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What is Red Soil?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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Red soil is soil that has a reddish tinge as a result of the presence of iron compounds in it. This soil can form from iron-rich sediments or the compounds may develop in the soil as it weathers. There are a number of different kinds of soil that is red, and simply identifying the color does not provide very much information about it other than a verification that it is probably high in iron. For more information about a specific soil, testing is needed to learn about its composition.

This type of soil tends to form in climates that are warm, temperate, and moist. Sometimes, red soil is left over from older climate conditions, and in regions where iron-rich sedimentary rock is present, the rock provides clues into the prior climate. Deposits often form in bands, explaining the sometimes striped appearance of sedimentary rocks with red, yellow, and orange materials. Not all moist, warm, and temperate climates have soil that is red, but in those that do, it can become a problem for farmers and gardeners.

Red soil can be low in nutrients, and the iron oxides in it can cause problems for plants. Farmers and gardeners may enrich the soil by working in additives and organic materials to create a more even balance of nutrients. Another option is to lay richer soil over it, or to remove the poor soil and replace it with better.

The presence of this soil can provide important information about the environment and the climate. When people identify reddish soil in areas where they want to farm or garden, samples can be sent to a soil lab for analysis to find out whether or not the soil can support plants. If the soil needs to be supplemented, the results of the testing can be used to determine which supplements need to be applied and to find the appropriate concentrations.

Some types of red soil are clays, and this type can be used for ceramic projects, either alone or blended with other materials. It has also historically been used in the production of building materials, such as bricks. Suitability for ceramics and building depends on the composition of the soil. Some clay soils may be highly suitable for tasks like building. In regions with large deposits, companies that make building supplies and clay may establish mining facilities to extract useful soil.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a HomeQuestionsAnswered researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By naturesgurl3 — On Jan 20, 2011

I think that red soil is such an amazing, and often underappreciated thing. Sure it can be hard to garden with, and it stains like crazy, but think about all the uses of red soil.

Clay, for instance. Think about how many beautiful clay pieces are only possible because of the existence of red soil; not to mention bricks and other clay building materials.

Red soil can be used to make true works of art as well -- just look at some of the gorgeous Chinese Chaozhou pottery made from red clay.

It has this unique patina and shine that you really can't find anywhere else in the world; and it is this bright, almost fire engine red in some cases without being painted or dyed.

Anyway, I just wanted to bring a little more appreciation to this type of soil profile, because I think that it catches a lot of flak. So the next time you get frustrated when your boots turn red from the clay, just think about all the wonderful uses of red soil -- it truly is a gift of mother nature.


By FirstViolin — On Jan 17, 2011

So what would be some good plants that I could grow in red soil? I recently moved into a new house and took a soil sample, and it was mostly red soil, which was something that I have never worked with before.

I used to be an avid gardener in my old home, and I was hoping to continue that in my new home, but I am way out of my element. It also appears that there is some soil degradation in my area too, which makes me even more hesitant in choosing what to plant, because I'm afraid that it's just going to get washed away.

So can anyone who lives in the upper Georgia area and gardens help me out? This red soil is something else; I just don't know how to deal with it!

By Charlie89 — On Jan 15, 2011

I grew up in North Carolina, but my grandparents lived in South Carolina, so I have these very deeply rooted childhood memories associated with red soil.

They lived on a forty acre farm near Clemson University, with a highway running right through the middle of their property, and believe me, that road was always stained completely red with that thick red clay.

When my cousins and I would go out to play in the woods, I remember making mud forts and playing in the creek getting completely covered in mud -- we even used to dab it all over our faces to play cowboys and Indians, which drove my mom and aunts crazy.

I would have to day that there is no other kind of soil that invokes layers of emotion like that red clay does for me. Even later on in college when I was studying soil profiles for a geology intro class, that one just always leaped out at me.

Do you all have any similar memories? I somehow suspect that this is something in the collective consciousness of those in the South...am I right?

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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