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Clay soil - how do I fix it? Or do I have to?

Posted by reversemidas (My Page) on
Thu, Apr 5, 07 at 23:10

I moved to VA, and the soil in the garden is like wet clay. Really, It was sticking to my shovel like wet muck. Will anything really grow in it? I never experience clay soil before. Is it any good for growing? Right now I try to mix into it wood mulch, composted cow manure and top soil bags into it, thinking to increase organics into it. But should I really bother or just lay it on top of this clay soil. Anyone with experience with clay soil that can give me some tips on using it. Its my flower bed and also the vegetable garden I'm trying to set up.


Follow-Up Postings:

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RE: Clay soil - how do I fix it? Or do I have to?

If you mix wood into the soil, you need to add nitrogen so it will decompose without "robbing" nitrogen from the soil. If you put it on top, it will decompose and get the nitrogen it needs from the air.

Sand can be used to amend clay soil. It's a permanent amendment, but you need to add a lot for it to be helpful. Adding too little can actually make things worse. For that reason, many people recommend adding organic matter. The disadvantage of organic matter is that you need to add it every year.

In the past, I've tilled compost and other organic matter in, but more recently, I've just been piling it on top and letting the worms bring it down into the soil.

For obvious reasons, it's not practical to till the lawn (especially not on an annual basis, so I've always spread stuff on the surface. The main thing I do for the lawn is mulch mow, but I also add coffee grounds from Starbucks. When I water the lawn, I make sure it dries out on top first, then water deeply. When I first moved here, I could water only a short time before it would start to run off. I got around this by watering a section as long as I could, then moving to the next one. After the entire lawn had been watered, I would start over. I would repeat this for a total of three cycles.

My soil now drains much better than it did, but it still holds water.

Until you get it amended with enough organic matter, it can be difficult to work with. When it's too wet, it's like digging in muck. When it's bone dry, it's like rock. Once you have enough organic content in it, those problems become much less noticeable.

Clay has some advantages--it's generally nutrient rich, and once you get water into it, it holds the water for a long time.


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RE: Clay soil - how do I fix it? Or do I have to?

Don't mix in any more top soil either. It doesn't help.

But do as has already been said -- add lots of compost. Mix it in and/or load it on top.

Bottom line -- clay is good stuff. Work with it.


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RE: Clay soil - how do I fix it? Or do I have to?

Adding organic matter, as much as you can manage, is the way to make a long term difference. I think tilling should be kept to a minimum, but in your situation, tilling in as much as 6 inches of organic matter would dramatically change your soil. In subsequent years, add organic matter without tilling.

Whenever I see sand mentioned as an amendment, I get a bit queazy. It must be qualified with the adjective "coarse."

Amending with fine sand would almost certainly be a bad mistake. You'll make something akin to concrete. Play sand would be one of the worst things you could add, while sharp builder's sand would be a good one time permanent amendment.

If available, affordable, and coarse, volcanic sands like zeolite, granite, greensand, basalt would be the best to use. (See link below).

A soil test is in order to see if you need to add other things of a long term nature while you're at it. Generally,
unless you're pH is to an extreme, don't get drastic. Plants don't care what the pH is, as long as nutrients are available. And that's where OM and your pet microbes come in.

Have fun. -rangier

Here is a link that might be useful: Paramagnetism


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RE: Clay soil - how do I fix it? Or do I have to?

Compost - Compost - Compost.

Here is a link that might be useful: Amending Clay Soil


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RE: Clay soil - how do I fix it? Or do I have to?

Don't work that soil if it's wet. Walking on it and manipulating it will only compress the air out of it worse.


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RE: Clay soil - how do I fix it? Or do I have to?

Compost and other forms of organic matter are what you need, leaf mold, wood chips, any once living plant material you can get you hands on. The problem with clay soils is that the particles are so small and fit together so well that they can form a tight, impervious barrier to water flow, root growth, nutrient movement, and the clay soil particles also latch onto and hold tightly those nutrients and do not allow plants growing in the clay access to them, even though the nutreints are there. Organic matter will seperate these clay particles and allow better water and root movement and it changes the soil so those nutrients are more readily available.
So get all the organic matter you can into your soil and, eventually, you will see a big change. Not tommorrow or next month, but eventually.


