Skip links and keyboard navigation

Waterwise gardening

Improve your soil

The key to establishing and maintaining a water-efficient garden is understanding your soil. Soils with high water-holding capacity, ample depth, effective infiltration and good drainage need less frequent watering and make best use of available rainfall.

Firstly, determine the soil type based on its texture. There is a simple test you can use to check the soil’s texture.

  1. Gather a handful of soil, then add water gradually and mix it together in your hand until it forms a ball. (If it becomes so wet it sticks to your fingers, add some dry soil.)
  2. Slowly squeeze the soil between your thumb and forefinger to form a sausage shape.
  3. Examine the mixture:
  • If the shape remains firm and will bend like plasticine, it is a clay soil.
  • If the soil crumbles and you can feel and see sand in it, it is a sandy soil.
  • If it holds together but is still slightly crumbly, it is a loam soil.

Clay soils

Some clay soils (black, red and grey topsoils) are rich in nutrients and hold water well. Others, usually lighter coloured soils, tend to be less fertile and can become compacted and waterlogged.

To improve, cultivate the soil to a depth of 30 centimetres if possible (make sure the soil is not very dry or very wet when you do this). Some clay soils benefit from adding gypsum or dolomite at this stage.

Next, dig in plenty of organic material such as compost, mulch or manure. Then add a layer of organic mulch.

Sandy soils

While these soils have low moisture and nutrient-holding capacity, they are usually well aerated and easy to cultivate.

They can be hard-setting with poor infiltration once they have dried out, so using a wetting agent may help.

To improve the soil, ensure it is moist but not wet and cultivate it to a minimum depth of 30 centimetres. Add plenty of organic matter and dig in well.

Loam soils

Loam refers to any soil that is between sand and clay soils. Loams are considered to be the best soils for growing plants.

Like all soils, loams can be improved and maintained by adding organic matter such as compost, mulch and manure.

Applying wetting agents may also help the soil better absorb water.

Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Australia (CC BY 3.0)
Last reviewed
2 March 2017
Last updated
18 December 2014
  1. Is your feedback about:
  2. (If you chose ‘website’ above)

    Page feedback

    1. How satisfied are you with your experience today? *
  3. (If you chose ‘service’ above)

    Feedback on government services, departments and staff

    Please use our complaints and compliments form.