Pros and Cons of Clay Soil. Is Clay Soil Good For Your Plants.

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What is Clay Soil?

Clay soil is a type of soil that has very fine particles (less than 1/200 mm in diameter). They are very sticky and don’t have much space between two particle, as a result draining water becomes a problem.

Does Your Garden Has Clay Soil?

It is usually easy to find out if your garden has clay soil. If it sticks to the shoe and are not easy to separate chances are it is a clay soil.

Take a handful of the moist soil and try to make ball. If the soil holds together it is a clay soil.

If you want to totally sure you can do a soil test.

Main Features of Clay Soil:

  • The particle size of clay soil is very tiny and can only be seen under an microscope.
  • Wet clay soils feel very sticky and rolls like Plasticine.
  • They can hold more water than any other soil types.
  • Clay soil also take a lot of time to warm up in spring.

Is Clay Soil Good For Your Plants?

Clay soil have both advantages as well as disadvantages for growing plants.

Advantages of Clay Soil:

There are a few adherent advantages of clay soil:

  • It retains water and plant nutrients very well.
  • Clay soil generally have more nutrients than any other soil type. You will find a lot of potassium, calcium and magnesium in clay soil.

Disadvantages of Clay Soil:

But clay soil also have some disadvantages also.

  • They are very bad at draining the water.
  • Does not warm up easily in springs.
  • Due to it’s compaction clay soil prevents plant roots from growing easily.
  • They generally have a high soil pH.

Problems of Working With Clay Soil:

There are three major problems of working with clay soil. They are

  • High compaction
  • Low air movement
  • Lack of drainage

High Compaction Rate:

Soil compaction is one of the trademark feature of clay soil. Due to presence of its tiny particles they compact and combine and make the soil solid.

Though these also hold soil nutrients with them they are actually quite bad for growing plants. When the soil is compact the roots cannot penetrate into the soil and it stops growing.

Lack of Air Movement:

As the clay soil becomes very dense with time they don’t allow aeration through the soil. A good aeration is a prerequisite for healthy plant growth. As the soil is not airy enough it stifles the roots.

Lack of Drainage:

Clay soil is good at holding water for a time. As the soil contains very tiny particles, they stick together and blocks the gap through which the water drains down. Most of the plants need a soil that have a good drainage capacity. So using clay soil solely to grow plants can create problems.

How To Amend Clay Soil:

improving clay soil

Although clay soils have some disadvantages by amending the soil you can easily improve the air flow, water draining and compaction abilities.

As clay soil already has lots of nutrients, we just need to improve some of its qualities as per our need. Properly amended clay soil can make perfect growing medium for growing plants.

To get your desired result from clay soil you have to amend and improve clay soil. Here are some of the ways you can improve the clay soil.

  • Adding compost to the clay soil.
  • Using cover crops.
  • Adding animal manure to the soil.
  • Adding leaf or wood chips with the clay soil

Adding Animal Manure To The Soil:

Animal manures improve the nature of the clay soil. They add organic matters to the clay soil. This increases the overall particle size of the soil and breaks down the soil compaction. They also add air pockets in the clay soil. So the overall aeration of the soil improves.

When we say animal manure it generally means herbivorous animals. Manures of Cow, goat, sheep, horse, pigs etc are very good for this purpose. Don’t use faeces from meat-eating animals like dogs, cat etc. They may contain harmful pathogens and bacteria that can harm your crops.

We have a detail article on some of the best animal manures and how to use them. Check that out if you want to know about manures.

Using Cover Crops:

Cover crops are low cost, easy to grow plants that we grow in the garden before planting regular plants. They protect the soil surface and improve ecosystem in general.

You can use cover crops to improve clay soil. Chop down the crops and mix them with the soil. They can add lots of organic matter to the clay soil and can also provide food for the soil life. Here are some of the best cover crops you can use to enrich your clay soil.

Adding Compost to The Clay Soil:

Adding compost is by far the most popular way of amending clay soil. Just like the animal manure compost is also full of organic substances that increases the soil texture and overall particle size.

The best part of using compost is that you can easily make your own compost by using kitchen scraps.

Add compost to the clay soil couple of times in a year and with time this will improve the clay soil.

Making compost is quite easy. In this post we have discuss composting in detail. So if you are having trouble making compost, you can definitely check that out.

If you are still not comfortable making your own you can buy compost from your local nursery shops or online stores.

Adding Leaf Moulds or Wood Chips With The Clay Soil:

Leaf moulds are great soil conditioners. They light, can hold water and allows air flow. They are also good at controlling weeds.

Wood chips are also good at improving clay soil. They have large amount of carbon and are easily available. Mix them with clay soil. They will break down and improve the soil texture.

Plants That Grow Well in Clay Soil:

You can grow lots of plants on clay soil. Usually, plants that have taproots can grow well in clay soil as their roots can break up tough clay soils. Here are some of the examples:

Trees That Grow on Clay Soil:

  • Birch
  • Eucalyptus
  • Magnolia
  • Pine

Perennials That Grow on Clay Soil:

  • Hostas
  • Ivy

Vegetables for Clay Soil:

  • cabbage,
  • Cauliflower,
  • Onions,
  • Pumpkins, etc

Useful Tips if You Are Using Clay Soil in Your Garden:

  • Don’t walk on clay soil when it’s wet. It cause more compaction in the soil and makes life difficult for plants.
  • If you have to walk, put some wooden boards on top of the soil. It will spread your weight so won’t cause any compaction.
  • Always add organic matter with the clay soil. Do this in autumn.
  • Never plant when the soil is wet.

So once we have done the work and added the organic matter we will have a good soil that will make others jealous.

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prasenjit saha author Gardening ABC

Hi there! My name is Prasenjit and I’m an avid gardener and someone who has grown a passion for growing plants. From my hands-on experience, I have learned what works and what doesn’t. Here I share everything I have learned.