Gardeners share their top tips

Clay soil is found in many American gardens, but it is not a hospitable home for all plants. If you are preparing your garden for the summer, or you want to grow flowers or vegetables, you may have difficulties.

However, there are ways to make it a friendlier environment for beautiful flowers or tasty products. Below, two seasoned gardeners share their secrets to transforming clay soil with just a day’s work and lots of organic matter.

What Is clay soil?

Clay soil is made of fine mineral particles and little organic material. It’s a heavier soil that tends to stick together, and since there’s no space between the particles, the soil doesn’t drain.

“If you’ve noticed that water tends to pool in the ground rather than soaking through, your soil is likely to be loamy,” according to Donald Loggins, the last original gardener at New York City’s first community garden, Liz Christy Community. Garden .

Soil that consists of more than 50% clay particles is called “heavy clay,” Loggins said. Newsweek. You can spot it because it sticks to your shoes and garden tools like glue, forms large clumps that are not easy to separate, and crusts and cracks in dry weather.

The ideal soil for gardening is clay – a mixture of sand, clay, intermediate mineral particles and organic materials. It will drain well and have good nutrient retention.

Advantages and disadvantages of clay soil

Amber Scott Freda, a New York garden designer, said newsweek which, as clay soil retains moisture longer, can prevent plants from drying out.

Plants like evergreens tend to grow well in this type of soil, she said, while species from more arid climates, such as succulents, rosemary and lavender, are used to growing in lighter soil and don’t like to be wet for so long.

“Vegetables and annuals do not like clayey soil because it is difficult for their small roots to grow in such dense soil,” he added.

Loggins said: “Clay soil is prevalent in many parts of the United States and can be very problematic if you are trying to grow a flower or a vegetable garden.” In clayey soil, plant roots struggle to force their way through and spring flower bulbs tend to rot during winter.

soil with germinated seeds.
Soil with germinated seeds. Vegetables struggle to grow in loamy soil because their roots can’t break through the dense material, while spring flower bulbs tend to rot in wet winter.
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How to improve clay soil

Improving your soil will take a bit of work, warned Loggins. Most of the work only needs to be done once, but some annual maintenance is required.

You have to add a good dose of organic matter to the soil and let nature do its work. According to Freda, you can mix clay soil with gypsum, compost or pine bark to make it lighter and more airy.

You can also place several inches of mulch on top of the clay soil and let it gradually break down and improve the soil. “Leaves are nature’s best mulch, so if you resist removing leaves from your beds each year, they will gradually break down and improve the soil naturally,” he added.

It’s best to tackle an entire bed at once, rather than just individual planting holes as needed, Loggins said.

“If you dig a planting hole in clayey soil, then put in a plant and only correct the soil you’re using to backfill, your plant will be happy for a while. floor pot.

“Eventually, the plant will start sending out roots that will stop in their tracks when they hit the mud walls of the planting hole. You’ll end up with a plant with roots that won’t grow as big or healthy as it should.”

Loggins recommends adding 6 to 8 inches of organic matter to the entire bedding. These can be grass clippings (as long as they haven’t been treated with chemicals), shredded leaves, rotting manure or compost.

After spreading your organic matter, mix it on top of 6 to 12 inches of soil using a shovel – or a tiller “if digging is too hard for your back”. but the beds will settle as the organic material decomposes.

How to break clay soil quickly

Break up the soil with a hoe or pitchfork 5 to 6 inches into the ground. You can use a rudder if strictly necessary, but be aware that this type of power tool can kill earthworms and other vital soil organisms.

If the clay is particularly hard, it may be helpful to spread a small layer of sand over it before adding the organic matter.

How to improve clay soil drainage

Adding compost will improve drainage. Loggins said you should do this when the soil is dry, because working in wet clay is messy and will further compact the bed.

The compost “not only helps with the structure of the soil,” he explained, but the glomalin compost created by the mycorrhizal fungi in the compost “binds the small clay particles into aggregates with a waxy coating, thus creating more space between them for air and the water flows.”

Preparing clay soil for the vegetable garden

If you want to grow vegetables, it’s best to work the organic matter deep into the soil – because the roots will end up there – and do that before planting.

“You can plow as deep as possible, or dig sections of a bed at a time to a foot deep, work in compost, then replace the soil and do the next section. In the next few years, just work the surface, as the matter goes. organic material you’ve worked on deeply will decompose quickly when brought to the surface,” Loggins said.

You can also increase organic matter in clayey soils by planting cover crops. “These are crops planted as you prepare the beds, for a previous season or year, or in fallow periods between annual crops such as flowers and vegetables. They consist of small grains and grasses such as buckwheat, ryegrass and oats,” he said..

Legumes like clover can benefit the soil by “fixing” nitrogen from the air for its use.

How to take good care of the soil

Freda believes that the key to a beautiful, healthy garden is to treat the soil with compost. “It’s what nature has been doing since the beginning of time, and Mother Nature always knows best.”

His simple advice is to “add several inches of compost to the loamy soil each year and mix it well with the existing soil until the soil measurably improves.”

Man handling the soil
Man handling the soil. The best way to improve a dense, sticky clay soil is to mix organic matter with it and let nature do its work.
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