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5 Tips to Improve Clay Soil

Ilona Erwin

soil amendments

soil amendments

Every type of soil has its good and bad characteristics, and like every woman knows, it is a matter of playing up the good features that creates the beauty of the whole. Clay soil has some features that given the right treatment repay you with a garden to be envied.

  1. Treat it right. Try to preserve good tilth (crumbliness) by not compacting the soil with foot traffic. Use a board to distribute your weight if you have to walk into the cultivated space of your garden. Do not, repeat, do not work the soil when wet… it is very sulky and will create hard clods of impenetrable rocklike soil. Those reduce the success of your seeding and new plant rootlets taking hold. Do cultivate it when it feels crumbly and breaks apart easily in your hand.
  2. Feed it organically. Clay soil loves added humus, that decaying plant and vegetable matter that good compost becomes. Although composting can be a high art form, if you simply add decomposing plant matter like leaf mold, coffee grounds or kitchen peelings you continually improve your clay soil and improve its fertility as well! Greensand, bone meal, blood meal, fish fertilizers,…they are all good. Clay soil repays you by retaining the nutrients well, and the humus makes it more available to the the plant roots.
  3. Give it an additional boost. I had good results from adding gypsum periodically to the soil. It is readily available and it is recommended to add “20 to 30 pounds per 100 square feet to establish a new garden and a yearly top-up thereafter of 50 pounds per 1000 square feet.” -clay soil gardening. I wasn’t so scientific, and just added it periodically into the soil ( and as they say: you need to dig it in). You may add builders sand and peat moss, but be sure not to overdo it and mix them in well. I like the addition of peat moss, and didn’t see much good from the sand, but that is me.`
  4. Learn its seasons. Clay soil has something like PMS in the springtime. That is when the soil is most wet and cold and demands that you to be sensitive to its need of delicate treatment (see tip #1). If your area has a dry warm period in late winter, before the spring rains, that is a good time to turn the soil or till it and ready for the planting season, late summer for dividing and adding new plantings (before the autumn rains). The autumn is good for deep digging and adding half made compost.
  5. Give it regular attention Nutrients leach away, rain and time compact the soil, a dry season can harden the ground, too… all reasons to seasonally pay attention to your clay soil. The more gently you treat it along with adding what it likes, the less attention to pay, but still, you need to cultivate and sometimes mulch, along with the other suggested tips. A light dust mulch in dry weather (where one works only the superficial surface of the soil to create a layer of dust) or the addition of mulches keeps everything moister. If too much moisture is a problem dispense with the mulch and simply give the feeding and cultivating necessary. If you follow these tips, you should have a happy garden and you may even consider clay soil one of your best assets.

How much amendment should I add to my soil? Watch the video to find out.

Want to know more Garden math? click here.

Add the One Greatest Garden Tip to These 5

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Ilona Erwin, author

Meet the Author

Ilona Erwin

I started working on this website beginning in 1998, when it was part of Ilona's Reflecting Pool. Since then I've branched out into a number of online endeavors and work at writing lots of content for my sites. "Ilona's Garden" remains my primary site and is dedicated to home gardener's success.