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RE: Clay soil - how do I fix it? Or do I have to?

fungus_among_us i'm not so sure I like that website you linked to. they listed many negatives to clay but didn't list the bright side. Unlike sandy soils which hardly retain any water or nutrients clay is fabulous at this. The worms simply love the clay soil once you get some OM mixed in. Plus they said that clay soil is naturally on the acidic side. I'm wondering where that came from? I'm not saying that it is wrong it's just they left that statement hanging in the air without explaining it. Here in my part of Fort Worth we have unbelieveable black clay sitting on top of a huge limestone bed - caliche. Our 'soil' is extremely alkaline. I could only wish for some acidity to my soil so that I wouldn't have to ammend so heavily for a neutral ph. Sorry for sounding like i'm ranting, not trying to, honestly.

reversemidas if this is a garden that you are newly trying to build then you are in luck. There is a great method for dealing with this kind of 'soil' that is called lasagna gardening. Look this term up and if you use this method you will find in no time at all you will have friable soil under the bed. If you cannot use the lasagna method then the best thing I can tell you is to keep finding OM (organic matter) and adding it every chance you can. I mean coffee grounds (the ones from your daily dose and those from any coffee shops you can find), grass clippings, lava sand, green sand, decomposed granite, pulled weeds, fall leaves (shredded up or mowed over).

I add almost anything I can get my hands on and after a couple of years of doing this I am finally starting to see results. Mine is in the front of my house where the builder put three boxwoods and three indian hawthorne bushes. I just keep adding more and more material and mixing it into the top two inches. the worms do all the rest for me. ;) these plants do fine in heavy soil but experiment and have fun finding out what works best for you: monkey flower, ajuga, blackberry lily, toad lily, ditch lily, daylily, daffodils, campanula, carex sedge grass, maiden grass and many more. check out the link below and do a custom search for plants that like clay. :)
most of all have fun.
christina

Here is a link that might be useful: bluestone perenials


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RE: Clay soil - how do I fix it? Or do I have to?

There are many soils that a gardener will call "clay". It could be a fine silt soil with 30% clay or a true clay with very little silt. There is a huge difference in the two.

A high silt "clay" is better amended with organics, or maybe organics, sand, and vermiculite.

One who has a true clay is a very lucky gardener because then he can do a sand/clay mix, no organics needed.

Sometimes when I'm digging a new spot in my yard, the shovel will turn up a nice lump of pure clay. I took a photo of one this week. The lump was about 5x5x10 inches, which I cut in half ..... (thumbnail, click for full size image)




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RE: Clay soil - how do I fix it? Or do I have to?

I had a very sticky clay soil at my last house. The first year I added a lot of peat moss. I mean a LOT.I dug about a foot of peat moss into two feet of soil in the garden. Because at that point I was sick of working on amending the soil, I left it at that and planted my veggies. It worked well enough and my garden was OK.

The next spring, the soil was great to work. I added a little more peat moss(about 2-3 inches), some compost and some sheep manure. That year, the soil, weather, and humidity all came together and I had a wonderful harvest. Lucky year. After that I added a couple inches of compost and manure every year and the outcome was great.

The good thing about peat moss is that it takes several years to break down instead of disappearing every year. It makes clay soil wonderfully workable.

Good luck.


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RE: Clay soil - how do I fix it? Or do I have to?

  • Posted by lceh 7 Central VA (My Page) on
    Fri, Apr 6, 07 at 15:15

I, too, live in Virginia and have lots of red clay. Yes, adding lots of compost is a great idea, and so is adding gypsum. You can add it when digging a new garden or topdress your lawn with it. Don't worry, you can certainly grow in Virginia clay!


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RE: Clay soil - how do I fix it? Or do I have to?

Thank you everyone. I really amaze at all the ideas and suggestions and will definitely try them. Yes, it is really some sort of clay, it had the consistency of like ready mix spackling compound from those big plastic tubs. I had a clumpy piece that dried off my shovel and it was like a rock, even when I dropped it out of my hand onto the ground it didn't break in half or crumbled. I never seen soil like this before, but I enjoy gardening and this will be good experience and challenge. Thank you all for the help.


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RE: Clay soil - how do I fix it? Or do I have to?

Try growing a cover crop first year like cereal rye which grows enormous about of root system. Seems a lot better way of adding organic matter into soil and deep more quickly than just throwing OM on top. Clovers are great as well to add nitrogen into the soil. Try crimson red clovers with cereal rye. Alfalfa is another possiblity since they send roots deep.

Seems a lot easier to me.


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RE: Clay soil - how do I fix it? Or do I have to?

Hey reverse I live in northern KY and we have clay everywhere too not only do we have tons of clay but the builders did their best to remove any topsoil that was once here. I wish that I would of found this site earlier because I've never heard of anything that you could do with this soil except put better soil on top of it. I live in a condo with a yard that has a decent slop about 40 degrees, so I've put retaining walls everywhere and filled them with better soil. It's had to believe that anything could penetrate this stuff. I might take the time to do some experimenting with a small part of my lawn this year and use some of that peat moss that someone was talking about in an earlier post and maybe plant some alfalfa to help break it down. If it works I'll keep you posted.


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RE: Clay soil - how do I fix it? Or do I have to?

Peat moss does take a long time to "break down", get digested by the soil bacteria because 1) it has no nutrients to feed the Soil Food Web, and 2) if there is anything else for the SFW to eat they will ignoring that junk food that peat moss is, and 3) peat moss is already mostly digested and would be the last thing the SFW would want to eat anyway.
Any other type of organic matter is better for your soil than peat moss.


