Improving Clay Soils

Making your garden soil work for you

Purple bell vine-improving-clay-soils
Purple bell vine

At the root of every garden, plant and what contributes to their health and development is the soil in which they are grown. Therefore it is so important to know the type of garden soil you’re working with in order to have success. Just as there are different species of plants so is our garden soil. What I found interesting however is as diverse as garden plants and soil may be every garden plant have their soil requirement in order to thrive, so one of the keys to garden successfully is knowing your plants and what soil type they will thrive in best. What we will be looking at in this article is making your garden soil work for you.

Clay soil structure

Clay soils are soils that drains very poorly. These soils have the ability to retain water for a long time before drying out, because of its ability to hold water plants that are installed in this soil type will become weak and sickly because of poor drainage which will eventually lead to fungus development followed by root rot and death of that plant. What is also good to note is that the soil particles are so tightly squeezed together that it will not allow for proper air circulation.

Clay soil identification

To know if you have clay soils look for soils that take on a hard crusty appearance when extremely dry. It’s like soils that have experienced a drought condition. Another way to tell if you have clay soil is to scoop up a hand full of damp soil squeeze it in your hand making a ball, if the ball remains or does nor crumble after you release the pressure then you have clay soil. The colour of clay soil is either orange-red to deep brown, dull grey or even white so if your soil takes on this nature then it is possible you have clay soils.

Making your clay soils work for you

You have decided to install a garden but the situation you are facing is that the garden soil type you are working with is far from the ideal soil. Further inspection reveals that you have clay soil, the question is what can you do in making soil improvements which will contribute to your soil being the perfect fit for your garden?

Improving your clay soils

The first thing to remember is it is better to work your clay soils when it is dry. To start with work organic matter such as green plants, well-rotted, shredded leaves manure, compost etc.. into the soil. In the spring before any planting is done add 2-4 inches of compost or manure. These organics should be worked at a depth of 4-6 inches.

Planting a cover crop

Mandevilla Vine-improving-your-clay-soils
Mandevilla Vine

Planting a cover crop also offers some help in improving clay soils. The goal is to grow and till plants into the soil, this process will help in making improvements.

The use of organic materials

Adding organic material to your clay soils such as ground wood chips, mulches or sawdust will help condition and build your clay soil as they decompose.

Be Patience

The key is to be patient because building good garden soil takes some time it does not happen overnight but as you continue to work your soil each growing season you will see a vast improvement. Continually adding organic matter will make a huge difference and you will see the results of your time and effort.

Building a raised bed

Another solution would be to build a raised bed that offers much help. A raised bed lifts your garden plants where it does not make contact with the existing clay soils. For more on building or installing a raised bed follow this link.

Advantages of clay soils

  • Nutrient Rich
  • Has good water holding capacity which can be mixed with sandy soils

Disadvantages of clay soils

  • Poor Drainage
  • The soil ph tends to be alkaline
  • Poor air circulation
  • Once the soil is dry it is very hard to work with
  • Can become compacted when wet

Additional information

Having a soil ph test done is so important because if the soil’s ph is not adjusted or correct to meet your garden plants needs, meaning if the soil is too alkaline or acidic those nutrients will be locked up or be unavailable to your garden plants. It is possible for garden plants to be nutrient starved when an abundance of nutrients is available simply because the soil ph is not adjusted.

To adjust the soil’s ph a soil ph test kit can be purchased from your nursery or garden centre and you can perform the test yourself or if you prefer a soil ph test can be carried out by taking a few samples from the area where plants is to be installed, place this soil in a plastic bag and send it off to a lab. Going this route will work wonders both for you and your plants.

Clay Soils

Clay soils do have its advantages and can be added to sandy soils for soil improvements and it is nutrient rich so this soil does have a good side to it which can also benefit your garden plants which I believe is pretty cool.

The final word

With clay soils there is still hope of gardening successfully so if you have clay soils then don’t despair help is at your fingertips. Just follow this guide and before you know it you would have made soil improvements turning your clay soils into good garden soil which will have your plants growing healthy and happy and in return, you will reap a good harvest.


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About the author

+ posts

Norman loves being in the garden, both at home and for his job....
he is 'Natures Little helper' being outdoors, growing his vegetables and flowers from an early age.
Now having spent over 22 years in the profession he want to give some of his knowledge to others...
his vast array of hints and tips you will find scattered over this site will help you no end growing plants in your garden.