How to Amend Clay Soil for Gardening, is a breakdown of simple actionable practices to correct the problem.
Some people certainly might have a choice on the type of soil they have.
However, some of us have no option but to get stuck with what we get.
And certainly, I’m not the lucky type. As wherever I go, I just get stuck with clay soil.
The problem with heavy clay soil is that it poses a great challenge not only to the plants but also the gardener.
To start with, clay soil has a tendency of draining slowly.
For that reason, it ends up being saturated for a longer period after the rains or irrigation.
As if that’s not enough, when the sun finally comes out, clay soil dries up excessively hence forming a hard and cracked surface.
But do not fear if this is your situation.
They are a couple of things that you can do in order to amend clay soil for gardening.
Simple procedures such as adding organic matter and working on improving the soil structure could make your days brighter.
Hence, you can get to enjoy a more productive kitchen garden.
But before that, you need to at least know which vegetables are ideal to grow in clay soil.
Vegetables that Grow in Clay Soil
When growing vegetables, clay soil poses a wide variety of challenges.
In wet weather, clay soil gets waterlogged easily which means in spring, the soil is quite slow to get warmed.
Also, when dried out, clay soil gets hard and cracked.
For this reason, it gets quite hard to grow any crops on clay soil.
However, this is not to say that there is nothing that you can grow on clay.
If you pick the right kind of crops, you could still have that dream vegetable garden you desire.
Rice Growing in Clay Soil
Below is a list of vegetables that grow well in clay soil:
⦁ Beets and Carrots
Just like most of the other crops, beets do well in loam soil. However, beets could still do well in clay soil.
These vegetables produce short and rounded roots that end up cracking in the dry clay soil.
For that reason, you need to keep the soil where you plant your beets moist but not completely wet.
In that case, you may need to water the plants when at least the top 2 inches of the soil feels a little dry and cracked.
⦁ Bean Varieties
The bean plants especially are never picky when it comes to their growing conditions.
For this reason, most bean varieties will grow in clay soil mostly in cases where the soil has been amended with nice compost.
All in all, there is key to growing the various varieties of beans in clay soil. To start with, the temperature is a key element.
That is because beans need warmth in order to do well.
But considering that clay soil warms up slowly as compared to sand and loam soil, it’s best if you wait for the soil to warm up to 60 degrees Fahrenheit before you sow the bean seeds.
⦁ Swiss Chard
This is another vegetable that does well in clay soil.
Swiss chard is a leafy relative to beets that grows best in fall and cool spring seasons.
Also, you can grow it in winter as long as you do so in frost-free regions.
All you have to do is to first wait until the soil warms up to at least 40 degrees Fahrenheit before sowing the seeds.
⦁ Rice Varieties
Without a doubt, rice thrives very well in clay soil.
That is because it needs heavy soil and constant moisture in order to do well.
All in all, there is a need for a long and warm growing season in order to get the best results with rice.
This means that you need at least six months of temperatures that are higher than 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
At the same time, the clay soil should be wet the better part of the year.
In such conditions, rice is the best plant that you can grow.
All in all, you need to ensure that the soil is about 75 degrees Fahrenheit before sowing the seeds.
How to Improve Clay Soil For Gardening (Drainage)
Cracked Clay Soil
When it comes to gardening, I believe that even the poorest soil type can be improved and given new life.
That is why there is no need to panic when you realize that you are on clay soil.
You might be surprised that even the finest gardens that you have ever heard of are growing on heavy clay soil.
That is because clay is such a great growing medium since it holds nutrients better than all other soil types.
Also, clay soil is ideal for the growing of woody plants.
Just makes sure that you avoid any drought-tolerant plants that may have finely divided or aromatic foliage.
Such plants may need good drainage that may be a struggle to achieve with clay soil.
Unless you create raised beds in order to ensure proper drainage in the garden.
Here are some of the ways in which you can ensure that your clay soil is well drained:
⦁ Dig the soil during autumn
In early September, just when autumn is kicking off, clay soil is not as damp as usual.
Hence, it’s easier to turn with a spade. However, do not struggle to break the soil lumps.
Leave this part for the frosty and wintery weather. This tends to give you a finer tilt as compared to the manual process.
⦁ Avoid walking on the soil
Under a lot of pressure, clay will become compacted.
Hence, if you are trying to improve the drainage of the clay soil, it’s better if you avoid walking on it.
Just make sure that you have enough pathways in your garden that you can stand on while digging and working on your soil.
Also, make sure that you dig the clay soil only when it’s a bit dry.
