This Is The Way I Improved And Broke Up My Clay Soil
There are no short cuts
- Digging out and improving a small area or a planting hole doesn’t work. The plant will be OK for a while, but as it starts sending out roots, the new roots will hit the hard clay, and start circling around the planting hole. Just like in a flowerpot and become pot- bound.
- The other problem with just improving a small area, the surface water will drain from the clay into the area you have improved and subsequently water log the area.
Do You Really Have A Garden Drainage Issue
This may seem like a stupid question but its worth considering that you may not actually have a garden drainage issue, or at least not one that can be fixed with than localised solution.
In its most basic form, garden waterlogging and flooding is caused by water failing to leave an area as fast as it comes in.
The greater the difference in entrance and exit speeds of water the worse the flooding will be. Bearing this in mind there are two scenarios which we get called out to but which no drainage solution would be worth using.
Scenario 1: Flooding after a heavy downpour
Im writing this after a Saturday of wall to wall rain, far more than the average showers we get. This has caused quite a few small floods in gardens and plenty of calls to us to find out what they should do.
So should you be concerned if your garden flooded? Maybe, but maybe not. If this is an ongoing issue and days or weeks later the ground is still spongy or sodden then yes, you should look for a solution.
If the water goes away and the garden returns to normal after a couple of days, then no. This is an acceptable normal rate of absorption and is unlikely to cause any real issues.
You could get some French drains installed to redirect the water but its unlikely to make a huge amount of difference and in our opinion this solution would cost more than its worth if the issue isnt persistent.
Or you could look into puddle pumps which can be a cheap, quick solution to temporary garden flooding
What Is The Composition Of Clay Soil
Believe it or not, clay in the soil does have significant value, in addition to silt and sand. Although clay soil can make it challenging for plants to take root and grow, it does have benefits. Clay soil contains minerals like silica, iron, mica, and aluminum hydrous-oxide, quartz and carbonate. The nutrients and minerals found within clay can be helpful to plants, but too much of carbon or aluminum can challenge growth.
Identifying clay soil is pretty easy, as the soil tends to be sticky, clumps together, and is difficult to penetrate. During wet seasons or colder months, clay soil tends to hold onto excess moisture. When the soil is dry, it becomes rock hard. It is understandable why clay soil exhibits drainage problems because of its nature.
Curious whether you have clay soil? Wait until a day after rainfall, gather a damp clump of dirt in your hands, and see if it easily molds together when you squeeze it.
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Dealing With Poor Drainage
There are two potential issues to concern yourself with. The first is that the soil is compacted. The second is that you have an issue with your current drainage system.
Before you start working on the grass its a good idea to check your drains. Gardens that commonly have puddles will often add drains at the edge of the soil. These carry the water away, often through smaller pipes.
Unfortunately, they can get blocked. You may also have your mains drains running under your lawn. If these become blocked or broken the water could leak into your soil, saturating it While this may help grass growth it will also contribute to your puddles.
In both of these scenarios, you should invest in a pipe inspection camera. This will allow you to inspect the pipes without doing any digging. If there is a problem you can rectify it, if not you can look at the compacted soil.
Dealing With Clay Soils And Conditioning Them For Planting
Mention that your garden has clay soil and youll experience either sympathetic groans for those who have the same, or smug smiles from gardeners with loamy or volcanic soil. Clay is maligned for many reasons: its minuscule particles can form a hard, concrete-like consistency when dry, and a sticky mixture when wet. Clay holds more water than other soils, but often not in a way that allows plant roots to benefit from it.
But it has properties that are beneficial once you control its less than desirable traits. Clay soil contains minerals that are good for plants and, when other products are worked into it, can be an excellent growing media for many plants. Provided the clay has been loosened and worked it holds moisture better than many soils, bringing earthworms up to the surface to aerate the compacted soil and aid plants to stay alive in harsh summers.
Working clay ahead of planting
Autumn is the best season because the soil is warm, moist with the rain and you can walk across the soil without it being muddy and in danger of compacting under your gumboots.
Generally, areas that have not been planted will be a hotchpotch of weeds that colonise easily in clay. They will have well established tough roots that are not easy to remove, because difficult growing conditions attract hardy plants.
Planting into clay soils
Planting Product List
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The Good And The Bad Of Clay Soil
Of all the different soil types , clay soil is made up of the smallest and densest particles. These small and dense particles can cause drainage problems and become compacted easily. However, clay can also hold onto nutrients.
