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Soils in Mississippi

photo of nice lawnMississippi has a wide variety of soils reflecting the diversity of parent materials, climate, biological factors, and topography in the state. Three general land resource regions are identified: 1) river flood plain (the Delta); 2) a loess region (a band of soils formed in windblown material that adjoins the Delta; and 3) Coastal Plain (the rest of the state).

As human land management transitioned pre-Columbian to the modern, including forest clearing and more recently forest replanting, the soils within a region led to the current predominant surface activities. For example, most Mississippi row crop production (cotton, corn, and soybeans) occurs in the relatively flat, deep alluvial soils of the Delta that are conducive to mechanized farming. Conversely, animal production and forestry are predominant in the shallower soils of the hills in east and south Mississippi.

The Mississippi loess and Coastal Plain regions are divided into smaller units based on common soils, geology, climate, water resources, and land use called Major Land Resource Areas. These, and the Delta, are the focus of the following discussion summarized from various Natural Resource Conservation Service and Mississippi State University resources.

Southern Mississippi Valley Alluvium: The Delta

Soil Testing Lab Info:

Telephone: 662-325-3313

Mailing Address:
MSU-ES Soil Testing Laboratory
Box 9610
Mississippi State, MS 39762

Shipping Address:
MSU-ES Soil Testing Laboratory
190 Bost North
Mississippi State, MS 39762

Mississippi Delta soils originate in sediments left by flooding of the various rivers in the region; it is not a traditional delta fan formed at the mouth of a river. Most Delta soils are farmed, with three-fourths of the cropland to the north and less cropland in the south. Controlling surface water and drainage are major soil management issues.

Soils are naturally diverse in the Delta due to their alluvial origin; the sediment originated north of Mississippi. Particle sizes within the sediment decrease as distance from the originating stream increases, i.e. soils closer to running water have proportionally more large silt and sand particles than soils further from the stream. Another factor in Delta soil formation is surface water movement over time. Soils formed under standing water have different properties than soils formed under running water.

Soils with a large proportion of clay particles (the smallest basic soil solid) have some unique features. When these soils dry, small round aggregates form at the surface that look like shotgun buckshot, hence the popular name for Delta clay soils “buckshot.” Soils with large clay contents have very slow water infiltration rates; this property led to significant aquaculture and rice production in the region.

Southern Mississippi Valley Uplands: Brown Loam Hills and Thin Loess Areas

When floodwaters receded in what is now the Delta, strong west to east winds blew some of the dry sediment left by flooded rivers to the adjacent uplands. The deposited material is called loess, and is the parent material of soils formed in the hilly region along the eastern edge of the Delta. The depth of loess decreases from west to east across the state as the distance from the originating flat lands increases.

This area, the Brown Loam region or Bluff Hills, has some very deep deposits, as evidenced by the bluffs outside Yazoo City. Recently, Natchez silt loam, a soil extent on about 170,000 acres in this area was designated the Mississippi state soil.

Coastal Plain

Coastal plain soils in Mississippi are part of an arc along the United States coast from New Jersey to Texas. They are based on unconsolidated fluvial or marine sediments deposited on the edges of ancient seas. These diverse soils are usually best suited to pastures and forests.

The northern portion of the Coastal Plain is commonly called the Mississippi Sand Clay Hills. The southern Coastal Plain is the “Piney Woods” region of the state.

Blackland Prairie

There are two “Blackland Prairies,” one in northeastern Mississippi in the Tupelo, Aberdeen, and Columbus area, and another, smaller in and near Scott County in south central Mississippi. Many of the soils are very dark, like midwestern prairies, however the Mississippi soils form in soft limestone or chalk parent material in humid conditions. Midwestern prairie soils form in glaciated areas predominated by grasslands under drier, less humid conditions

Gulf Coast Marsh

There are zones of marsh along the Gulf of Mexico which differ from the rest of the state. It is almost treeless, has marsh vegetation, and uninhabited. It is part of the estuarine complex that supports Gulf marine life. Most of the soils of the Gulf Coast Marsh are very poorly drained, and the water table is at or above the surface most of the time. These soils are susceptible to frequent flooding. They formed in alluvial and marine sediments and organic accumulations.

Eastern Gulf Coast Flatwoods

The area between the marshes and the Coastal Plain is chiefly forest. Pulp and paper companies, and the military have large holdings in the region.


Frequently Asked Questions

How do I test my soil?
What is soil?
What is soil organic matter?



MSUcares publications (then search for soils)
IS1334 Mississippi Soil Surveys
TB221 Sodium Soils in Mississippi
B1067 Soils of Native Prairie Remnants in Mississippi
B1044 Cooperative Soil Conservation Studies
P2086 Soils and Sports Fields


Soil Sampling Information:

IS346 Soil Testing for the Farmer
IS1294 Soil Testing for the Homeowner
IS1614 Soil and Broiler Litter Testing Basics


Plant Nutrients and Liming:

IS372 Soil pH and Fertilizers (horticulture)
IS1584 Interpreting Soil Tests (horticulture)
IS767 Nitrogen in Mississippi Soils
IS871 Phosphorus in Mississippi Soils
IS894 Potassium in Mississippi Soils
IS1587 Limestone Relative Neutralizing Value
IS1620 Useful Nutrient Management Planning Data
P1466 Using Fluid Fertilizers
P2311 Soil pH and Trees
B1129 Economics of Variable Rate Fertilization
P2208 Using Dairy Lagoon Effluents as Fertilizer
IS1635 Using Poultry Litter in Forage Production


Specific Crop Nutrient Management:

P1622 Cotton
IS873 Soybean
I1341 Rice
IS1169 Forages
IS411 Ornamental Trees


Other Soil Information

State soil of Mississippi fact sheet
Soil Testing in Mississippi
Soil Testing Web Results
Vegetable Garden Soils
Best Management Practices for Fertility Management
Nutrient Management
Land Resource Areas
Formal definition of soil
More information about soil development
Careers in Soil Science
Helping People Understand Soils (4 MB .pdf format)
Natchez - Mississippi State Soil (,pdf format)
The Twelve Soil Orders
Soil quality: Soil Quality Institute
Soil fertility management using manures
Soil conservation is maintaining the soil we have.
Soil clay minerals: building blocks for many important soil properties
Soil Biology Movies: Iowa State University
Soil Science Teacher Resources - K-12
Soil survey information: National Cooperative Soil Survey


Soil Fertility

Nitrogen Cycle: Potash and Phosphate Institute
Soil Acidity and Liming
Nitrogen Fertility
Phosphorus in Soils and Soil Fertility


Master Gardener

Introduction to Soils
Basic Soil Fertility
Soil Testing

Soil Testing Lab

Mailing Address:
MSU-ES Soil Testing Laboratory
Box 9610
Mississippi State, MS 39762

Shipping Address:
MSU-ES Soil Testing Laboratory
190 Bost North
Mississippi State, MS 39792