Soil Analysis – Mid-Atlantic –United States

A Soil Analysis Of The Mid-Atlantic Area

The first soil analysis installment covered the New England states.  Now, we are moving on to a soil analysis of the Mid-Atlantic states.

It wouldn’t hurt to catch up on soil basic by checking out “Soil Analysis Across The Globe.”  This article covers just how dirt has been created – and it gives a very understandable treatise on soil horizons – or, the different layers that make up Mother Earth in our own neck of the woods.


OverviewMid-Atlantic states.

Mid-Atlantic soil is much like the soil of New England – since glaciers during the ice age covered most of the area.  Thus, the topsoil layer is fairly thin – on the average.  And, the horizons – being young – less than 10 thousand years old – are not well defined.  Their intersections are a bit blurred.

Some southern areas in the Mid-Atlantic region were vacated by the glaciers a few thousand years earlier and their horizons are more defined.

There are only 3 states in this region – New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania – making it easy to browse them one at a time – or, jump to the state of most interest.


New Jersey (NJ)

State of New Jersey - soil analysisNew Jersey state flag.







Downer soil - state soil of New JerseyNew Jersey’s state soil, Downer, is a yellowish, sandy soil that covers over 290,000 acres throughout the state – with the most dominant concentrations in 11 counties of southern New Jersey – especially in the Pine Barrens area.  It was developed from acid, loamy Coastal Plain sediments.

The level of natural fertility is “medium” – which means that additional fertilization is necessary for optimum crop growth.

Beneath the partially decomposed organic matter – or, “O” horizon – the topsoil – or, “A” horizon – is dark, grayish brown loamy sand.  The “A” and “O” horizons together have an average depth of 11 inches.

The “B” horizon – or, subsoil – changes gradually from grayish brown sandy loam to yellowish brown coarse sand.  Average thickness is 30 inches.

Woodlands account for 60% of Downer soil.  The remainder is available to grow veggies and fruits – the most common of which are peppers, tomatoes, cabbage, apples, asparagus, and sweet potatoes.

Because of the strong acidic nature of this soil, lime is added to reduce the acidity.  Both lime and fertilizer may also need to be added periodically throughout the growing season because the sandy soils easily leach the amendments from the top layers – forcing them down into the subsurface layers.

Also, because of the higher than normal leaching, the soil will dry out more quickly – making irrigation a necessity – and soaker hoses are the most appropriate method to produce an adequate supply of water to the plants.

Keep in mind that, even with its limitations, Downer soil grows some of the most outstanding fruits and vegetables you can get!  This is good news for the backyard gardener!


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New York (NY)

State of New York - soil analysisNew York state flag.







 Honeoye soil - state soil of New Jersey

Honeoye (Hăn- ĕ – ă -yeah’) soil covers a half million acres in the great state of New York.  This soil mostly occurs in an area spanning central and western New York and can be found in at least 15 counties.  Honeoye soil began forming once the glaciers receded during the ice age – about 12,000 years ago.

The name, “Honeoye”, is from the Seneca Indian language – and there is a tale about a Seneca Indian’s finger being bitten by a rattlesnake.  In order to prevent the venom from spreading to the rest of his body, the Indian cut off his finger.  “Honeoye” means “the place where the finger lies.”

These highly rich soils produce a wide range of vegetables – along with various pasture grasses (alfalfa, hay, wheat, oats, etc.) – and numerous grape and apple orchards.

Honeoye soil is very fertile – though, a bit acidic in the top layers.  It approaches “pH neutral” further down in the subsoil layers.

Dark, grayish brown loam is found in the “A” horizon.  This layer contains a lot of silt loam – but, not much clay.

Below that, the soil layers in the “B” horizon go from a brown loam to a dark, grayish brown gravelly loam to a dark, grayish brown VERY gravelly loam – and, there are many more clay particles here than there are in the “A” horizon.

This soil is very deep and well drained – and a superior medium for veggie and fruit crops – as well as vineyards and orchards.  Due to the prolific grape, cherry, and apple crops in New York, this state is home to over 95 wineries.

Soil erosion is a serious factor in New York.  Thus, during the off season months, many gardeners opt to plant cover crops to protect their soil from washing away and to add valuable nutrients to the soil in preparation for spring planting.


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Pennsylvania (PA)

State of Pennsylvania - soil analysisPennsylvania state flag.






Hazelton soil - state soil of Pennsylvania

Hazelton soil, the state soil of Pennsylvania, is named for the city – in east central PA.  Occurring in over half the counties in the state, Hazleton soil covers more than 1.5 million acres of land.

Though other soils were considered for the title of “state soil” – such as Berks, Gilpin, and Penn – Hazleton soil won the most votes because it is the most plentiful.