So, all is not lost, we just need to manage it properly!
Lets look at how to transform that solid, waterlogged soil into a rich, loamy clay that is just right for planting.
How To Deal With Clay Soil The Garden
The best way to deal with clay soil is to add compost, topsoil, and a little fertilizer. Mix in well and over time it will have more organic matter and drain better along with valuable rich nutrients. It is not ideal to add sand with clay soil, it will cause the soil to become harder or like concrete if you add sand.
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Common Garden Drainage Issues
The causes of garden flooding are not always obvious, the more you know about the area and the historic drainage issues the better your diagnosis can be. Its common that there are multiple causes contributing to the issues so be sure to take all the factors into account when diagnosing the problem.
The answer to this question will reveal a lot about the nature of your drainage issue: Has the drainage always been bad or has it been getting worse over the years?
If your garden drainage has always been bad but doesnt seem to be getting worse there is a good probability that the main issues are long term issues which dont tend to change or fluctuate. If the garden drainage has been getting worse over the years then its likely that you are victim of some developing issues in the garden or the local area.
Improving Clay Soil With Gypsum
You can overcome compacted clay soil and get it back on track for normal garden and lawn growth by improving it with proper materials.
You can add gypsum, composted leaves, pine bark, or organic compost to your clay soil to eliminate compaction and drainage problems and to improve its structure.
Gypsum is a perfect amendment for relieving compaction and fixing the soil structure of the existing lawn.
You can apply it with a lawn spreader, and it will start working immediately, correcting soil conditions, increasing water penetration, and loosening compacted clay soil to allow for healthier plant root growth.
Gypsum also adds sulfur and calcium, which are essential plant nutrients, to your clay soil. Moreover, it does not affect the pH of the soil.
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How To Improve Clay Soil For Better Gardening
If youve ever tried gardening in heavy clay soil, you know what a challenge it is. Digging is back-breaking work, and you might end up with plants that dont grow very big or just struggle and die.
This doesnt mean that clay soil is the worst thing ever. Clay actually has some benefits that are good for your plants and garden, but theres no denying that it can be hard to work with.
Heres more about what clay soil is, how to know when its time to fix your soil, and how to improve clay soil to make life and gardening easier on yourself!
Install A Garden Drainage System
The most effective way to improve your garden drainage is through a well-designed garden drainage system. check out our useful guide on garden drainage systems or if you are in the Preston area get in touch for a free consultation.
If you want to stop your garden from flooding there may be some things you can do yourself but as we have seen many times over, there is rarely a quick fix for flooding. Most issues require a combination of French drains and drainage pumps due to the sheer amount of water.
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Top Dressing With Compost
After core aerating, top dress your lawn with compost. Core aeration combined with top dressing with compost is by far the best two things you can do to improve clay soil problems in an existing lawn. If you are only going to take two steps to fix your clay problems, then choose core aeration and top dressing.
The way it works is simple. The voids that are left over after core aerating get filled with compost. The compost also gets raked all over the surface of your lawn about a 1/4 thick. This is the best way to introduce a ton of organic matter into your soil.
If you have a cool season lawn, then after top dressing, take the next step and apply a starter fertilizer and a light seeding with a quality seed .
If you have a warm season lawn then you shouldnt need to seed since most warm season lawns spread via rhizomes and/or stolons and will naturally fill in. Check out more on top dressing your lawn here: Top Dressing Lawn: Benefits and Advice.
Best Grass For Clay Soil
The best grass for clay soil is Tall Fescue for cool season lawns. Tall fescue has a deep root system and is very strong. It offers strong drought tolerance, and stands up well to the heat and cold. I really like the Black Beauty Original Supreme Grass Seed Blend.
For warm season lawns Bermuda Grass is a great choice for clay soil. Its deep rhizomes make Bermuda grass strong and resilient. Bermuda Grass is a rapid grower and has the ability to spread and fill in bare spots, as long as you keep it properly fed with a good lawn program.
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How Do You Break Down Clay Soil Quickly
Breaking down hard soil will improve its structure, making planting and digging easier.
So, how can you do it?
Breaking down clay soil will take a lot of digging, but it will make the soil more workable and suitable for growing grass and other plants,
1) Cover the lawn with about eight inches of organic matter. It can be anything that has not been treated with toxic compounds or chemicals, including lawn cuttings, rotted manure, or compost from your heap.
