If you're seeing this message, it means we're having trouble loading external resources on our website.

If you're behind a web filter, please make sure that the domains *.kastatic.org and *.kasandbox.org are unblocked.

Main content

Soil texture triangle

Practice identifying and comparing soil types based on their percentage of clay, silt, and sand. Created by Khan Academy.

Want to join the conversation?

Video transcript

- [Narrator] Today, we're going to talk about soil. And you've probably noticed that there are many different kinds of soils. The soil near a beach looks and feels very different than the soil in a forest. And part of the reason for that difference is something called soil texture. Soil texture. So when soil is formed, different types of rock break down because of the wind and the rain and the weather. And they become differently sized particles. And the combination of these differently sized particles creates soil texture. So these differently sized particles can be broken down into three groups. We have sand. We have silt. And we have clay. Sand is made up of the larger and heavier particles of soil. Sand is around two millimeters. Two millimeters to 0.05 millimeters. Which is a 20th of a millimeter in diameter. And if it feels very gritty to touch. Clay on the other hand is the smallest particles of soil. It's around 0.002 millimeters and the smaller. That's a 500th of a millimeter. So really tiny. If you rubbed clay between your fingers, it would feel smooth, and you wouldn't be able to feel the individual particles of soil. And unlike sand, you can't even see clay's particles with a naked eye. Most people are familiar with sandy soils and clay soils, but silt is right in between. It's made of a particles between the size of clay and sand. So, it's between 0.05 millimeters and 0.002 millimeters. So when you think of silt imagine baking flour. It's powdery. Powdery. And it can be carried easily by wind and water. But soil is more complicated than just these three soil types. If you grabbed a handful of soil from outside your home, it would probably be a combination of all three soil types, along with some organic material. A soil's unique texture, that is it's combination of silt, sand, and clay, affects how plants will grow. And so gardeners often wanna know about their soil textures. They know what kinds of plants to grow in that area. This is where a helpful diagram called the soil texture triangle comes in. The soil texture triangle. The triangle allows us to place any soil sample into one of 12 different soil texture categories. The 12 different categories are broken up based on the percentage of silt, clay and sand in the soil. To see how this works, let's do an example. Let's say a gardener determined that a soil was 30% sand, 40% silt, and 30% clay. So, how can we figure out what kind of soil have? First, we need to pick a side of the triangle to start with. I'll start with sand. We know we have 30% sand. So, we go along the side of the triangle, until we find that 30% mark, right here. We want to draw a line from this point, to the side of the triangle, that this arrow is pointing to. The arrow is pointing towards the clay side. So we draw the line from the 30% sand mark, through the triangle, to the clay side. Like this. And by drawing this line, we already know that our soil sample will fall into a category along this line. So, it could be so silt loam, loam, clay loam, or clay. But to figure out exactly where it is, let's draw another line. Let's do silt. The soil has 40% silt. We'll draw our line through the triangle towards the sand side because of this arrow. So again, we do the same thing. We go along the percent silt's line. We find the 40% mark. And we're gonna draw a line from 40% to the other side of the triangle. And you can see when we draw that line, these two lines intersect at the clay loam point. But to double-check, let's draw a line from the 30% clay mark, to the other side of the triangle, like this. As you can see, these three lines, all intersected at the same point, right here in clay loam. So we know that we have clay loam. Notice that the percentage of clay, silt and sand, all add up to a total of 100%. We could have picked any two of these lines, just two, to find our answer. We don't need to draw three lines every time. Let's do another example. Let's say our gardener has another plot, with soil that contains 58% sand, 27% silt, and 15% clay. So, I'm gonna go along the percent sand part and find 58%. So that's pretty close to 60. And I'm gonna draw a line from 58%, to the other side of the triangle. Sometimes the example question, doesn't give us round numbers to work with. So when that's the case, I like to use a ruler or a straight edge, just to make sure that my lines are in the correct spot. Next I'm gonna use the 15% clay. So I find the 15% clay mark, and we draw a line for 15% to the other side of the triangle following the direction of the lines within the triangle. And we can see that our two lines intersect at this point. So, we have sandy loam. The gardener has these two plots clay loam and sandy loam. So when the gardener looks at her two plots, she might wanna take into account the different kinds of soil. Certain kinds of plants do better in clay loam soil while others would do better in the sandy loam soil. This is partly because clay soils, hold onto moisture for longer than sandy soils do. So the plants in the gardeners sandy loam plot, would do better if they had longer root systems to access water deeper in the ground. Or if they stored water inside themselves to access later. The gardener could use a gardening book or the internet to see what kinds of plants would do best in each of her two plots. Thanks for watching and happy soil identification.