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RE: Clay soil - how do I fix it? Or do I have to?

  • Posted by lightt 6/7 Northern VA (My Page) on
    Mon, Apr 9, 07 at 12:13

Reverse,
What I've found to be one of the biggest obstacles with the Northern Virginia clay/shale in my yard is what is created when one digs a hole in it. Drainage is not much better than what youd expect if you dug a hole then stuck a bucket in it or lined the hole with concrete!!

Several years ago I spent hours rushing to dig two holes 2 in diameter and 2 deep trying to beat a tropical storm. Finished digging but the rain started before I planted and we ended up getting several inches over 36 hours or so. The holes filled with water and took almost a week to dissipate. Im convinced evaporation more than drainage emptied the holes.

I built raised beds though my rational was due to the ground being too darn difficult to work rather than because of drainage issues. The first couple of beds I constructed I turned over the top 3-6 inches of sod prior to filling them with OM but found with our sometimes frequent 0.5 to 1.5 inch summer downpours, water would get trapped and wick back up into the beds keeping them pretty soggy. Subsequent beds have been made on top of the clay without any digging and I can see water flow out the bottom in heavy rains or watering.

Terry Light
Oak Hill, Virginia


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RE: Clay soil - how do I fix it? Or do I have to?

"Peat moss does take a long time to "break down", get digested by the soil bacteria because 1) it has no nutrients to feed the Soil Food Web, and 2) if there is anything else for the SFW to eat they will ignoring that junk food that peat moss is, and 3) peat moss is already mostly digested and would be the last thing the SFW would want to eat anyway.
Any other type of organic matter is better for your soil than peat moss."

I know there are many people that don't agree with using peat moss because they believe it to be environmentally unfriendly, but it really is a great soil conditioner. As well, it doesn't have it's own nutrients, but it does soak up nutrients that would otherwise leach out of the soil, stores them, and releases them slowly to the plants.

As for peat moss being the "last thing the SFW will eat", my worms seem to love it. My heavy-on-the-peat-moss garden is completely loaded with worms and other creepy crawlies. They will even crawl into a wet bag of peat moss if it's left on the ground.

The bonus of all this is that it leaves the garden beautifully workable.


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RE: Clay soil - how do I fix it? Or do I have to?

Sulphur does wonders for helping to loosen up clay soils. It reacts chemically with the soil. Since many clays are somewhat alkaline, sulphur can also help bring the pH into a more favorable balance for most plants.


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RE: Clay soil - how do I fix it? Or do I have to?

I've never seen sulfur have any loosening effect on my clay, but I have used it to raise the pH. The OP lives in Virginia, where rainfall is fairly high and soil pH is likely to be low. Unless the pH of the soil is high (unlikely in VA), adding sulfur to it would not be a good idea.


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RE: Clay soil - how do I fix it? Or do I have to?

Hi Everyone, well it's a year now. What I did do was tried sort of lasagna gardening on top of the clay soil. I had piled grass clippings, leaves, and kitchen scraps in layers with newspaper/carboard strips. Then I read somewhere about tying it down with burlap on some website, so I did that too to keep it wet/moist. I made it into three rows so that I could walk around them. I might of made my neighbors nervous cause it looked like three shallow graves, being that I just moved into the neighborhood too. LOL. But the flowers and vegetables grew pretty well last year. What was interesting this year was that as I was just digging into these raised beds just itching to plant something this year, and I hit the clay underneath a bit, I found some decent size earthworms in the top 1/2 inch of the clay layer. Earthworms living in clay soil? Late last year in the fall I started vermicomposting and looking forward to trying worm poop in the garden as well.


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RE: Clay soil - how do I fix it? Or do I have to?

I'm pretty sure that as you keep organic material on top of the clay, the clay will steadily loosen. Humic acids will start to soak into the clay. Then fungi will grow in the humic acids. The fungi will cause the peds in the soil to aggregate. This will allow air and arthropods to enter the clay. Bacteria, worms, and the rest of the soil food family soon follow. Just keep feeding the soil and the soil will feed your plants.


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RE: Clay soil - how do I fix it? Or do I have to?

Many years ago, I amended a clay soil with lots of peat moss (about 4 inches over the whole garden). I dug the peat into the top few inches of the clay. In subsequent years, only compost from the garden remains and kitchen was added. The garden developed very well; the soil stayed easy to work with, and plant growth was great. In my opinion, peat really is one of the best amendments for such a situation, because the organic matter in peat is quite stable, and will not break down very quickly in the soil. Don't add peat for nutrients, but add it for a very significant and long lasting improvement in texture. The stability of peat is a great benefit, not a detriment. Peat has already gone through lots of stages of decomposition, and what remains now is fairly resistent to further decomposition. I did also find that the addition of peat encouraged large numbers of earthworms in the soil.
Renais


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RE: Clay soil - how do I fix it? Or do I have to?

