How to Amend Clay Soil in Your Garden

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Contrary to popular belief, having clay soil isn’t a curse. Your garden can still live with it; you don’t have to quit on gardening and settle with plants that aren’t in their highest potential. So, this blog is dedicated for those whose gardens are filled with clay soil but whose heads are filled with hope and dreams!

Follow these steps and reminders and you’ll get what you need from your clay soil.

  1. First of all, elude compaction. Since clay soil is vulnerable to compaction, treat it as if it’s a baby. You wouldn’t want compaction to occur because it will cause poor drainage and make dreaded clods gum up the tillers. When this happens, you’ll do extra work. And that’s just pure misery. So, to avoid compaction, remember the following:

  • Don’t work on it until it has been corrected.

  • Don’t work on it when it’s wet.

  • Don’t overwork it with excessive tilling.

  • Avoid walking on the clay soil as much as possible.

  • If needed, position planks over your garden beds so you won’t step on the soil.

  • You can use stepping stones so the areas that aren’t needed for planting will be the only spots compacted.

  1. Next, add and cover with organic material. Organic matter will be your best friend for this step. Adding it to your clay soil will develop it. Sure, there are other ways to improve or amend your clay soil, but settling with compost or matters that compost rapidly such as green plants, well-rotted manure, and leaf mold. Putting three to four inches of your chosen amendment on the clay soil and working it down gently into the soil about four to six inches will help prevent the soil to become compacted. They prevent this by adding humus to your clay soil. When the particles of clay huddle around the humus, drainage, and aeration will improve. Don’t forget to lightly fork the top layer of the soil when you mulch. If you don’t want to do this, you can let the worms do the task.

You can also add gypsum to aggregate the clay particles. Just don’t add it annually unless you want the salinity of soil to increase! When that happens you’ll have a problem with drainage and the garden as a whole.

Let’s move on to the covering part. You also have to cover the materials that don’t compost quickly with organic material. It could be ground wood chips, bark, sawdust, or even coffee grounds. They can be used for mulch. When they break down, they’ll go down the soil on their own without parental guidance. Do not force them to the clay soil! It can damage the plants that are trying to grow. Just wait for them to naturally work into the soil below over time. It may take long, but it’s better that way.

Once you’ve added organic matter, remember that you have to take extra care when you water. The soil will become heavy and because of this, there will be slower draining soil around your garden bed. That may cause the water to build up in the bed, and you wouldn’t want that. Don’t worry, you are not required to be cautious for every season. Just be careful in the first or first two seasons.

  1. Plant a cover crop. This step is essential during cold days when your garden is on hiatus. You can plant borage, clover, hairy vetch, or Timothy hay. Their roots will grow into the clay soil and serve as soil amendment—a living one. Then, in the long run, the plant can work into the soil and additional organic matter. Planting potatoes is a wise decision as well! A crop of potatoes can break up the soil and cause it to be more friable for the next vegetable you’ll plant there. You can also go with clay-tolerant plants such as:

  • Clivia

  • Daylilies

  • Hostas

  • Paeonies

These can develop well in nutrient-rich or acidic clay soils. Plus, they don’t spread quickly.

  • Hydrangea

  • Philadelphus

  • Roses

  • Viburnum

These four will also do.

Other substitutes are:

  • Flax

  • Manuka

  • Oioi

  • Pittosporum and

  • Pseudopanax

Reminders:

  1. Patience is a virtue! Amending clay soil can’t be done with a snap of a finger. It’s also not quick. You may need to spend several YEARS before the soil has overcome the clay issues. But don’t be discouraged. The result will amaze you. At the end of it all, you’re gonna say, “It was worth the wait!”

  2. If you really can’t wait and your hands are itching to plant, consider having raised garden beds. You can fill the top of those beds with new and high-quality soil. And voila! You don’t have to worry about the clay soil.

  3. Just because you have a clay soil doesn’t mean you can’t be a gardener. There’s a solution for everything if your mind and your body are willing.