Ways & How

How to Amend Kaolin Soil

How to Amend Kaolin Soil

Named after “Kao-Ling” where they used the fine, white china clay for the manufacture of porcelain, kaolin soil comes from weathered feldspars. In its mineral form, kaolinite is mined, not just in China, but also in Pakistan, Iran, Korea, and parts of Europe and the United States, particularly in Georgia, where it was used by a small population of African-American women in a practice known as geophagy, the ingestion of “white dirt chalk” to suppress hunger.   Because it is a clay mineral, it is rather hard to grow anything in kaolin because it becomes sticky when wet and extremely hard when dry. For soil to be considered agricultural, it has to contain four components. Minerals should make up 45% of agricultural soil, followed by water (25%) and air (in the form of void space, which should take up 25%). Soil only needs 5% of organic matter to support a plant’s nutritional needs.   Kaolin soil, just like clay, retains water (which causes roots to rot) and does not allow plant roots to breathe well because it packs tight when dry. To plant anything in this kind of soil, you need to allow water drainage and oxygen permeability.

our property sits on “china clay” but you want to have a lush garden, here are some tips you can use on how to amend kaolin soil.

  1. Layer the soil with decomposed matter. Dig up the area where you intend to plant a garden and loosen the soil. Dig a foot down into the ground and break up the hard clay. Put in a three-inch layer of compost, another three-inch layer of decomposed pine bark and finally, a three-inch layer of bagged garden soil. Blend the components well with a tiller and test for soil texture. The soil should easily crumble and be a bit moist.

  2. Add humus to let the soil breathe. After you break up the clay, you can throw in a bag of humus. Humus is any decayed organic material like compost, leaf mold, or old ground-up pine bark and is usually found in the topsoil. By adding humus to your kaolin soil, you improve the soil's ability to hold water and create pockets of air for the plant roots to breathe (because humus prevents the soil from getting packed down). It also provides nutrients to what is otherwise a nutrient-deficient type of soil.

  3. Use manure to condition the soil. If you have done steps 1 and 2, you can further improve your soil by adding some well-rotted manure into the mix. Manure improves the composition of the soil as it contains high levels of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium and traces of minerals like boron, iron, and magnesium. Commercial manure comes highly recommended because it has already undergone a deodorization and sterilization (no weed seeds) process. Top the manure with a three-inch layer of pine bark chips to let the kaolin soil retain some moisture.

Now that you know how to amend kaolin soil, you may also want to know that planting in kaolin is not the only thing you can do. Kaolin clay is, in fact, widely used in the garden to control pests and the spread of diseases as well as providing plants with an effective barrier against heat stress. When applied, kaolin soil leaves a white, powdery film that discourages pests like leafrollers, mites, grasshoppers, thrips, and flea beetles—as well as birds and other predators that feed on these insects—from scavenging on fruits and leaves. Strawberry growers in Florida, for example, apply kaolin soil to protect their crops and to minimize their need for irrigation without adversely affecting the quality of their harvest.


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