I don't add peat to my garden soil as an ammendment, but I do use peat-based potting mix for seed starting, so tiny amounts do get added to my beds in the process of transplanting seedlings there.

One thing I can say about peat with confidence: once that stuff dries, it can be nearly impossible to re-wet. I can't imagine what that would be like if I were to till large amounts of peat to my garden then have a summer of drought like last year.

I ammend my clay soil with compost or organic mulches, like grass clippings and fall leaves, and have had good results doing that. Lasagna gardens, which is basically organic mulch taken to the extreme, have produced wonderful results in my clay.

I think Pablo has given the best tip for clay soil: don't work it until it dries out, and avoid walking on it if possible.

I hope Franklin's OK. He's strangely missing an opportunity to incite chaos re: peat.

Karen


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RE: Clay soil - how do I fix it? Or do I have to?

This is my first year gardening, and I am trying to improve my clay soil too. I can understand adding peat or organic material on top and grow it the first year. The second I imagine I would add a little more and tilt it.

But what if the bed is for perennials? I can't tilt it, and if I keep adding new materials, wouldn't that bury the root of the perennials deeper and deeper? What can I do in the situation with perennials?


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RE: Clay soil - how do I fix it? Or do I have to?

Do NOT add sulphur east of the Mississippi. Almost all clay soils (including mine in Zone 6b Southern Illinois) are naturally acidic and requiring lime to raise the ph.

I added sand to a small clay garden patch. Big mistake.
I don't use peat bacause of the environmental concerns.

I improved my soil through tilling in a ton of compost a year. I also inoculated and planted beans in the summer and clover in the fall to improve soil tilth and fix nitrogen.

Don't ever work a clay soil when it's wet.

Once you improve the tilth and ph of your soil, you will find, as I did, that clay soil is a treasure trove of soil nutrient waiting to be unlocked.


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RE: Clay soil - how do I fix it? Or do I have to?

Has anyone tried tilling in Vermiculite or Perlite into clay soil? Has anyone used plant gel? would the expanding and shrinking of the plant gel as it dries and rehydrates help to loosen it. I am in zone 9. My neighborhood was all farm land 10-15 years ago so the clay soil is hard as a rock and depleted. does not seem you can ever moisten the soil more than an half inch deep, but after a hard rain it does not ever seem to dry out, even with 95 degree summers. Would tilling in gypson help to loosen the clay? and finally has any one tried to till in coir instead of peat? Does tilling in newspaper really encourage worms to come in and loosen the clay. This past year I tried to garden with very poor results even though I added lots of garden soil on top (7"), I am thinking that once the plants roots get through the garden soil I added they hit that hard clay and become root locked. I grew tomatos with the whole plant produceing ~6 tomatos all year none of which were eatable (they stayed green and never seemed to ripen once they began to turn red they fell of the plant and rotted with in 1 day). Grew Cayanne peppers with very min yeild, grew habanaro with very poor yeild, grew cucumbers with poor yeild and bad taste, Bell peppers never produced fruit. Parsley did not do very well, although basil did good. Looking to try and fix this soil during the winter so that it will be good come March 2009. Would adding ammonium nitrate to the soil along with organic matter help it to break down. Would the ammonium nitrate keep the nitrogn levels too high come March or will the 4 months from now to then help disipate the nitrogen. Would blood meal or bone meal be better than chemical fertilizers this far in advanced?


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RE: Clay soil - how do I fix it? Or do I have to?

We live on an inland plateau in the middle of a coniferous forest so have clay with maybe 1/2" of "soil" which would be from decomposed coniferous needles. When I started gardening here about 12 years ago I used bales of peat moss as I hadn't met kimmsr then :), sawdust, and grew a cover crop the first year. I felt the clay must have some nutrients in it as the wild raspberries and dandelions grew so well. It was very difficult to work tho, looked just like grey concrete. Adding nothing but compost every year. I now have very nice soil and lots of earthworms. The worms spend the winter burrowed deep in the clay base. Amazing to see all their tunnels. I don't use any chemicals or synthetic fertilizers because that wouldn't be healthy for my worms. As long as I feed the worms they do a fantastic job of tilling and fertilizing my garden.

I've said this before but because it has worked so well for me I'll repeat. We live in zone 3 and have a short season so in the summer I often dig in compost in the spaces between perennials. I call it feeding the worms and they turn that stuff into nice dark soil very quickly.

One caution for those with heavy clay soils - when you plant trees you need to dig a very large hole and fill with amended soil -add a drainage channel (depending on the location) or the poor tree will drown. The other alternative depending on the type of tree is to not amend at all. All of the naturally seeded trees in our forest survive this way. However we usually use method one for expensive trees. Have had reasonably good results with method two for "found" trees.


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RE: Clay soil - how do I fix it? Or do I have to?