⦁ Consider the raised beds
Raised beds are the other best way to ensure your soil is well drained if you are planning on having a vegetable garden on your clay soil.
The raised beds will enhance the drainage and warming up of the soil in a more effective way.
Therefore, you are guaranteed that in spring your soil will warm up easily.
⦁ When planting, make large holes
You can also improve the growing condition of your plants in clay soil by making larger holes when planting.
When you make holes that are almost twice the size when planting, the roots find it easier to grow.
At the same time, you need to break up the soil at the bottom of the hole. This helps to improve the drainage of the soil.
Normally, when you create a planting hole that is the same size as the root ball then there is a high probability that it will create a sump that will only fill up with water later on.
⦁ Add mulch to the soil
In most cases, when clay soil dries up, it ends up being dry and cracked up.
For that reason, it’s always a great idea to prevent the dryness by adding a layer of mulch on the soil.
This is best done during spring when the moist soil has finally warmed up a little.
The best kind of mulch to use in such a case is fine bark.
However, you need to be aware that as the bark decomposes, it may tend to rob the soil of its nitrogen contents.
Therefore, there is a need to add some nitrogen-rich fertilizers before you mulch in order to compensate.
⦁ Scarify and Aerate the Lawns
Moss, just like worms casts can be such a big deal, especially on clay soil.
That is why you need to use a wire rake on the lawn autumn in order to thatch away from the worm castings.
In addition to that, you also need to use a scarifier in order to make ideal drainage holes in the soil.
How to Break Down Clay Sauce Fast
Organic Compost Manure
Credits: Dvortygirl [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)]
Anyone who has been through this before will agree with me that it’s never easy getting a shovel through heavy, hard and compacted clay soil.
This is a great nightmare let alone just growing plants in such harsh conditions.
But such reason is not enough to just give up on your piece of lawn.
There might not be an overnight fix but at least below are some remedies that you can work with in order to make the clay soil more manageable.
⦁ Wait until the soil is either completely dry or wet to aerate
Poor drainage is one of the biggest challenges that you are likely to have with clay soil.
Hence, it’s quite hard to till the ground when the soils are partially damp.
In that case, you need to hold off turning the soil until it’s either completely dry or wet.
This is best done during fall as the soil tends to be drier. At such times, it’s easier to get the shovel through the soil.
⦁ Make sure you turn the soil completely before you add any amendments.
This is a very important step in achieving the best soil for growing vegetables.
You need to turn the soil repeatedly as often as needed as long as this procedure follows up with the administration of soil amendments.
The manual aeration of clay soil helps to break down the compacted and hard patches of clay soil.
Hence, introducing gas and other nutrients from the surrounding environment.
This helps to improve the physical properties of the soil. Also, the amendments get their way deeper into the soil.
⦁ Work on the large chunks of soil
When working on your clay soil, it’s necessary that you remove any large chunks of soil that you come across.
These rocks could be such a big nuisance if not dealt with. To start with, the large rocks may act as a barrier when irrigating the soil.
Also, these rocks tend to take up the space that could have been used to hold the soil amendments rich in nutrients.
⦁ Add some organic compost to the soil
As soon as you are done with loosening the soil surface, it’s necessary that you add a heap of compost manure.
Also, make sure that you distribute the manure evenly.
Organic compost is a great amendment to clay soil since it has a soft texture and a high level of organic nutrients.
Hence, the compost helps to break up the clay soil while at the same time feeding the plants with vital nutrients.
In order to always have a supply of compost manure, you need to start your own compost heap somewhere close to your garden.
⦁ Adding biochar to the clay soil
Biochar is simply organic material that has been burnt in low temperatures hence forming charcoal.
The best option for this is charred plant materials.
That is because they help to create a light as well as a porous structure that in turn helps to promote the drainage of the soil.
At the same time, it helps to add nitrogen content to the soil.
⦁ Use a soil conditioner
Sometimes, you might not be in the mood to amass your own organic matter.
In such cases, it’s okay to use commercial soil conditioners.
Perlite and green sand is a great option for this purpose.
These soil conditioners help to improve the quality of the soil by delivering the necessary micro nutrients.
Using Gypsum for Clay Soil
⦁ Mix clay with sand
Sand helps to force the compact clay soil particles apart. For that reason, it helps with aeration of the soil and drainage of water.
Gypsum could also be a great alternative for the same purpose.
Although gypsum is a great option in areas that tend to have a higher salt concentration, it has a few shortcomings.
Gypsum tends to leach the primary elements of manganese and iron. In turn, this leads to deficiencies in nutrients that can, in turn, slow down the growth of certain plants.