How to Improve Clay Soil

How to Improve Clay Soil

For many people, their garden is their soul. They take great pains to help it flourish with flowers and vegetables. But to create a fabulous garden, you need to know the condition of the soil in your garden. Basically, soil can be divided into three basic types―sandy, clayey, and loamy.
Gardenerdy Staff
Before delving deep into the matter let's know what clay soil is. Soil which is compact, retains moisture even when completely drained, and is sticky in nature is known as clay soil. It is often termed as 'heavy soil' and it mostly consists of organic matter, minerals, clay, silt, sand, water, and some air. It also retains moisture for a longer period. You can do a simple test in your yard to determine the condition of your soil. Take a handful of the soil. If the soil is sticky and clings to your hand, it is clay soil. Here is another test. For this you will need:
  • A quart jar
  • Clean water
  • A small amount of the soil
Fill 2/3 of the jar with clean water. Now take the soil, place it inside the jar and close the lid tightly. Give it a vigorous shake for a minute or two. See that the soil has broken down at the bottom of the jar. Allow it to settle down for approximately an hour. The sand layer which is the heaviest will settle at the bottom. The silt layer is next, and finally it is the clay layer which will be at the top. The condition of the soil is determined by the percentage of each layer. If the soil has 50 to 100% clay then it is clay soil.

So, how will you combat the clay soil problem in your yard? Though clay soil is capable of retaining a good amount of moisture and essential nutrients, it may cause a number of problems for the gardener. Firstly, it is difficult for the roots of the plants to penetrate deep inside the soil, resulting in arrested development of the plant. Secondly, clay often contains a high level of alkali, which again is hazardous for the plants. Thirdly, it is not easy to till clay soil because it is heavy and sticky. The traditional practice for clay soil treatment is to add gravel to the bottom of the planting hole. But doing so will make the matter worse since the soil above the gravel will retain more water. The process is called 'perched water table'. One of the best options to improve clay soil is to add organic fertilizers like cottonseed meal, fish emulsion, blood meal (blood usually collected from slaughter houses), seaweed fertilizer, sewer sludge, and manure, though it does not contain much of the nutrients to make it a reliable choice for home gardening. You can also use compost which are basically of three types:
  1. Biological: Biological compost is the best and the most reliable. It is often called black gold because it provides valuable nutrients to the plants. Biological compost bags usually have holes so that the microbes that live in it can breathe and breed.
  2. Commercial: It is usually made from sewage sludge and debris collected from construction sites. This type of compost is sold in sealed bags and may give out a stale or sour odor.
  3. Industrial: It is the least preferred amongst all the composts. It contains high amounts of toxic salts and alkali and is usually derived from chemically burnt saw dust and rice hulls.
Try to mend the soil by mixing it with coarse sand and organic matter. Include a large area, rather than a small one, since it will limit the plants' growth. Another alternative is to grow trees and shrubs that are best-suited for clay soil, e.g., apples, cotton, coffee, willow, black walnut, siberian peashrub, alpine currant, etc. These are some ways in which you can treat and improve clay soil. So, best of luck for your dream garden and let it be one in a million.