Thank you for the reply


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RE: Clay soil - how do I fix it? Or do I have to?

Peat Moss is organic matter, it is just not a renewable resource and the harvesting of it damages the ecosystem it comes from. For those of us that have access each fall to lots of organic matter from the deciduous trees using Peat Moss is inexcusable because the leaves are a much better and renewable, resource then Peat Moss will ever be.


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RE: Clay soil - how do I fix it? Or do I have to?

kimmsr,

I mulch leaves and add to the gardens. I also have access to LOCAL peat moss. I agree that peatmoss is a great tilth builder. Dry out? hardly a problem around here....and the local peatmoss is highly hydrated already when purchased by the truck load.

I have used sand,,,both fine and coarse and don't have concrete here. Your situation may be different.


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RE: Clay soil - how do I fix it? Or do I have to?

Has anyone here ever been to a peat bog? Its a very nasty place with tons of mosquitoes. Also, peat bogs produce methane - a greenhouse gas MUCH worse than CO2. I have very hard Texas clay that strangles new plantings unless I loosen the soil with copious amounts of peat moss, greensand, and compost. What is more important: saving a nasty methane bog or improving soil to grow CO2 eating plants?


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RE: Clay soil - how do I fix it? Or do I have to?

Reversemidas:

How's the garden now?

Chris


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RE: Clay soil - how do I fix it? Or do I have to?

Heavy usage of coffee grounds in my garden beds has had a curious effect on my clay soil. The clay in my yard will turn hard as a rock when it drys out. When coffee grounds are left to soak into the same soil, the clay becomes denatured - crumbly and black. Few vegetables would grow in the heavy concentrations of coffee grounds, but they did change the soil.

I'm going to start a new thread to discuss my observations.


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RE: Clay soil - how do I fix it? Or do I have to?

Peat moss, mulched leaves, fertilizer (organic), and paper from our office shredder tilled slowly to maximum depth. This mixture converted our packed clay to awesome soil almost overnight. We add mulched, leaves, organics, & shredded paper every spring. We now can grow any plant or veggies we want.


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RE: Clay soil - how do I fix it? Or do I have to?

I live on Long Island, NY. It was created by a glacier. I think the glacier stopped right smack in the middle of my yard because my "soil" literally goes from pure beach sand and pebbles to pure impossible to dig clay. Personally, sand is easier to dig - and dig, and dig. When I planted a hickory seedling I had to dig a hole three feet wide and deep, remove half the sand and mix topsoil into the rest.

Clay, on the otherhand? UGGGGGGH!!! First of all, I cannot imagine why so many people here say to dig only when it is dry. When my clay is dry my garden fork literally ricochetes (sp?) right back at me, practically fracturing my wrist. I once spent and entire day with an auger attached to my drill and I still could not get even one foot down. The answer - dig after a really good rainfall! Yes, the backyard turns into the Poltergeist swimming pool, and yes, the bottom of my boots get covered in a 3" thick mass of mucky clay that must be scraped off with a shovel, but at least I can actually dig down a foot (truthfully, I usually dig DURING a rainstorm, because only the first few inches soften up; then I let the next layer get wet and so on.)

We recently put an extension on our house and the bulldozer completely compacted the soil (which caused the giant Blue Spruce that was planted when the house was originally built to be uprooted during a freak hurricane two weeks ago). I had to loosen the soil so I could plant a native red mulberry tree and a Hinoki Cypress, so last fall I began digging down one foot into the clay (working in 1 ft x 3 ft sections), piling it up on the side, dumping in layers of leaves then wood ash (I have a wood stove) and some clay, lasagna style. At first the pile was almost a foot above grade, but after a few months it was already at or below grade. I planted my tree and shrub a few days before the hurricane hit, berming it up a good foot with topsoil. By next year it should be about 6" above grade, which is what I want.

I know that agricultural gypsum loosens clay (by binding to the individual clay particles), but it is calcium sulfate, so it also acidifies it. Wood ash also supposedly binds to clay particles, and it is alkaline. I ran out of ashes, so now I'm using lime.

Do NOT add sand to your clay. You will need to have a ratio of 75% sand 25% clay in order to loosen it up, otherwise you literally create concrete. I used to do a lot of pottery and clay sculpture, so I can tell the clay / sand ratio just by feeling it. Trust me, clay with a bit of gritty sand when wet (which is what I have) turns to solid, unbreakable rock when dry.


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RE: Clay soil - how do I fix it? Or do I have to?

sand and clay does not make concrete
in the biz
no offense meant
just a pet peeve of mine
and yes clay is miserable to dig in


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Fix clay soil drainage OVER grass???

