Soils of KeralaThe topo-lithosequence of Kerala along with variation in rainfall, temperature and alternate wet and dry conditions particularly from the western coast to high ranges in the east and swift flowing rivers lead to the development of different types of natural vegetation and soil. The soils of Kerala can be broadly grouped into coastal alluvium, mixed alluvium, acid saline, kari, laterite, red, hill, black cotton and forest soils.


Type of Kerala Soils

These soils of marine origin are identified along the coastal plains and basin lands as a narrow strip. The elevation of the coastal area is generally below 5m MSL. The area has high water table and in some areas it reaches above the surface during rainy season. The soils of the coastal plains are very deep with sandy texture. The texture generally ranges from sand to loamy sand with greyish brown to reddish brown and yellowish red colour. Sand content ranges from 80% and clay up to 15%. Even though these soils have high water table, the water holding capacity is poor due to the predominance of sand. Coconut is the major crop in the area. Cashew and other fruit trees are also grown

Coastal Alluvium

These soils are developed from fluvial sediments of marine, lacustrine and riverine sediments or its combinations. They occur below 20m MSL in the lowland plains, basins, valleys and along the banks of major rivers. The mixed alluvium is mainly noticed close to coastal alluvium, Kuttanad and adjacent area and kole lands of Thrissur district. The soils are frequently flooded and submerged. The soils of depressions and broad valleys are subject to occasional flooding and stagnation. The ground water table of these soils is generally high and it reaches above the surface during rainy season. A wide variation in texture is noticed in these soils. Sandy clay loam to clay is the predominant texture. Sandy loam soils are also met with. Light grey to very dark brown is the common colour of the soil. Paddy, other annuals and seasonal crops like banana, tapioca and vegetables are grown here.

Mixed Alluvium

Acid saline soils are present throughout the coastal area in patches with very little extent. Major area of this soil is identified in the coastal tract of Ernakulam, Thrissur and Kannur districts. The area under these soils comprise of low-lying marshes, waterlogged and ill drained areas near the rivers and streams, which are subject to tidal waves. Sea and backwater tides make these soils saline. During monsoon season, when rainwater and fresh water from rivers enter the fields, salinity is partially washed off. The area under these soils occur mostly on plains at or below sea level. A wide variation in texture from sandy loam to clay is noticed with dark grey to black colour. Paddy is the only crop that can be cultivated.

Acid Saline Soils

Laterite and laterite soil are the weathering products of rock in which several course of weathering and mineral transformations take place. This involves removal of bases and substantial loss of combined silica of primary minerals. In laterite and laterite soils, over acidic rocks, induration and zonation are more pronounced. This induration is greater if the iron content is higher. These soils mainly occur in the midlands and part of lowlands at an elevation of 10 to 100m above MSL as a strip between the coastal belt and hilly midupland. The area comprises of mounds and low hills with gentle to steep slopes. Laterite soils are generally suitable for most of the dryland crops. It is mainly cultivated with coconut, arecanut, banana, tapioca, vegetables, yams, pepper, pineapple, fruit trees etc. The percentage of gravel content in the soil and reduced soil depth limits the choice of crops. In laterite outcropped area with shallow soils, only cashew can be grown with vegetables.

Laterite Soils

These soils are identified in alluvial plains, terraces and undulating plains of Chittur taluk in Palakkad district in patches. The elevation of the area ranges from 100 to 300m above MSL with gentle to moderate slope. These soils are developed on Khondalite suite of rocks traversed by lenticular bands of crystalline limestone and calc-granulites. These soils are very deep, black and calcareous. The texture of the soil ranges from clay loam to clay. They possess high shrink-swell capacity and hence exhibit the characteristic cracking during dry periods. A variety of crops such as coconut, sugarcane, cotton, chilly, pulses and vegetables are grown here.

Black Cotton Soils

These are found mostly in the southern parts of Thiruvananthapuram district and in pockets in catenary sequence along the foot slopes of laterite hills and mounds. These soils are identified in undulating plains of lowland with a general slope of 3 to 10%. These are mostly very deep and homogeneous in nature. The texture of the soil generally ranges from sandy clay loam to clay loam with red to dark red colour. Gravels are rarely noticed in these soils. A variety of crops such as coconut, arecanut, banana, yams, pineapple, vegetables, fruit trees etc., can be grown under proper management.

Red Soils

The hill soils mostly occur above an elevation of 80m MSL. The area is hilly and has highly dissected denudational hills, elongated ridges, rocky cliffs and narrow valleys. The general slope range is above 10%. The texture of these soils generally range from loam to clay loam with average gravel content of 10 to 50%. In addition, stones and boulders are noticed in the subsoil. These soils have reddish brown to yellowish red/strong brown colour. Generally, increase in clay content is noticed down the profile. The depth of the soil varies considerably from 60 to 200 cm depending on the lie of the land, erodibility of soil and past erosion. These soils are mostly friable and subject to heavy soil erosion. The area is suitable for all dryland crops like rubber, coconut, arecanut and fruit trees based on the topography. Crops such as banana, pepper, pineapple, vegetables can be grown in foot slopes.

Hill Soils

These soils are developed from crystalline rocks of archaean age under forest cover. They occur along the eastern part of the State, generally above an elevation of 300m above MSL. The area is hilly and mountainous with steep slopes, escarpments, elongated rocky summits and narrow ‘V’ shaped valleys. The depth of the soil varies considerably depending on erosion and vegetative cover. The soils are generally immature due to slow weathering process. Rock outcrops and stones are noticed on the surface. Gneissic boulders under different stages of weathering are noticed in the subsoil. The texture of the soil ranges from sandy clay loam to clay with reddish brown to very dark brown colour. Forest trees, shrubs and grasses are grown here


Forest Soils

Kari soils are seen in Alappuzha & Kottayam districts in marshy areas lying below Mean Sea Level.  Kari soils have poor drainage, high acidity, salinity and decomposed organic matter at lower layers. The high amount of decomposed organic matter and wood debris in the subsoil and intrusion of sea water into the area are the main source of extreme acid conditions.   The soil texture ranges from sandy clay to clay with intermediate textures of silty clay loam and clay loam. Sand pockets are frequented in the solum.

Soil Limitations - Impeded drainage,Toxic concentration of soluble salts,   Extreme  Acidity(pH<4),  Presence of toxic compounds and elements,  Low fertility

Management  Measures -  Limiting the generation of acidity by avoiding disturbance of the subsoil ,Pre flooding to allow reduction of acidity possible before planting the crop,  Double cropping of rice (or even shrimps as in our traditional Pokkali lands) which shortens the period of soil drying,        Frequent flushing of the surface with good quality water and practicing     Intensive shallow drainage, either by broad, shallow ditches between broad raised beds where flooding with good water will help in  leaching of acidity and salts without deep drainage