Working Clay Soil for Gardening

Learn how you can work organic matter into your heavy clay soil to make gardening easier while still retaining clay’s rich minerals.

| Spring 2019

Photo by Adobe Stock/khaligo.


I have heavy clay soil that becomes as hard as a brick when it dries. What can I do to make gardening in it easier?


Clay soils retain minerals in forms that are readily available to plants and that aren’t water-soluble. The trouble is that clay lacks good porosity. Its fine-textured particles tend to clump tightly together. Air, water, and roots can have trouble moving through it, so crop yields may be lower. (Plus, clay is a pain to work in!)

Increasing your soil’s organic matter is the first and most important step toward improving heavy clay soil. Organic matter invites more porosity-improving earthworms in. Work in compost, grass clippings, shredded leaves, or other organic materials. Plant and turn under cover crops,

and safeguard your soil’s surface with an organic mulch to prevent crusting. Sand or peat moss can also improve soil texture, but they lack many of the other benefits of organic matter. Plus, you’ll need a lot of sand to make a real difference — 1 part sand to every 2 parts clay soil.

—Vicki Mattern, book editor and contributing writer for Heirloom Gardener’s sister title, Mother Earth News.



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