Last year after a huge construction project we put down turf in the bare backyard to stop the rainwater from flowing non-stop next door and flooding our neighbor's basement. The grass did not grow everywhere we planted, but most of it took off. This year we've had to dig out for a new electricity line as well as a few other things. The displace soil, very clay in nature, has covered some areas of grass and has added to the swamp that we unknowingly created. The yard doesn't drain. Live and learn. In the bare areas I thought I could remove some of the clay soil and add organic stuff and topsoil, then replant grass. But what about the the grassy areas (most of the yard)?????What I'd like to know is if I can improve drainage WITHOUT having to tear out all the grass. PLEASE HELP!
Thanks,
Lisa


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RE: Clay soil - how do I fix it? Or do I have to?

The peat moss is not added to add organic material. Clay usually has a lot of that (depending on the type). Peat Moss changes the texture. I have mostly red acidic clay. I think it's the best type, but you have to work with it. First year I double dug and added peat moss and natures miracle. Then lots of mulch. Mulch is important because clay will harden when it dries out and get gooky if it gets too wet. Now when I dig in these beds, it's fantastic soil. I just recently started composting and only have enough to add around my shrubs (mostly roses), but just mulching and amending does a lot. What you don't want to do is dig a hole in the clay and fill it with amendments and plant in that. You will get a 'swimming pool' effect and your plants will be sitting in water. That is what happened to most of my builder supplied plants and why most of them are gone.


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RE: Clay soil - how do I fix it? Or do I have to?

  • Posted by lcpw z6 St Louis (My Page) on
    Tue, Jun 8, 10 at 11:40

Lisa4ducks -
I don't honestly know a lot about drainage, but removing clay and replacing the top bit with topsoil sounds to me like it wouldn't be a good idea. The water might do a good job of sinking into the topsoil, but when it hit the clay I think it would stop / not percolate in. Oddly, this tends to happen when any two very different soiltypes meet - even if each one by itself is ok at water permeability, the DIFFERENCE makes water sorta "pause" at the intersection of the two, and not cross well. I think that tendency would be intensified by the lower layer being the dense clay.

My thought is that you want to make the clay itself more permeable. That's pretty straightforward to do for the part that's bare right now - dig in lots of organic material. I think you want a quantity that'd come on a truck, not a quantity you'd buy in bags. Purchased compost would be fine, but something cheaper or even free like municipal "leaf mulch" (partially composted leaves) would work too, if the size of the bits is small enough. (I wouldn't do woodchips - they're too big to help the soil texture right away, and too high in carbon to decay quickly.) And if I were doing this, I'd get a 50 pound bag of alfalfa meal and sprinkle it around and incorporate it as I was digging (especially if I were digging in only partially composted organic stuff - to give it a little extra nitrogen to feed the soil beasties).

The idea would be that the particles of organic material would get in between the particles of clay, making spaces where air, water, and worms can move. As the organics decay, the process of decay will tend to make more lasting improvements to the soil texture, helping the clay make little clumpy particles that leave space for air in between.

The area that you don't want to dig up is trickier and will take more time. There, I'd top-dress with organic material. "Top-dress" means you add a layer of organic stuff that is thin enough that it doesn't smother the grass. It decays in place, and in the process improves the very top layer of the soil. As it vanishes, you do it again, and again, and eventually the soil improvement goes fairly deep.

One nice thing to top-dress with is used coffee grounds - if you can get them by the trashbag full at Starbucks or another coffee shop. (Ideally you don't want the dinky 5 pound foil bags Starbucks repackages the "grounds for gardeners" into ... you just want the whole garbage bag they keep under the espresso machine - way more volume!) Dump this on the lawn and rake it out until it disappears in between the blades of grass. But - coffee grounds aren't magical ... leaving your grassclippings there is good, mulch-mowing autumn leaves in place is good, fertilizing with organic stuff (any of the ground-up grains that are fed to livestock are good - there's a list in one of the FAQs around - I think it might be in the Organic Gardening FAQ list - soy, corn, cottonseed meal, etc); any of these feeds the soil to feed the grass, and that process is what you want.

If you're the impatient sort (ahem, like me), another thing you can do is to take a spading fork, thrust it into the grassy soil, then wiggle it some, loosening/lifting a hunk of the soil (but not tearing it out). Then toss compost / fine organic stuff into the cracks, pull out the spading fork (leaving the grass pretty much where it started), and move a few inches over and repeat. It'd be a ton of work, I'll admit, but it gets some organics down deeper into the soil to kindof jumpstart the process of feeding the beasties that are going to do the real work of making your soil more permeable.

I'll say - the places in my yard where I've been actively incorporating organic material for years have lovely soil, as do the places where I aggressively dug in organics 10 years ago, and have just top-dressed every year since. The spots where I haven't done these things are astonishingly gummy gluey clay. But - I do realize that different areas of the country have different sorts of clay. You may want to get advice from someone who lives near you. A good garden shop might be a source of knowledgeable folks, as might a community garden.

Good luck!


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RE: Clay soil - how do I fix it? Or do I have to?

