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 clod's 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 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.
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