How to Fix Clay Garden Soil



Soil is composed of three different soil particles- sand, silt and clay.  Out of those three, clay is the finest particle.  The ideal garden soil has almost equal parts of all three particles but that doesn't always occur naturally.  Clay soil, being composed of the fine particles, holds water extremely well.  This can be a good thing when water is in short demand.  It can also be a burden when water is abundant as the clay can hold too much water. I cover determining soil texture over on my site, Farminence.

What to do about clay soil?

There are several things that you can do to remedy a soil that is too 'clayey'.  The way that you go about fixing your soil depends on the size of the area to remedy and the amount of money that you want to put into it.  Keep in the back of your mind that good garden soil is going to pay you back with the amount and quality of crop that you'll get out of it. 

If you have large fields that you typically plant row crops in, you would benefit from utilizing cover crops.  Cover crops not only prevent your precious topsoil from eroding, but they can help fix some of the issues you have with your clayey soil.  Clover, winter wheat and buckwheat can be planted as cover crops.  When the plants die back, till them into the soil.  You'll be adding nutrients from the plants back into the soil.  The organic material from the plants will also help to break up the hard texture of the clay soil.

Add alfalfa or fava beans as a cover crop to your soil.  These crops are a little different because they have long root systems.  These long roots reach deep into the clay soil, breaking it up.  The long roots also help to move nutrients around in the soil, making it more accessible for shallow-rooted crops.  Till these into the soil as well to add the nutrients back into the soil and add organic material to further break up the hard clods of clay.

Tilling the soil frequently does lead to erosion and soil degradation.  However, it definitely helps when you are trying to break up the dense clay to till it.  I recommend limiting the amount of tillage once you get your soil back to a good spot.

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