I think my question, "Fix Clay Soil Drainage Over Grass???", was perhaps not best posted here. I did not mean to take away from the original person's questions.
All the information on this page has helped me tremendously and hopefully visa-versa!
I've started a new thread, same title, in the Soil Forum.
This is my first time on this wonderful site! Thanks!


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RE: Clay soil - how do I fix it? Or do I have to?

Not sure if mentioned,but I have clay soil and tried seaweed/kelp(washed salt out of it) in my garden.I did not find that it helped the growing much,but found that it did make the soil texture less clayey,and more light and crumbly,and broke it up.


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RE: Clay soil - how do I fix it? Or do I have to?

I remember when I was 4 year old and my father told me that I should never put printed paper in my mouth. Some friends used to chew paper and make figures with the resulting paste. My father explained to me that the ink contained plumb, a highly dangerous poison. Nowadays, the print ink usually does not contain plomb anymore. But it contains chemicals.

Concerning the lasagna garden, newspapers or any printed paper might contain toxic chemicals, called mineral oils from the printed ink. Recycled cardboard packaging seems to contamine food we purchase in the supermarkets, check this report from BBC http://news.bbc.co.uk/today/hi/today/newsid_9417000/9417934.stm and article http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2011/mar/08/recycled-cereal-packaging-health-risk

This mineral oil from ink passes through plastic and other inside packaging, that are useless to protect from contamination. If even sealed plastic cannot impeach mineral oil contamination, just imagine this oil working in the nature chain, worms, birds, plants.

By putting shredded printed paper, letters, newspapers and printed cardboards into the soil, you are contaminating irreversibly the soil with the ink chemicals. If you grow plants in it the plants will absorb those chemials and will be contaminated. If animals eat the plants they will be contaminated as well as the ones that prey on them. If you grow edible plants or your orchard in there, you eat the plants or fruits and you will be contaminated. Do not use any kind of printed paper for your lasagna garden. Do not use recycled paper, God knows which kind of chemicals were used in the original paper it was made from.

Now the question is: Would the lasagna garden work without newspapers, just layering the OM over the clay soil? If anybody has experienced this, please share.


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RE: Clay soil - how do I fix it? Or do I have to?

Midas, look into the use of gypsum on your clay soil--I wont go into this in detail, the action of this element can correct many soil problemsm, including clay.
But read for yourself and speak to the people who sell it.
And don't be coralled by someone who would tell you the person who sells it is only looking to his pocketbook.
That's scare tactic #1.

Peat moss is always accused of being a non-renewable resourse....why anybody would pick on that when there is so many other of this planets soon to be gone natural resources is easy.....its a target that can be easily thrown sticks at by some individuals because it is....and since we're talking gardening, that is their aim.

The contrary is that scientists have refurbished bogs in a very short span of years....unlike other non-rewewables.
Canada has approximately 10 times the average use of Earth's total use of peat moss annually. It is hardly non-renewable.


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RE: Clay soil - how do I fix it? Or do I have to?

The first thing is to determine if you actually have clay-based or silt-based soil, they are often confused. The primary goal is to amend the soil texture to "loft" it helping to create space where roots can obtain air. You also want to increase the infiltration rate (how quickly water moves through the soil) and associated soil porosity. I recommend adding zeolite (up to 10% of the soil content). It should be a minimum size of coarse sand. Do not add bentonite as it is a clay. The zeolite will help break-up the soil and increase the soil porosity. You should also increase the content of organic matter by adding coarse, finished compost.


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RE: Clay soil - how do I fix it? Or do I have to?

In reading through comments on this old post, I saw where I had a couple posts. Now I have about 3 or 4 years more experience with my amended beds, I will say that hamilton gardener made some telling points.

I have clayey/clay loam. It is a pretty good garden soil to begin with. Being clayey, it tends to be slow to dry in the spring and too lumpy in spots [too many of those spots]. I have amended about 3,000 sq. ft. with coarse [mostly] sand...about 4 inches. I have also added an equal amount of local sphagnum moss that contains fines [10%] and is well hydrated and stays that way. The beds are loose with a slightly sandy texture. The structure is loose and soaks up rain like a sponge. I also add leaf compost and horse manure and supplement with trace minerals and some fertilizer. I LOVE IT.

No I don't border the beds nor need to.

I have read where clay is really sticky that adding calcium without magnesium will help that.


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RE: Clay soil - how do I fix it? Or do I have to?

I have used high calcium lime. it comes in 50 pound bags and is almost a powder. depending on how big an area you may need several bags. start with 50 lbs on a 10 x 10 area. work it into the soil


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RE: Clay soil - how do I fix it? Or do I have to?

I live in eastern KS and have moderate clay soil. I have been adding all kinds of organic matters for about 3 yrs. now and still have no luck with growing anything! We also are cursed with tons of black walnuts. I have cut down several around the garden to open up for sunlight. I've heard that black walnuts leach bad things into the soil preventing garden plants from growing. Is this true or is it just poor clay soil?


