Soil contains a lot of constituent parts. Some of the components are soft, like decomposing leaves and other biological matter. Other parts are hard, like sand in loamy soil. However, even the relatively hard components are in small granules, which makes them more malleable, and seem to be more soft.
Soil is made from the particles of weathered rocks and decayed matter of plants and animals. There are six basic soil types–sandy, silty, clay, loamy, peaty, and chalky. The texture and consistency vary based on the type of soil. Sandy, silty, and loamy soils tend to be grittier, while chalky soil tends to be drier with larger granules. Peaty soil contains much more organic matter than other soil types. I think what makes soil soft is the amount of organic matter found in it; if soil contains particles from rocks, it will be less “soft” compared to soil that contains decayed plants and animals.
In addition to the answers by xmanmonk and ghuang278, healthy soil is also soft because of organisms living in it. Microbes are breaking down organic matter. Insects are nesting, egg-laying, crawling and emerging through it. Worms penetrate, rodents burrow; there is a lot going on in the biome.
In addition, in temperate climates, winter brings freezing, spring brings thawing. The soil softens– not only in potholes– but everywhere ice moves stones and pebbles in the soil. The soil heaves– maybe only a matter of a millimeter or less for any particular particle, but the cumulative effect is large in fields where sun and ice wage their springtime battles daily.
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