Believe it or not, plants in the garden do better if the soil is healthy. Soil health includes various measurements, such as available nutrients and minerals, the ability of water to drain, and pH levels. There are soil test kits available for purchase and university extension offices often accept soil samples to test in their laboratories, but a beginner gardener may not want to delve into all the technical aspects of soil health at first. Focus on a single aspect of soil health and perform this simple jar test to determine the makeup of your garden soil.
If your soil texture is at one extreme, then you may want to stick to plants you know thrive in the existing soil environment. For example, an extremely sandy soil lends itself naturally to desert and dune plants (cacti, succulents, sage, grasses). On the other hand, if you are relatively close to the 40% sand/40% silt/20% clay soil makeup, then adding soil amendments will adjust the soil texture closer to the ideal of loam (remember healthier soil = healthier plants).
Sandy Soil – Your aim is to increase the soil's ability to hold moisture and nutrients. Add organic amendments, such as compost, vermiculite or peat.
Clay Soil – Your aim is to improve the soil's drainage and aeration. Add fibrous amendments, such as peat, straw, perlite or wood chips.