Home / Gardening Guides / What To Add To Clay Soil? – Comprehensive Guide

What To Add To Clay Soil? – Comprehensive Guide

What to add to your clay soil for gardening purposes

When it rains, walking or working on clay soil is often a daunting task. Apart from the fact that it sticks to your tools, it also makes everything look messy.

Unfortunately for most of us, clay soil is all we’ve got. Hence, you’ve to get the best out of your clay soil.

One great thing about clay soil is its holding/retaining capacity; it is better than other soil types in this aspect.

With its holding capacity, it can help you retain and hold nutrients required for your plants’ optimum growth.

Never allow your clay soil to stop you from having your desired garden. Read on to see the ways through which you can improve your clay soil’s performance.

What To Add To Your Clay Soil For Gardening Purposes

Most gardeners are stuck with clay, but that should make you bid gardening a goodbye; neither should it deprive your gardening plants of the required nutrient.

Garden soil contains so many components, ranging from organic matter, micro-organisms, nutrients to mineral particles.

The best and ideal soil for gardening is loamy soil; the reason for this is not far-fetched. The soil contains a high amount of organic matter, moderate mineral substances, and a mixture of sand and clay soil.

What Is Clay Soil?

Clay soil is a kind of soil that contains little amount of organic matter and fine mineral substance. Its small pore size makes it sticky and poorly drained.

This soil is the most familiar type of soil in many parts of the US. Most garden plants and vegetables do not grow well in clay soil; however, some shrubs do well in it.

With clay soil, it is often tricky for plants’ roots to penetrate the soil to access the soil’s nutrients.

The good news is that with the right knowledge and strategy, it is possible to grow various plants in clay soil.

How Do You Know Your Soil Is Clay?

If your soil is always waterlogged even after it has stopped raining for a while, it is most likely clay soil. And for some, their soil appears to crack on dry or sunny days; this indicates that the soil is clay.

When you notice that weeds like coltsfoot, chicory, dandelion are continually growing in your garden, your soil is likely to be clay soil.

To further confirm what type of soil you have. You can conduct a simple test by following these steps:

  • Scoop some amount of soil a day after it has rained
  • Close your palm against the soil
  • Check if the soil is still clumped together or set apart
  • If it sticks together, then it is a clay soil

Making clay soil suitable for gardening purposes often take time, but it is worth the wait. Here are some things to add or do to your soil to make it better.

Add An Organic Substance To The Clay Soil

The addition of organic material will massively help your clay soil get better at planting. At the same time, various organic materials can be added to clay soil.

Compost is one of the best organic substances that can be used to enhance your soil. Compost helps improve the clay soil’s texture and structure.

Due to the clay soil’s small pore size, it is usually hard for the plant to get aerated. In this case, the compost loosens up the pores and allows sufficient air to get to the plant.

The compost also elevates the soil’s pH, thereby increasing the population of useful micro-organisms useful to the plant.

To add the organic material, dig the soil to a depth of 10-14cm, then add 3 to 5 inches of the compost to the soil.

Plant A Cover Crop

Growing a cover crop can also help you improve the efficiency of your soil. It is best to do this during the rainy or cold season. When you grow a cover crop close to or on clay soil, its root goes into the clay, thereby depositing nutrients into the ground.

You could later remove the whole cover crop and bury it into the soil. Some of the typical crops that you grow include clover, borage, and hairy vetch.

Add Gypsum To The Clay Soil

Add the gypsum to the soil’s surface; you can use a lawn spreader to do this. Clay soil is highly compacted; adding gypsum could reduce this compaction, consequently improving the soil structure.

Gypsum also improves the soil without altering the pH of the soil. It supplies the soil with calcium. The calcium provided reduces the chances of blossom end rot disease from happening.

