate soil and drain freely. Inability to retain moisture results in soil overheating during summer, creating a hostile environment for any plant root system. 


Loamy soil or loam is the best possible outcome. It maintains a nutritional balance and medium-sized air pockets retain the optimal amount of moisture and avoid waterlogging. But there is a little trick here. Winter weather conditions and heavy foot or machinery traffic can compact the soil down, changing the topsoil structure. For best results, maintain the topsoil twice a year. 


How to improve the texture of:


  • Clayey soil 
  • Sandy soil 
  • Loamy soil 

How to improve texture of clayey soil 

To improve the texture of clay, incorporate coarse material such as horticultural grit or sand. Apply a layer of one to two inches thick and spread evenly on the top of soil. When ready, work thoroughly using a garden fork or a rotavator. Course material will greatly improve the drainage by creating larger air pockets. 

Use of garden rotavator
Use of garden rotavator

As a second step, incorporate well-rotted manure in the mixture, and again, work in well. The manure is an organic matter very rich in micro bacteria. The micro bacteria are responsible for a soil breakdown which will result in overall change of clay structure and texture over a shorter period.

Well-rotted manure is rich in micro bacteria
Well-rotted manure is rich in micro bacteria

We recommend clayey soil alteration before the winter and let it be exposed to weathering. Alternatively, you can do this two to three months prior to planting.  


Note: do not attempt to work with clay whilst it’s wet. Clay works similarly to an overused sponge and heavy traffic will any water present in the air pockets. Furthermore, it will push the air out of the soil leaving you with very hard clumps. 



How to improve texture of sandy soil 

If you would like to improve the texture of sandy soil, you will need to reverse the process. Incorporate good quality topsoil (if possible, on a slightly heavier, clayey side). The topsoil will ensure moisture retention and will restore a smaller amount of nutrients that have previously washed away. But the topsoil on its own might be sufficient. 


Again, if possible, apply well-rotted manure. The manure contains a large number of nutrients. Combination of clay, good topsoil and manure, will turn into a fine texture in a few months’ time. 

Work all three substances together with a rotavator or garden fork in the autumn and let them be exposed to winter weathering. If you are planning on doing a major garden work such as planting or turfing in the autumn or during the active growing season, we recommend doing all soil alterations two to three months before that. 

Forking manure into the soil
Forking manure into the soil

How to improve texture of loamy soil 

Loamy soil or a loam is the best possible outcome of garden soil. This is an ideal soil texture and structure and doesn’t require any further alterations.  


However, we recommend maintaining your soil regularly. By regularly we mean two times a year. First time in the spring or just before the start of the growing season to encourage the micro bacteria and earthworms to thrive. Second time in the autumn or early winter to improve drainage and to prevent potential waterlogging during winter rainfall. 


When maintaining the soil, the fork prongs only need to go into the soil only two or three inches and then turn the fork using a twisting motion with your wrists. 



A good quality of topsoil texture is a key ingredient in your healthy garden. Use our guidelines to improve your topsoil texture for an optimal plant growth and root development.

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