Video:How to Improve Clay Soilwith Colleen Vanderlinden
Learn a few tips that will help you improve your clay soil.See Transcript
Transcript:How to Improve Clay Soil
What Is Clay Soil?Clay soil is defined as soil that is composed of mostly clay particles. Soil that consists of over 50 percent clay particles is referred to as "heavy clay." To determine whether you have clay soil or not, you can do a simple soil test. Or, if your soil sticks to your shoes like glue, forms big clods that aren't easy to separate, and crusts over and cracks in dry weather, you have clay.
While many trees and shrubs grow well in clay, the roots of the majority of annuals, perennials, and vegetables just aren't strong enough to make their way through. And spring flower bulbs tend to rot over the winter in clay soils. Although clay soil tends to be more nutrient-rich than other soil types, and because of its density, it retains moisture well, but the drawbacks rise above the good qualities.
Drawbacks of Clay SoilClay is slow draining, and slow to warm in the spring. It compacts easily, making it difficult for plant roots to grow. Moreover, it has a tendency to heave in winter, and to be alkaline.
Improving your clay soil will instantly improve the structure of your soil and make it easier to work with. It is best to improve an entire planting area all at once, rather than just improving individual planting holes.
Improving Clay SoilIf you just dig a planting hole in clay soil, the plant will start sending out roots, but will have a hard time expanding into the hard clay around them. So, the roots will start circling around in the planting hole instead, and you'll end up with a perfectly root-bound plant.
To improve an existing bed, first dig out any plants you want to keep. Then, you'll need to add six to eight inches of organic matter to the entire bed; organic matter like grass clippings, shredded leaves, rotted manure, and compost are all perfect choices.
Spread your organic matter on top of the soil and mix it with a shovel, and it'll move a lot of earth without pulverizing the soil particles. The bed can be planted right away. When you're finished, your garden bed will be several inches higher than it was originally. The soil structure will keep improving, as microorganisms in the soil work to break down all of the organic matter you've added.
Maintaining Clay SoilRemember to add more organic matter on the top of the bed once or twice a year. It is a good idea to repeat the soil test after a season or so. The result will suggest if you have any nutrient deficiencies or pH issues. Add the required organic fertilizers or soil amendments, and your bed will be perfect for growing healthy plants.
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