My childhood home sat atop a bluff overlooking the Mill Creek Valley near Quincy. The view over bucolic farm fields and pastures likely was the kicker for why my parents purchased the property. It is a view that still holds me in a trance whenever I'm visiting my folks. However, the bluff upon which our house resided, was comprised of thick, red, gumbo clay!
Over the years of gardening and landscaping on this property, we continually had to battle the clay soils. Only after efforts to build raised beds and add organic matter to the land with wood mulch, horse manure, and shredded leaves, did we begin to see a positive response from the garden and landscape plants.
One garden misconception repeated routinely is to till sand into clay soil to break up the clay structure and facilitate better drainage. The idea stems from the fact that if clay is the smallest soil particle leading to poor drainage, and sand is the largest soil particle causing fast drainage, mixing the two will equal out to well-drained soil.
When sand mixes with clay, it creates a soil structure akin to concrete. To create a real change in a clayey soil structure, you would need to add a 1:1 ratio of sand to clay. Considering the actual volume of clay soil underfoot, that equates to a lot of sand.
It is far more practical to use organic matter to help break up clay soil. Compost is your best bet, but organic matter can come from other sources like wood mulch, composted manure, shredded leaves, or even cover crops.
And sometimes the best course of action is to accept your lousy soil and use plants that prefer clayey conditions. Yes, these plants do exist! Plants such as columbine (Aquilegia canadensis), New England aster (Aster novae-angliae), purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), blazing star (Liatris), and many others will tolerate the sticky, wet mess of clay soils.
Soil comes in a whole array of types. The basic categories are clay, silt, loam and sand with constant variation within each of these classes. If you have silt or loam soils you are sitting pretty, gardening will be easy and you will love your soil. If you have clay or sandy soils it will take a bit more input from you before you love your soil. Trust me, you can love your clay or sandy soil, it just takes a bit of knowledge and a bit of elbow grease. How, exactly do you learn to love clay soil? Read on to learn more about what clay soil is, why you should be glad you have it and how you can make it even better.
First off what does it mean that you have clay soil? It means that the soil in your garden is composed of many tiny plate-like soil particles that can compact with time to form a hard, solid mass that makes shoveling difficult and digging holes a bit more laborious. Clay soils come in many types. It is difficult to know which kind of clay you have without doing a soil test. Usually your local county extension service can help you conduct a basic soil test. This test will let you know what particular type of clay soil you have.
The good parts: Clay soil provides a lot of wonderful things for your garden. First off clay soils are more fertile than many other soil types; each tiny clay particle is packed with places to hold on to water and fertilizer (soil specialists call this CEC or Cation Exchange Capacity, it just means that clay soil can hold a lot of nutrients whereas a sandy soil cannot). This means clay soils can save on watering and reduce the number of times you have to feed your plants. These two features of clay are the main reasons to love clay soils. However, you do need to learn how to garden in clay soil.
A few bad things: Clay soil, however, isn't perfect. It is likely obvious that a heavy clay soil is going to be more work to till or shovel than a sandy soil. However, when you are planting a landscape with perennials and shrubs, most of the digging is only done once and then you get to reap all the benefits of clay soils for the rest of the life of the landscape. No doubt, a clay soil is heavier and more likely to compact than a sandy soil, but you do get a lot of benefits for your labor.
A clay soil can get very mucky if it is too wet. If your clay soil is sticking to your shovel, stop working. The soil is too wet to work with. If you continue working the soil, it will compound the common problems of clay soil. Continuing to dig will compact your soil even more.
Another challenge for clay soil is that all of those nooks and crannies that hold water and fertilizer, will also hold tight to the bad things too, like salts. Ridding clay soil of extra salt build up or changing the pH of the soil will be more difficult due to the gripping ability of the soil particles that make up clay. Clay soils latch on to all minerals and this can be good (fertilizer) and bad (salt). Should you have a problem clay soil, just know that it is generally a long term process to rehabilitate the soil but in the end, you will usually prevail.