To add gypsum to the clay soil:

  • Configure your lawn spreader to 40 pounds per 1000sq feet.
  • Suppose the soil in which you want to spread the gypsum does have any plant on it. Set the lawn spread to 20 -30 pounds per 1000sq feet.
  • Add the granulated gypsum to the lawn spreader until it reaches the line.
  • Spray the gypsum evenly on the soil; you can spray it on the plants as it has no harmful effect on plants.

What To Add To Clay Soil To Improve Its Drainage System

Clay soil is known to have the smallest pore size, causing it to retain a lot of water. The soil finds it very hard to release or filter water, resulting in poor drainage or waterlogging.

If clay soil is not well-drained, it could reduce or cut short the access of the plant’s root to oxygen; this can result in the death of the plant.

What to add to clay soil

Aside from this, poorly drained soil can result in a breeding ground for fungus to thrive, causing more damage to the plant.

It would help if you can ascertain how bad your clay drainage system is. Gray-colored clay soil has a flawed drainage system, but the red one has a better drainage system. You can improve the drainage of your clay soil through the following:

Practice Raised-bed Kind Of Gardening

This is a cultural approach to solving the drainage problem. You can construct the bed by arranging a brick or plank to a certain height with 3-4 ft width. Ensure that the bed built is not too wide to access the middle.

The bed should be filled with clay soil that has been well mixed with compost.

See Also: 5 Best Vegetables To Grow In A Small Raised Bed

Include Organic Matters

You can spray the surface of the soil with wood chips, bark chipping, or sawdust. These substances will easily leach into the ground.

Organic matters make the soil better by modifying its structure, thereby improving drainage.

Plant Cover Crops

Cover crops help solve this drainage issue by increasing the amount of decaying plant/organic material.

Some of the cover crops you can plant include borage and Phleum pretense (also known as timothy hay). These crops thrive well in zones 4 by 8.

Use A Storm Drain

This device is used to collect water that could have been logged in clay soil. It can also remove water from a low spot to a more extensive water collection system. This device is suitable for gardens.

You can also consider using a channel drain to drain water off the water-logged clay.

What To Add To Clay Soil To Grow A Vegetable In Your Garden

Growing anything on clay soil can be challenging. The reason for this has been discussed above.

Vegetables like lettuce, broccoli, and the likes grow well on clay soil. To raise vegetables in your garden on clay soil is possible, but you have to follow these steps.

Till and mix the soil with compost

Tilling breaks the uppermost layer and some other rocky part of the soil. After tilling the soil, mix the clay soil with compost to a depth of 6-9 inches; this practice increases the soil’s absorptivity.

You could also add some mulch of wood to your clay soil, but ensure that the wood has not been sprayed with any chemical.

Plant And Water The Vegetable

Hugelkultur is a better form of a raised bed; woods are mixed with the soil and compost. After the bed has been made, ensure you water the plant at the appropriate time.

What To Add To Clay Soil To Grow A Grass/Lawn

Growing grass on clay soil is not as hard as you think. Varieties of grasses can be grown on clay soil, including buffalo grass, tall fescue, and the likes.

Before adding compost to clay soil, you must add lime to the earth. The lime helps to increase the pH of the soil to about 6. Soil with low or poor pH prevents nutrients from being available to the plant.

The grass seed should be sprayed both vertically and perpendicularly on the soil. You can use a broadcast spread to distribute the seed evenly.

Dig various holes with a distance of about 6 inches from each other. Add water to these holes to moisten the soil, after which you can now put each of the plugs into the hole. Ensure that the plugs are at the same level as the ground.

Use a sprinkler to add water to each of those plugs; you can do this two to three times a day. Be sure that the soil is not too soaked with water. Never forget to add mulch and spray the soil with water every time.

What To Add To Clay Soil To Prepare It For Growing Of Flowers

Planting a flower on clay soil is also similar to what we’ve discussed above. To schedule your clay soil for flowering purposes:

  • Till the soil
  • Add compost
  • Mix the soil and compost
  • After this, you can plant your flower and water it properly.

As said earlier, getting the best out of your garden’s clay soil depends on your knowledge and how you use it.