Loam is a soil mixture consisting of clay, silt, sand and organic matter. This soil type is beneficial for gardens and landscape areas because it allows for good drainage while the smaller particles retain sufficient moisture for plant growth. The organic matter in the loam supplies nutrients essential for plant life. The ratio of the components within a loam may vary between locations.
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Loam soil has a sand content ranging from 23 to 53 per cent of the total mixture. Sand grains range from 0.05mm and 4.75mm, are easy to see with the naked eye and feel gritty if you rub them between your fingers. Sand particles often include the minerals quartz, magnetite, olivine, feldspar and hornblende. You can subdivide sands into fine, medium and coarse varieties. Find-grained sands are similar to icing sugar, with grain sizes between 0.075mm and 0.42mm. Medium-grained sands are between 0.42mm and 2mm in size, which is similar to that table salt. The largest particle size, coarse-grained, is between 2 and 4.75mm, which resembles water softener salt.
Loam's silt component generally ranges from 28 to 50 per cent of the total mixture. Silt particles are between 0.002mm to 0.05mm and are too small to see without a microscope. However, you can sometimes feel the small, gritty grains between your fingers. These small grains have a greater ability to hold water in the soil than the larger sand particles. Silt particles are contain quartz, feldspar, micas and other silicate minerals.
A loamy soil mixture is often 7 to 27 per cent clay particles. Smaller than 0.002mm in size, clay particles are the smallest of loam soil's inorganic components, which you can only see using a microscope. Clay particles feel sticky when they're wet and will hold water and nutrients for vegetation. Clay particles are actually a family of minerals that form from the degradation of micas and feldspars in various rock types. Loam soil can include a variety of clays such as kaolinite, smectite, illite and chlorite.
Organic Matter Component
Organic matter in loamy soil includes fresh or decomposed animal or plant material. The content of organic matter in loamy soil is generally between two and four per cent. Although its percentage is small, organic matter is an important part of loam soil because it helps to aerate the soil, retain moisture, control and reduce erosion and provide important nutrients such as sulphur, nitrogen, phosphorous to nearby plants.
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- Purdue University: What is Loam?
- University of Hawaii at Manoa: Soil Minerals
- Virginia Department of Transportation: Unified Soil Classification System
- University of Washington: ASTM Terminology
- Oakton Community College; Introduction to Clay Minerals & Soils; William K. Tong; 2000
- Georgia Perimeter College; Soil; Dr. Pamela Gore; 2005