Dealing with Clay Soil

Written by April Reinhardt (last updated August 10, 2022)

If you've ever taken an art class and thrown a clay pot, then you know how slippery and dense clay can be. Think of how difficult it is to try to grow plants in soil that contains clay. Despite watering, the sun and air will dry the clay brick hard, making it impossible for plants to create a root system. And since clay particles are very small and compact together, clay soil leaves little room for water or air circulation. Clay soil can be wet and heavy during rains and watering, yet lumpy and hard when dry.

Clay soil is one of the most difficult challenges faced by gardeners, but it is possible to improve the texture of the soil, and amend it for growing. Using organic matter, such as compost, manure, leaf mold, tree bark, or other organic matter, to supplement the clay soil will gradually bulk the texture of the soil, making it virtually impossible for the clay particles to compact. Follow these guidelines to amend your clay soil:

  1. Choose a dry day to work your soil, making sure there is little or no water in the soil.
  2. Have on hand one cubic yard each of organic matter and builder's sand.
  3. Completely mix the organic matter into a rich compost. Do not mix the sand with the compost.
  4. Dump the compost from a wheelbarrow onto the clay soil, and work it into the ground with a garden tiller. Make sure that you work the mixture into at least the top six inches of soil. This step may take quite some time to complete.
  5. Dump a wheelbarrow full of sand onto the composted soil and work it in with the garden tiller.

Over the course of several days, the organic matter will decay and acidify the soil. Using a soil test kit, test the pH of the soil and retest until you reach a pH of at least 6.3. Continue to test the soil and add compost until correct pH levels for growing are achieved.

If you find that the clay in your soil is still a problem, consider growing plants that thrive in clay soil. Some varieties of plants that grow in clay soil are Black Eyed Susan, Aster, Ironweed, Indian Grass, and Switch Grass, just to name a few.

Author Bio

April Reinhardt

An admin­istrator for a mutual fund man­age­ment firm, April deals with the writ­ten word daily. She loves to write and plans to author a memoir in the near future. April attend­ed More­head State Uni­ver­sity to pursue a BA degree in Ele­men­tary Edu­ca­tion. ...

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