Web Soil Survey Map Explorer

The United States Department of Agriculture has a fantastic Web Soil Survey (WSS) tool to help you discover what kind of soil you have, it’s physical and chemical characteristics, and which plants are considered native for your specific site.

The National Cooperative Soil Survey produces the web soil survey . The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) operates the site and provides access to the largest natural resource information system in the world. The site is updated and maintained online as the single authoritative source of soil survey information.

Spend Some Time Exploring

You can explore online and, if you choose, get a report.  Spend some time on the site. The information is fascinating and there are a lot of ways to look at the data and resources provided.

These step by step instructions will help you navigate the site. For purposes of illustration, we are using the address of the Travis County AgriLife Extension office. You will want to use your site address instead.

Step One: Go to the WSS Site

Go to Web Soil Survey Home page to get started. You’ll define your area of interest, view the soil map, and then explore the soil data on the soil designated for your site.

Step Two: Click the Start WSS Button

Click the big green button to enter into the database:

Click this button to start the Web Soil Survey application.

Step Three: Use the Area of Interest Tab to Define Your Area

The first tab is Area of Interest (AOI).

Enter in your address on the left side under the Quick Navigation Menu. For this example, we are using the Travis County AgriLife Extension office; 1600 Smith Road, Austin, TX 78721.

Enter your address to start creating the area of interest


Now click View.

Use the buttons on the map to draw a rectangle around your site. This automatically creates the Area of Interest for you. It’s best to choose a larger, rather than smaller area to get the correct information. For the extension office, we choose to drag the rectangle over the entire window. Once you do that, you are ready to explore the data.

Create area of interest with your address and rectangle tool


Step Four: Click the Soil Map Tab

Click the Soil Map tab to see the soil map for your site. Your site may have more than one type of soil. You can explore them all if you wish. The extension office sits directly across from a gravel pit on Hwy 183, which is why the GP appears. Click the map unit name link for a detailed description of the soils found at your site.

Soil map results from the web soil survey


Step Five: Click the Soil Data Explorer Tab

The Soil Data Explorer area is where you will now spend most of your time. The Intro to Soils tab is a good list of resources if you are new to soil studies. The Suitabilities and Limitations for Use tab provides information on determining the suitability of the soils for a particular use. Expand the menu next to each topic to see more options. For this example we’ve expanded Soil Health and Vegetative Productivity.

Suitabilities and Limitations for use tab of soil web survey

In some cases, you’ll need to enter a little more data to retrieve the information. In this example, in order to see Soil Health – Organic Matter ratings, you need to enter the depth of the soil profile. Choose a depth that represents the rootzone of the plants you have at the site. For example, for vegetables, use 3 to 6 inches. Shrubs, use 6 to 36 inches. Trees, use 6 to 48 inches. Try a few different values to see if it changes the data.

Data explorer options from the web soil survey


Step Six: Choose Ecological Sites

The Ecological Sites tab is especially useful if you want to see what plants used to grow natively for your area. This information can help you make better plant choices for your landscape. It’s also great information if you are trying to install a pocket prairie or woodland for your property.

Next, click on the Ecological Sites tab, and then click on both View All Ecological Sites Info buttons.

Soil data explorer tab from the web soil survey pageScroll the window all the way down to see which Ecological Sites are listed. Click on those links for more information. The extension office Map Unit Component is  R086AY012TX – Loamy Bottomland.

Map unit component from the Soil Map Explorer for Soil type Bh

Go through the side navigation window to explore the information available. Ecological dynamics describes your site and will include native plants that used to (or maybe still) grow in your area. From this information we have learned that the extension office site is on the Northern Blackland Prairies grassland ecoregion, which historically was part of the tall-grass prairie.

Screenshot of loamy bottomland soil description page

Additional Resources for Soils and Composting</h3?

Using Coffee Grounds in the Garden

Great Gardens Begin with Great Soil

How to Take A Soil Sample

Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Soil, Water, and Forage Testing Laboratory

Calculate Amount of Soil, Mulch, or Compost to Purchase or Make

The Real Dirt on Austin Area Soils

Compost Brings Life

Don’t Bag it, Compost it!

Leaf Management Plan

Recycling Leaves – From Trash to Treasure


USDA Backyard Conservation: Composting

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Comments are closed.