Ways & How

How to Amend Clay Soil for Gardening

How to Amend Clay Soil for Gardening

Clay soil is defined as a type of soil made mostly of clay particles. Because of this, it can be very difficult to grow any plant in clay soil since it drains slowly and also takes some time to get warm during spring. In addition, it compacts easily despite the fact that it is rich in minerals like calcium, potassium, and magnesium. Fortunately, clay soil can be amended in order to make it suitable for gardening purposes. Here are the steps on how to amend clay soil for gardening:

  1. Test the clay soil’s pH. The pH level of clay soil can determine how alkaline or acidic the soil is. A pH of 0 means very acidic, while 14 means very basic. In order to do this, you can buy a commercial pH testing kit, the directions of which are included in the package. After doing the test, you can mail the results to your state laboratory for an interpretation of the soil composition, pH, and the possible amendments that you need to carry out in order to make the soil qualified for gardening.

  2. Test the water’s pH.

    em> Your water’s pH also needs to be tested since this will determine whether you can neutralize your soil’s pH or not. If your soil is very basic and your water is alkaline as well, then you can be sure that you won’t be able to grow many plants in that kind of soil. In general, water is slightly alkaline. To really make sure that your water won’t affect the soil, you need to use filtered water in watering your plants. However, this is an expensive option.

  3. Do a percolation test. A percolation test will let you know the drainage status of your clay soil. To do this, dig a hole two feet deep and one foot wide. Fill it with water and let it drain completely. Afterwards, fill it again with water and keep track of how long it takes to drain. If it takes less than 12 hours to drain, then the soil has good drainage, and you can plant anything. If it takes more than 12 hours but less than 24 hours, you can grow tougher plants that can tolerate heavy soil. If draining takes more than 24 hours, the only trees that you can plant are those that can withstand flooding, like fir or maple trees.

  4. Amend the soil based on the test results. Most clay soils are basic, so what you need to do is to lower the pH of the soil until it becomes neutral. Adding compost, gypsum, builder’s sand, or composted manure to the soil can do this. It provides better water drainage and makes the soil richer in nutrients. Just remember that you should start amending the soil only during the dry season because wet clay soil can be easily compacted and can make your job much more difficult. Furthermore, you should amend the soil past the area that you actually need so that the roots of your plants have space to expand.

  5. Start spreading the neutralizing material. Spread organic material on top of the soil. After a while, it will break down and integrate with the clay soil. After spreading the organic material, proceed to spreading builder’s sand over the same area, making sure that you mix it thoroughly with the clay and organic material using a tilling machine. Alternatives to builder’s sand include gypsum and green sand, although they are more expensive.

  6. Monitor the pH frequently. You will only know if you’re properly amending the clay soil for gardening if the soil’s pH changes over time. If the soil remains alkaline, you can further acidify the soil by adding ammonia-based fertilizer, iron sulfate, elemental sulfur, and compost material.

The steps on how to amend clay soil for gardening include doing a series of tests for the soil and taking appropriate action based on the results. It can be tedious to amend clay soil, but after doing all these steps, you will no longer have to struggle with growing plants in clay soil.


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