2) You can carry out this step over several days, as it is the most difficult part of the treatment process. Dig the prepared organic matter into the top layer of your clay soil, but be careful not to compact it.
3) You can use either a rotavator or a sturdy spade for digging. When you have finished improving your soil, the garden bed may become a few inches higher, but it will settle down over time.
3) Add some extra inches of organic matter each year. The worms that live in the soil will take it down into the clay, improving the soil.
Here Are Some Helpful Tips For Making Clay Soil More Suitable
Tools and Materials need to improve clay soil in your garden.
- A soil test kit
- Organic matter: You need organic matter such as Compost and Aged Manure along with Straw.
- Wheelbarrow: You will need a wheelbarrow to transport materials to improve your garden soil.
- Shovel: This is a need to mix a scoop-up manure other mixtures.
- Rake: This tool is needed to even out and sometimes till the soil.
- Always test the soil pH, and adjust as necessary.
- Add organic matter every week.
- If you need to grow your crops urgently build raised beds and wait until your garden soil is suitable.
- Continuing mulching your raised beds over the winter along with your garden soil on the ground.
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Understanding Clay Soil And How To Improve It
Garden soil is much more than simple dirt. Examined closely, garden soil is a complex mixture of mineral particles, organic material, moisture, living organisms, and chemical nutrients. Among the most critical factors in a soil’s ability to grow plants is its texture, as dictated by the size of the mineral particles found in it. Ideal soil for gardening are sometimes known as loam, or loamy soil, and it has a broad mixture of sand, clay, intermediate mineral particles, and a heavy does of organic material.
Depending on the size of these soil particles, the texture can range from very porous to extremely dense and resistant to water movement. Soil of this latter type is known as clay soil, due to the fact that most of its mineral particles are very fine clays.
Clay soil is prevalent many parts of the United States, and it can be very problematic if you are trying to grow a flower or vegetable garden. While some trees and shrubs grow well in clay, most annuals, perennials, and vegetables don’t have roots strong enough to force their way through. dense clay. And if spring flower bulbs are your dream, forget itmost bulbs tend to rot over the winter in clay soils.
Clay soils can be improved, however. With some background information and a well-designed strategy, you’ll be able to grow flowers and vegetables to your heart’s content.
Poor Drainage In Yards
Standing water, consistently soggy soil and bad odors are some characteristics typical of poorly drained yards. In very badly drained yards, water may sit on the surface for most of the year. But if water does eventually drain from your yard, the problem may not be as bad as you think. Before going to the major step of installing drainage, assess the extent of the drainage problem.
If water remains in the hole after 12 hours in total, the drainage in your yard is poor. A hole that drains within three hours is an indicator of good drainage, and if the hole drains within 3 to 9 hours, most landscape plants should grow in your yard. On the other hand, you may have been mistaken about which part of your yard is not draining well. Repeat the experiment in other spots if this may be the case.
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Deep Tilling Your Lawn Using A Heavy
If aeration doesnt solve the issues, you might need to go a little deeper. An industrial roto-tiller will go deeper and loosen up all the topsoil. Although this method effectively softens even the hardest soil, it has some downside. It completely flips over the soil you will have to re-seed your lawn a small price to pay!
How Do I Test My Soil
Are you curious about the pH level of your soil? Why not do a test to discover more about how to approach your lawn? There are a few methods you can use to test your soil.
You can take a natural approach and add 1/2 cup of vinegar to your soil. If the vinegar does not fix your soil has an alkaline pH falling between 7 or 8. Soil that falls below 7 is acidic, the soil at 7 is pH balanced, and dirt that measures between 8 and 14 is increasingly alkaline. If you take a cup of soil, add distilled water, baking powder, and it fizzles, you have acidic land.
Another method of testing your soils pH level is to purchase a kit with strips or use a pH meter. Utilizing this technology helps get a more accurate reading of your soils pH level than leaving it up to interpretation or chance with natural methods.
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Additional Tips For Amending Clay Soil
Amending clay soil isnt an easy task, nor is it quick. It may take several years before your gardens soil has overcome its issues with clay, but the end result is well worth the wait.
Still, if you dont have the time nor the energy to invest in improving your soil, you can take the raised bed route. By building raised bed on top of the soil and filling them with new, high quality soil, you will have a quick solution to your clay problem. And eventually, the soil in the raised beds will work its way into the ground below.
Whatever route you choose, that doesnt mean that you need to let clay soil ruin your gardening experience.