The term soil traditionally has had somewhat different connotations for engineers, soil scientists, ecologists, farmers and gardeners. Soil is considered to be the uppermost portion of the Earth crust. A vertical cut through the soil will show various layers (or horizons) with their own properties, which collectively make up the soil profile. A soil profile includes the topsoil, subsoil, and the underlying parent material. Soil results from  the interaction of at least five factors: parent material, relief, biotic elements, climate and time. Features of a soil profile include the number of horizons, their color, texture, structure, composition, thickness, and geologic material, among others.

The soil pattern in New Jersey is varied, a condition resulting from many kinds of geologic materials and other factors. Over seventy geologic formations have been recognized within the state. Further, the sweep of land north of a line extending from Perth Amboy to Morristown and Belvidere has been glaciated; pockets of old till are also found south of this line. Glacial activities have had a dominant influence on producing man kinds of soil.

In the mountainous terrain of northern New Jersey, the soil may be only a few inches thick, but in the rolling flat sectors it may be five or more feet deep. Many sectors of the state have soils with poor drainage, including muck and peat deposit. The inner Coastal Plain of New Jersey has some of the most desirable agricultural soils in America. The Pines Barrens sector has strikingly poor sandy soils, but the cedar swamp soils are excellent for growing specialized crops such as cranberries and blueberries.