How to Test Your Yard’s Soil Texture

Jars with soil being tested
Good soil is the secret to healthy plants, so the more you can understand your soil, the better. This easy soil texture test will help you determine the percentages of sand, silt, and clay in your soil.

The ideal soil makeup consists of about:

  • 40% sand
  • 40% silt
  • 20% clay

Determining the texture of your own soil will guide you in amending it to the perfect balance. Here are simple step-by-step instructions for testing the texture of your soil.

Materials Needed

  • Shovel
  • Water
  • Ruler
  • Indelible marker
  • Clear quart-sized jar (straight-sided jar best)
  • Spoonful of powdered laundry or dish detergent (dispersant to aid in settling)

How to Test Soil Texture

Step 1: Dig Soil Sample

digging soil sample with shovel
Remove the top 2” of soil and all the grass roots. Dig a small, straight-sided hole at least 8” deep. Pointing the shovel straight down, slice off a chunk of soil about 1” thick and carefully lift it out of the hole. Remove any roots, twigs, or rocks.

Step 2: Deposit Soil Sample in Jar

Soil being put in jar with shovel
Use the shovel to slice off a small cross section of the soil sample. Place the soil in the jar, so that the jar is about 1/3 full of soil.

Step 3: Add Water and Detergent to Jar

Filling jar with water
Fill the jar with water, add a teaspoon of detergent, and shake for several minutes until the soil is thoroughly suspended in the water.

Step 4: Wait and Measure

Soil settling out in jars
The coarse sand particles will settle out first; followed by the darker, finer silt. Last will be the lighter, superfine clay while organic matter will float. If you wait until everything has settled, it can be hard to sort out which is which. To make identification easier, mark the sand level on the jar after one minute, the silt level after 4-6 hours, and the clay level after two days. The sample above was taken from my yard.

Step 5: Calculate Soil Percentages

Soil settled out in jars
Once the soil has settled, it’s time to determine the percentage of sand, silt, and clay relative to the total soil level. To calculate the percentage, divide the depth of each layer of soil by the total soil depth in the jar, and multiply by 100. The above sample was taken from farmland in eastern North Carolina – note the high sand level and near-absence of floating organic matter.


  1. Thank you for the pyramid and testing process. I knew my soil was heavily sanded but testing helped me to see that the sand content was over 60%! This knowledge will greatly assist me with the amendment process,

  2. We humans need to butt out on ‘making soil better’…soil is soil, ALL soil is great soil when we humans learn how to manage. Adding sand, compost…is ridiculous.

    Stay with the type of soil you have on your site. NEVER use garden soil for potting soil.

    Arghhh! Listen up all of you. Hate to be a damn know it all but here goes! The only way to improve ANY soil is by dumping DECOMPOSED organic matter right on the surface. PERIOD. Learn firstus what kind of soil you have. The texture test. Then learn how to make plant beds the first and only time. Learn what decomposed means and what kind of decomposed mulch you have access to…learn about the chemistry necessary for plants that IS NOT IN THE SOIL normally. That we HAVE to add to be able to grow plants we want, where we want, when we want and why we need them. Not happening in nature believe me. Nature does not allow excess chemistry (you people insist on calling them nutrients which means food and plants make their own food, fertilizer is NOT FOOD), to exist in soils. POPULATION CONTROL.

    We humans will never be able to CHANGE the soil in our gardens to see any success. Use only potting soil for potted plants and planter type situations (sterilized) and potting soil has very little actual soil in it! Learning how to manage soil is critical.

    And ‘heavily sanded’? I moved to a place with pure pumice for soil. Works just fine. All I do is double dig the beds ONE TIME and add decomposed organic matter to the surface…I’ve had excellent crops and success from the very first season. I also use balanced fertilizers and know how to manage the different formulations and know something most people do not…LESS is Best, MORE is Death and NONE is dumb. Plants tell us what they are missing or have in excess. We gardeners need to learn what that looks like for different plant types.

    I never FEED plants, I make sure they’ve got a bare minimum balanced fertilizer added once my starts are up potted to 3″ pots from the seed starting trays where ONLY potting soil is used. 1″X2″. Up potting is the time to add fertilizer (5-5- 5) is safe Do you guys know when to make sure that first number should be lower than the other two? I rarely use fish emulsion because that needs to be added to the fertilizer program, it is not a balanced fertilizer.

    The ONLY amendment we humans should do to our soil other than double digging and forming plant beds with little trenches and compacted before planting is simple DECOMPOSED compost, organic matter. Decomposed.

    This FEEDS the life in the soil. If the matter is not decomposed the decomposers need nitrogen to finish their job and they get first priority over plants. Very very little is ever left over from decomposition. This stuff is critical to feed the soil life. Without soil life your soil becomes compacted and not conducive for plants. All soil life needs decomposed organic matter to eat. They go up to the surface and eat. Go back down into the top soil, 4 – 6 inches and poop it out. Mixing this into whatever soil you have; sand, clay, loam. All soils need this organic matter to be able to support plants, buffer pH so that what chemistry you do add is made available to plants.

    There IS NO OTHER amendment anyone should ever ever add to soil. Lime if IF the pH is too low for the plants one wants to grow. Lawns need a slightly higher than neutral pH. A test is critical FIRST before adding lime. Fertilizer should be on a plant to plant basis. Not rocket science but there are these ‘trends’ for no fertilizer that are just wrong!

    The recipe for concrete; Clay, sand, gravel, lime, gypsum, water and ROTATION. Think about this. Clay is fantastic soil! You just need to learn proper management! Sand is fantastic soil and it has it’s very own special management techniques. Just find a great source of decomposed organic matter and dump on the surface. Also great to control weeds, suppress weeds.


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