One of the biggest problems facing gardeners living with indigenous clay soil as they work to beautify their homes’ landscaping and gardens is the soil’s natural characteristics. Definitely a challenge to work but the soil’s obstacles can be conquered.
Clay presents several challenges to good plant growth. Just as a good foundation is the base of a solidly built home, so does soil provide the foundation for the growth, appearance, and health of plants.
Clay soil is heavily burdened by its innate characteristics. Clay soil is hard, sticky,difficult to work, especially vulnerable to water saturation and poor drainage. However, with all its short comings, clay soil has a strong redeeming quality, it is nutrient rich. So the landscaping and garden enthusiasts simply must decide a process to overcome its weaknesses, of which there are many, and accent its positive, a naturally nutrient rich composition.
It seems everyone has a theory, a type of “magic bullet” that will solve the soil’s problems and create a workable medium for plants. Oddly enough their unique solution is the practical remedy. A specific chemical additive, a certain time of the year, no offense intended to the farmer’s almanac, or a study that scientifically proves the only viable process. Please allow a slight diversion from the garden and landscaping world for a moment as you will be provided a recent historical analogy. During our nation’s recent economic downturn, experts all over the country were trying to convince the American public that the “old” theory of ” buy and hold quality investments” was outdated and a true dinosaur. The Dow dropped to the 7000 level and these economic evangelists were in their element. “Use my method and you will be assured long-term success. “Act quickly and avoid the inevitable future drop.” Well, the Dow came back and those trumping a miracle cure are relegated to the fringes of acceptable economic practices. But not to worry, they will again surface during the next downturn and be just as enthusiastic as ever. So it is with the clay soil. The good news is you will not invest your life’s savings, a little sweat and labor to be sure but the dividends you will earn will be worth the effort.
A couple of simple tests can determine the necessity to prepare the soil. One thing is for sure, if you live in an area populated with clay soil you can be assured it is compacted,poorly aerated, and has drainage issues. But, if you must, just to convince yourself, by all means perform a test for proper soil drainage. First pick up a hand full of dirt and squeeze firmly. Should it fall apart easily the soil is probably good for planting. Another simple test. Dig a hole 6 inches deep fill with water allowing it to drain. Refill again tracking the drainage time. If more than 8 hours your soil is retaining too much water. The most successful method to determine the need for water is a simple inexpensive, and accurate soil tester which may be purchased from a green house supplier. Soggy soil will produce poor plant growth. The symptoms are very easy to spot. Poor plant appearance, droopy leaves or poor production of blooms or fruit.
Now that your curiosity is satisfied and you have proven to yourself what you really already knew begin preparing the soil for planting. The steps of the process are:
1) Remove existing vegetation.
2) Till the soil to 8 – 12 inch depth.
3) Add 1 – 2 inches of organic matter.
4) Add 1 – 2 inches of sandy loam.
5) Add 20 – 30 pounds of gypsum per 1000 square feet.
6) Add fertilizer.
7) Till the soil between the above steps.
Sure you can hire a professional to do the work but by doing the work yourself you will reap the pride of a job well done and gain confidence that will prepare you for your next gardening project.
Once you see the results of your labor in your garden or landscape you will realize you can do a professional job with just a little planning and preparation. Don’t forget the money you will save.