One last thing that can be a draw back to a clay soil is if you have a boggy area, clay soils can limit the amount of air plant roots get when they are saturated. If you have a boggy area select plants that tolerate wet soils. Leave plants that need good drainage, to other parts of your garden.
How to fertilize clay soils most effectively: We all need to learn how to avoid wasting fertilizers. If we use them thoughtlessly, they eventually end up in our lakes, streams and groundwater, but are necessary for plants. Clay soils are great 'nutrient' banks, which allows you to feed less often and still have a nice garden. Whe gardening in clay, it is fine to use liquid fertilizers, granular fertilizer, slow release fertilizers, and organic fertilizers (like fish emulsion). Just make sure that whatever fertilizer you choose, you use it responsibly.
Does digging up an entire flower bed and incorporating compost sound too daunting? While tackling an entire bed at once is the most efficient way of improving soils you can improve your soil a bit at a time. One method for accomplishing this would be too improve each little spot where you are planting a plant. To do this, dig a hole 2 to 3 times larger and deeper than what is necessary for the plant you are transplanting. Incorporate a healthy dose of compost by mixing it in with the soil you dug out of the hole. Fill some soil back into the hole, place your plant in the hole and then refill the rest of the hole with the compost enriched soil. While the surrounding soil isn't enhanced the new plant is happily ensconced in good, compost rich soil. Over several years you will gradually improve the soil in the entire bed. This is also an effective way of improving soil in existing, already planted beds.
Knowing what type of soil you have in your garden is very useful for determining what plants will naturally thrive there or which amendments you might want to add. Soil is made up of clay, sand, and silt particles. Most soils have a percentage of all three components, but the ratio of each is what determines your soil type. Clay is the smallest soil particle and sand is the largest, with silt being in between the two.
While dealing with clay soil can be difficult at times, it can provide a basis for a nutrient rich garden. Turning in organic matter helps aerate the soil, and this is something you can continue to do over time. Another recommendation is to avoid working in your clay soil right when it is very wet, as it will compact very easily and destroy the soil structure. As you add plants that naturalize and spread, their root systems can also help to improve your soil structure
Ultisols, commonly known as red clay soils, are one of twelve soil orders in the United States Department of Agriculture soil taxonomy. The word "Ultisol" is derived from "ultimate", because Ultisols were seen as the ultimate product of continuous weathering of minerals in a humid, temperate climate without new soil formation via glaciation. They are defined as mineral soils which contain no calcareous (calcium carbonate containing) material anywhere within the soil, have less than 10% weatherable minerals in the extreme top layer of soil, and have less than 35% base saturation throughout the soil. Ultisols occur in humid temperate or tropical regions. While the term is usually applied to the red clay soils of the Southern United States, Ultisols are also found in regions of Africa, Asia, and South America.
The lack of organic matter in Ultisol makes it difficult for plants to grow without proper care and considerations. Soil amendments are generally required each year in order to sustain plant life in regions with primarily Ultisol soil. The use of soil tests, coupled with the corresponding provisions, can alleviate issues of nutrition and irrigation that can result from non porous Ultisol. Soil tests help indicate the pH, and red clay soil typically has a low pH. The addition of lime is used to help to increase the pH in soil and can help increase the pH in Ultisol as well.
Some gardeners who live in areas with large amounts of red clay soil use raised beds or Hügelkultur to avoid having to amend the soil. By using raised beds, gardeners avoid having to deal with Ultisols altogether.
Clay soils are just soils that have a higher percentage of clay particles than silt or sand. Clay particles are smaller than silt and sand and tend to pack together which causes water to pool after rain events or from melted snow and runoff. Compaction from pedestrians or machines can exaggerate this packing of clay particles making the soil almost impenetrable to water. Clay soils can range from marginally clay dominant soils to almost all clay soils. OPN Seed's Clay Soil Mix is good for most areas where clay soils are found. The native species are adapted to grow in these soils and should do so.
If your soils are so clay based and compacted that they hold water like a swimming pool for weeks and months at a time and you can play a pickup basketball game on the other parts, you may need to amend the soils before planting. 781b155fdc