I often hear gardeners complain about steps to improve clay soil, but soil with proper management can provide a good foundation for healthy plants. Clay’s unique properties allow it to hold more water and nutrients than other soil types, so it needs less irrigation and less water. In addition, clay soil particles are tiny with lots of surface area. The challenge is compacted soil restricts air water and nutrient movement, creating nutrient deficiencies and lack of air movement plants need.
It’s essential to know how much clay soil you have on your landscape. To do this, you should test your soil. Here is an excellent article on how to complete a soil test for your garden.
Here are 4 strategies to improve clay soil:
1) Aerate The Soil
For around $100 a day, you can rent a gas-powered aerator that can cover 32,000 square feet per hour. For small spaces, a manual tool works well too. Aerating soil increases the space in the soil for oxygen. A plug aerators are best because they remove actual plugs from the soil. Spikes can contribute to more compaction in clay soils. Take care to mark the irrigation, so you don’t run the spikes over any components. The soil benefits from the aeration because water and oxygen flow more easily between soil particles. This is a significant first step to improve clay soil.
2) Add Organic Material
There is a wide variety of organic materials to help your soil. Compost, composted leaves, worm casting, and manure are excellent examples of organic materials that improve clay soil. The plant material breaks down the clay particulates, and your plants will benefit from the nutrients as well. Bark, sawdust, and wood chips work well but take longer than the items above.
3) Add Gypsum To The Soil
Gypsum or calcium sulfate helps break down clay soil and reduces salt in the soil. It also contributes to the soil’s ability to drain. This improves the water use efficiency of the soil, and as a result, less water runs off when it rains.
4) Stay Disciplined With The Process
It doesn’t take long for the soil to return to its original rigid, clumpy state if you don’t keep adding new material to it. Fertile soil with good tilth does not come about with a single or even several additions of organic material but from a consistent soil-building program. Thomas Edison taught us three essentials to achieve anything worthwhile: Hard work, stick-to-itiveness, and common sense. Improving your soil requires all three. However, staying consistent with a program will yield a beautiful, fertile garden that provides food and flowers for years to come.