The “O” and “A” horizons reveal dark brown, stony and sandy loam soil – while the lower levels change from dark gray stony sandy loam – “B” horizon – to light yellowish brown very stony and sandy loam – “C” horizon – to gray sandstone, along with red, gray, and brown shale in the bedrock – or, “R” horizon.

This naturally fertile soil runs deep – or, very deep – and, is exceptionally well-drained.

The downside is that water drains so quickly through the soil layers that the soil is constantly in danger of drying out too rapidly.  Thus, irrigation, preferably in the form of soaker hoses, is a good idea to maximize harvests for any fruits and vegetables that the backyard gardener wants to grow.

Being slightly acidic, the pH may need to be tweaked with a little lime at the beginning of each growing season.  And, the standard fertilizers – 10-10-10 – and, 0-0-60 – can normally be used to feed the crops.


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The Mid-Atlantic Soil Analysis Is Complete

The Mid-Atlantic soil analysis breakdown turned out to be short and sweet, didn’t it?  Got right to the point?  Covered what you need to know and, maybe a smidgen more?

Any gardeners taking up residence in New Jersey, New York, or Pennsylvania are invited to comment or email me with more facts, questions – or whatever comes to mind about the soil in your area.


Jim, the Lifelong Gardener


10 thoughts on “Soil Analysis – Mid-Atlantic –United States

  1. Terry Reply

    Thanks for the great info!  I live in Southern New York and I love to garden.  I noticed that some crops do better than others and after reading this article, I am assuming it is due to the pH balance.  I am most likely going to get the soil tested so I can adjust the pH if necessary.  I find that my flowering plants do a lot better than root veggies and that is probably due to the fact that the top layer is a little more acidic, which I did not know until I read this article.  I will try tilling a little deeper to try and reach the rich loam below.

    Thanks again!

    • Jim Reply

      Hi Terry,

      One trick I learned for soil testing is that I get one soil test for my garden veggies and another soil test for my flower beds – and I identify which soil test if for the garden and which is for the flowers.  Because, when they do the tests, they will make the necessary adjustments in the amount of amendments (i.e. fertilizer, lime, etc.) that are needed for each specific situation.


  2. Geoffrey wurz Reply

    Thank you for the post on Mid-Atlantic soil analysis. This is a great post for anyone in those areas trying to take up gardening. The tips you have for gardening in each of those types of soil will give anyone trying to take up gardening a good advantage to having their crops come out beautiful.

    • Jim Reply

      Hi Geoffrey,

      You’re welcome.  Glad I could impart some useful soil information to you!  Like my fellow gardeners, I’m always looking for all the tips I can get to keep my crops growin’ better!


  3. Cris Reply

    I feel as though I’ve happened upon this site at the right time, as Spring is officially sprung and garden prepping has started. I find this site particularly interesting because I have lived in many states across the U.S., and it is absolutely incredible (and sometimes frustrating) the difference in soils and how it can make or ruin your garden.

    I had wonderful gardens in the Midwest, and in the Southwest. However, in the central states, I had the most difficult time getting certain plants to root or produce in the soil, even when I supplemented with rich compost. I intend to return to this site to read much more. Thanks for providing this geographical info, and pictures for those of us who find visuals especially helpful!

    • Jim Reply

      Hi Cris,

      Many folks don’t realize how important it is to understand what type of soil they have in their backyard gardens.  It’s makes all the difference knowing as much as possible about your dirt in order to create a positive, healthy environment in which your veggies can grow and prosper.


  4. Cheong Seow Ling Reply

    Hi Jim,

    Very informative article introducing the different types of soil in Mid-Atlantic America.

    It sure helps to know the PH level, too.

    For the acidic soil like in New Jersey, I can see that lime should be added.  But, how do we determine the amount of lime and the frequency of lime to be added?  And also, how do we determine whether the soil is suitable for the plants we want to grow?

    • Jim Reply

      Your questions can be answered by having your county cooperative extension services test your soil.  My article on soil testing gives you the basics.


  5. Nuttanee Reply

    Hi Jim,

    Thank you for informing us about soil analysis. I live in NY, to be specific in NYC. This is the first time I have heard of the Honeoye soil and the origin of the name is very interesting.

    Never thought that the soil factor is one of the reasons why we have so many good wines (always thought of the weather right away). Especially Riesling or Gewurztraminer from the Finger Lakes. They are so good. Thanks for sharing the analysis.

    • Jim Reply

      It’s good to know what type of soil is in your area – to make sure that you use the right amendments – fertilizers, lime, etc. – to create a heathy, productive crop of veggies.


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