© 2015 Soil Science Society of China. Soils in south-western Australia are highly weathered and deficient in nutrients for agricultural production. Addition of biochar has been suggested as a mean of improving soil C storage, texture and nutrient retention of these soils. Clay amendment in sandy soils in this region is a management practice used to improve soil conditions, including water repellence. In this study a woody biochar (Simcoa biochar) was characterised using scanning electron microscopy before, and four weeks after, it was incorporated into each of four soils differing in clay content and organic matter. Scanning electron microscopy of Simcoa biochar after incubation in soil showed different degrees of attachment of soil particles to the biochar surfaces after 28 d. In addition, the effects of three biochars, Simcoa biochar, activated biochar and Wundowie biochar, on soil microbial biomass C and soil respiration were investigated in a short-term incubation experiment. It was hypothesised that all three biochars would have greater potential to increase soil microbial activity in the soil that had higher organic matter and clay. After 28-d incubation in soil, all three biochars had led to a higher microbial biomass C in the clayey soil, but prior to this time, less marked differences were observed in microbial biomass C among the four soils following biochar application.