Clay Soil Gardening Tips

The soil plays a very important role to ensure your plants can grow healthily.

As we all know, plants absorb the nutrient by its root from the soil, therefore, your soil should be able to supply all the nutrients needed by the plants accordingly.

Every different place in the world has a different type of soil.

Based on the soil texture, the soil scientist has divided the soil into 3 categories as mentioned in the article titled Types of Soil and Suitable Crops by toppr.com.

And they are:

a) Sandy soil

b) Clayey Soil

c) Loamy Soil

As mentioned in the article’s title, this article will be focusing on the type of soil numbered by (b) which is the clay soil.

We will see how you can improve the clay type of soil so that you can have maximum results from your gardening activities.

What is clay soil?

Before we go into further details on how you can improve the clay soil, it is good if we know a little bit about the clay type of soil.

According to agriculture.vic.gov.au in its article “What is Soil?”, they described clay soil as:

Clays have very large surface areas compared with the other inorganic fractions. As a result clays are chemically very active and are able to hold nutrients on their surfaces. These nutrients can be released into soil water from where they can be used by plants. Like nutrients, water also attaches to the surfaces of clays but this water can be hard for plants to use.

http://agriculture.vic.gov.au/agriculture/farm-management/soil-and-water/soils/what-is-soil

How to identify clay soil?

Before you take any action in improving any soil, it is important that you are really sure about the type of soil that you are going to work on.

Different type of soil has different ways on how you can improve them.

The article “What is soil?” above also mentioned some characteristics of clay soil.

It is how you can identify the clay type of soil.

The ability of clays to swell and to retain a shape into which they have been formed, as well as their sticky nature, distinguish them from sand and silt.

http://agriculture.vic.gov.au/agriculture/farm-management/soil-and-water/soils/what-is-soil

What are the problems with clay soil?

Before any improvement can be made, it is better for you to first understand the problems with the clay soil.

On the Sussex Country Gardener website in its article “Clay Soils“, it has listed a few problems with the clay soil that we are going to look at them one by one:

1. Waterlogged

As we all know, the clay soil particles are very small and therefore it is hard for the water to get through them.

While it is good for the soil to hold water so that plants can take it, too much water will also cause a lot of problems.

Clay particles are very small and therefore can hold more water and are less prone to drought. But, as a result, they are likely to become waterlogged in winter, making cultivation difficult.

http://www.sussexcountrygardener.co.uk/section.php/59/1/clay-soils

Even though the website only mentioned the winter season, it is actually true for any season especially for places that receive a lot of rain.

The water will usually stay longer on the soil surface and that will harm your plants.

2. Slow To Warm

Another disadvantage of clay soil is it is slow to warm after the cool season.

Clay soils are also slower to warm up in spring, (chalk soils certainly don’t suffer from this) and so germination of seeds may be delayed. Conversely, they retain heat better than many soils once they have warmed up.

http://www.sussexcountrygardener.co.uk/section.php/59/1/clay-soils

As you can see in the citation above, this problem will lead to the seeds germination to be delayed.

3. The Soil Crack

This is as mentioned in the article as below:

The strong attraction of the water to the surfaces of the clay particles also leads to cracking during dry weather. When plants remove water from clay soils, the volume of the soil decreases and eventually the soil cracks

http://www.sussexcountrygardener.co.uk/section.php/59/1/clay-soils
Image by Peggy und Marco Lachmann-Anke from Pixabay

How To Improve Clay Soils?

The tips on how to improve the clay soil here are based on an article titled Improving Clay Soil from Garden.org.

Below are the steps on how you can improve the clay soil based on the article:

1. pH Test

The first step that you need to do is to test the pH of soil.

To do this you will need to have the pH test kit and if you don’t, you need to send you soil sample to the nearest soil test lab available to you.

The reason for this is to ensure the soil that you are going to work on can actually hold the nutrients.

The best soil pH for most of the plants is between 6.3 to 6.8.

For most garden plants, a pH of 6.3 to 6.8 is ideal

https://garden.org/learn/articles/view/1310/

Soil that is too acidic or too alkaline will not be able to hold nutrients efficiently.

Clay soils are rich in nutrients, but if the soil is too acidic or too alkaline, those nutrients won’t be available to the plants.

https://garden.org/learn/articles/view/1310/

Once you know the pH status of your soil, then you need to make the necessary adjustments.

For those of you who sent the soil sample to the lab for the pH test, they will usually recommend the steps that you can follow to improve the pH of your soil.

2. Add Organic Matter

The second step mentioned in the article in improving the clay soil is to add the organic matter.

There many types of organic matter that you can use in improving the clay soil. However, a couple of organic matters mentioned in the article are the compost and the aged manure.

Before planting in spring, add compost and aged manure.

https://garden.org/learn/articles/view/1310/

The recommended amount of organic matter to be worked into your soil is 2 to 3 inches thick.

A 2- to 3-inch layer worked into the soil to shovel depth is a good amount

https://garden.org/learn/articles/view/1310/

Apart from adding the organic matter during the early stages of your planting, it is a good practice if you can consistently adding the organic matter to your clay soil throughout the season.

Since soil microorganisms literally “eat” organic matter, make a habit of continually adding it to your soil.

https://garden.org/learn/articles/view/1310/

This will significantly improve your soil with time.

3. Build raised beds

If your soil is in a very bad condition and you are planning to grow something immediately without having to work much on improving it, then building raised beds is a good alternative.

By building the raised bed you are actually depending on the soil that you put in the raised bed instead of the actual clay soil in your garden.

You will also have a better choice of what type of soil you want to use depending on the type of plants that you want to grow.

Here is what the article says about building raised beds:

Because clay soils hold water, creating raised beds can help improve drainage by encouraging water to run off. Raised beds can be a simple mound of soil, or can be constructed out of wood, brick, or stone. To lessen compaction, size the beds so you can reach the middle without stepping in the bed.

https://garden.org/learn/articles/view/1310/

4. Mulch Beds Over Winter

The main reason for you to do this is to protect your soil from erosion as well as from compaction by the heavy rain and water.

This will make your gardening works easier for the next season without having to start all over again.

Driving rain can really pack down bare soil, so keep beds mulched with organic matter both during the growing season and over the winter.

https://garden.org/learn/articles/view/1310/

There is actually no restriction on what type of mulch you should use.

You are free to use either organic mulch such as straws or artificial mulch such as a layer of plastic.

The article however mentioning straws to be used to cover your planting beds.

A layer of straw over the beds will protect the soil from compaction and reduce erosion; it can also help minimize weed growth.

https://garden.org/learn/articles/view/1310/

5. Planting Cover Crops

Here is what is mentioned in the article regarding cover crops:

A cover crop is like a living mulch. Different cover crops are appropriate for different regions. In the north, winter wheat and winter rye are popular choices; in warmer regions, crimson clover and oats are commonly used. For a winter cover crop, sow after the last crops have been harvested. The following spring, simply till the plants into the soil, adding yet more precious organic matter.

https://garden.org/learn/articles/view/1310/

Summary

It is the end of this article, it is hoped that you could gain some useful tips on how to work on the clay type of soil.

Please be informed that improving the clay soil takes time.

It takes time for you to see the improvement.

Should you have any thoughts to share, please feel free to write it in the comment section below.

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