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How to Grow Plants in Clay
Gardening soil is much more complicated than just some random dirt. If broken down, your garden soil is a diverse mixture of organic material, moisture, living organisms, mineral particles, and chemical nutrients. Soil texture has a wide range and can go from super sandy to dense and resistant to movement of water. This is known as clay soil which is what we will be discussing in this weeks post.
Identifying Clay Soil
Have you noticed those pesky puddles that seem like they take forever to drain into the dirt compared to other parts of your yard? Does your soil stick to your shoes and garden tools? Does it form big clods that aren't easy to separate, and crust over and crack in dry weather? Well then, it's likely you have clay soil.
Due to the small amount of organic material, the soil can be sticky because of the little space between the mineral particles. Soil that is over 50% clay particles is called 'heavy clay'. Although we have listed a few things that might help you figure out if you have clay soil, it wouldn't hurt to do a soil test as well.
Now let's consider the pros and cons of this soil type. The disadvantages may consist of:
~ Slow Draining
~ Slow to warm
~ Compacts easily
~ Tendency to heave in cold weather
~ Tendency to be alkaline
Although there are quite a few cons, clay soil still has its advantages. Because of the soils density, it retains moisture well and tends to be way more nutrient rich than other soil types. This is because the particles that form clay soil are negatively charged, meaning that they attract and hold positive charged particles, for instance potassium, calcium, and magnesium.
Improving The Soil
So now that we've discussed all of that, I bet you're probably thinking, "Well how could I possibly make my clay soil livable for my plants?" and it's actually pretty simple! The best option in order to avoid future issues popping up would be to improve your whole planting area rather than just trying to improve the individual planting holes. Starting off, You need to define the growing area on your garden bed; If you have an existing bed, dig out any plants you'd like to keep and put into pots for later when the soil is improved.
Moving onto actually improving your soil; First, you need to add 6 to 8 inches of your choice of organic matter to the bed. But you see, this is where you've got to put some elbow grease in; The organic matter must be mixed into the first 6 to 12 inches of soil. To do this, Digging and mixing with a shovel is perfect. Although, if digging is causing too much pain in your back then using a tiller is a good method.
After that, your garden should end up being several inches higher but don't get your panties in a twist; The garden bed will settle overtime as the organic material is breaking down and the soil structure is improving as microorganisms work to break down all of the added organic matter. The garden bed can be planted ASAP afterwards but at last and definitely not least, It is extremely important that you are adding more organic matter once or twice year to prevent your soil from repeating its history.
p.s. Instead of cleaning your garden down to the soil line each fall, let leaves and other plant materials to decay by nature and become apart of the ecosystem or If you prefer, occasionally mulch your garden with compost! There will be little to no extra work needing to be done.
Drainage: The Signs and Problems
A lot of us, hopefully ALL of us, live our lives doing our best to avoid problems and of course that isn't always possible. Drainage problems are just one of the many issues and one of the most important that any homeowner can encounter, Whether you're living with Oscar the Grouch or living at the White House, Drainage issues can ruin even the most well-kept yards if not taken care of. Drainage can sometimes be a hard problem to spot if you are not familiar with the signs and if it isn't spotted soon enough then it may have already caused damages for example; cracked foundations, moisture in crawl space, dead or dying plants and/or grass, even shifting or cracking concrete, just to name a few. But it's okay because SSL is here to save the day! Down below we will speak more in detail of what you should look for in order to avoid spending a ton of money on something you can spot from the get-go.
Having a huge amount of water in your yard can cause soil to be removed, uproot your plants, carve gullies, and in some instances even cause sinkholes. These changes can occur gradually overtime or maybe even suddenly after a bad rainstorm.
No, we're not talking about the bald spots on anyone's heads. We're talking about those dead patches of grass in your yard you've been blaming on the dog for weeks now ( just kidding ). Anyway as most people know; you can over water plants which is of course, including your grass. Grass still needs oxygen to thrive and too much water can make your grass more susceptible to fungal diseases; which we may or may not discuss in future posts ;)
Smelly Soil ( Ew.. we know )
Excess amounts of water that doesn't make it into the ground first thing, keeps your soil wet for long periods of time causing a distinct odor that, lets just say you definitely don't want to wake up to every single day. I mean I think we can all agree Mondays already suck! Smelly soil happens because the present moisture in the soil supports growth of anaerobic bacteria but this doesn't mean your property has to look like Shrek's living quarters for you to have this issue. Your soil should not smell rotten or reek of sulfur and/or ammonia, guys and gals!
This one is a bit more serious/scary and goes to show how dangerous it can be to ignore your drainage problems. If you have noticed any cracks in your homes foundation this could be a result from poor water drainage and may harm your house further. However, we should also keep in mind that some foundation cracking is normal and is an almost inevitable effect from the house settling. If they are too small to tell or you just can't identify if it is a result from poor drainage, we urge you to have professionals to check it out. It's always better to be safe than sorry.
Soil that isn't being drained properly puts out a lot more moisture into the atmosphere and eventually will rise in which can end up in your crawl space. After it makes a safe trip to Crawl Space Town, it begins to condense against the cold underside of the roof; creating the perfect place for mildew to grow and live happily ever after... That is until a professional arrives.
Not all companies are equal and do not specialize in drainage. It is often a great practice to get many different opinions on your issues because there are many different solutions to drainage or water problems. Some may even be a better fix at a better price.
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