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RE: Clay soil - how do I fix it? Or do I have to?

Gardening Goose, . Black Walnuts release juglone into the soil. That chemical is harmful to some of the garden crops...especially tomatoes, peppers, and related family. Some other crops are not necessarily hurt.

Here is a link that might be useful: List of Plants


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RE: Clay soil - how do I fix it? Or do I have to?

Odd I grew a huge crop of jalapeno right under a Black Walnut after the tree fell in a bad storm. The soil was black from the years of the leaves breaking down under the tree. The tree was down for about 6 months before I grew a huge crop of jalapenos.

Is it the roots that put out juglone? Because I grew them about only 10 feet away from where the trunk was.

Also black walnuts fall and compost in the area I grew as well.


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RE: Clay soil - how do I fix it? Or do I have to?

Putting something called "topsoil" on clay soils will not change the fact that the still unamended clay will not drain well and can create more problems then it will solve. Adding Gypsum to clay soils will only help if your clay is sodic, usually only a problem where rainfall is sparse.
To make clay soils into usefull garden soils, or even to grow a good lawn, that clay soil needs organic matter which will seperate the particles which will then allow water to flow through more freely and will help release the nutrients that get locked onto the clay soil particles.

Here is a link that might be useful: organic matter and clay soil


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RE: Clay soil - how do I fix it? Or do I have to?

Kimmer has it right...work a lot of Organic material (yearly) to help Feed your soil and loosen it even if you add Peat moss and wood chips along with those amendmants that dont break down very fast (a good thing)although Im trying to make my time on this earth as pleasurable as I can, Im not trying to worry about about the what IFs of people in 1000 years they will figure it out. If running a tiller instead of lasagna gardening is bad then im bad im not going to waste 10 years of my life when I can accompolish it in 1 year. I love having my freinds over and walking through my garden with a glass of wine in hand and having a gorgeous trellised gardens with exotic fruits and vegetables in it and beeing proud instead of a bunch of leaves and newspapers strewn all over and some dork using old carpet to kill thier weeds because of some thought process that tilling is bad. there are no weeds in my garden because I use all kinds of chemicals the same that farmers use when you go to big box stores to buy your veggies.Summing up till all kinds of OM incorporate 20-20-20 slow release lawn fertilizer and use you garden the same way an artist uses a canvase, there is no right and wrong. We are over thinking things, nature isnt the same year after year....although I really love this form and love to over think gardening. Im the guy that can grow a paer/apple in zone 3a by grafting....think that blows my guest away in Sept?


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RE: Clay soil - how do I fix it? Or do I have to?

Kimmer has it right...work a lot of Organic material (yearly) to help Feed your soil and loosen it even if you add Peat moss and wood chips along with those amendmants that dont break down very fast (a good thing)although Im trying to make my time on this earth as pleasurable as I can, Im not trying to worry about about the what IFs of people in 1000 years they will figure it out. If running a tiller instead of lasagna gardening is bad then im bad im not going to waste 10 years of my life when I can accompolish it in 1 year. I love having my freinds over and walking through my garden with a glass of wine in hand and having a gorgeous trellised gardens with exotic fruits and vegetables in it and beeing proud instead of a bunch of leaves and newspapers strewn all over and some dork using old carpet to kill thier weeds because of some thought process that tilling is bad. there are no weeds in my garden because I use all kinds of chemicals the same that farmers use when you go to big box stores to buy your veggies.Summing up till all kinds of OM incorporate 20-20-20 slow release lawn fertilizer and use you garden the same way an artist uses a canvase, there is no right and wrong. We are over thinking things, nature isnt the same year after year....although I really love this form and love to over think gardening. Im the guy that can grow a paer/apple in zone 3a by grafting....think that blows my guest away in Sept?


 o
RE: Clay soil - how do I fix it? Or do I have to?

Kimmer has it right...work a lot of Organic material (yearly) to help Feed your soil and loosen it even if you add Peat moss and wood chips along with those amendmants that dont break down very fast (a good thing)although Im trying to make my time on this earth as pleasurable as I can, Im not trying to worry about about the what IFs of people in 1000 years they will figure it out. If running a tiller instead of lasagna gardening is bad then im bad im not going to waste 10 years of my life when I can accompolish it in 1 year. I love having my freinds over and walking through my garden with a glass of wine in hand and having a gorgeous trellised gardens with exotic fruits and vegetables in it and beeing proud instead of a bunch of leaves and newspapers strewn all over and some dork using old carpet to kill thier weeds because of some thought process that tilling is bad. there are no weeds in my garden because I use all kinds of chemicals the same that farmers use when you go to big box stores to buy your veggies.Summing up till all kinds of OM incorporate 20-20-20 slow release lawn fertilizer and use you garden the same way an artist uses a canvase, there is no right and wrong. We are over thinking things, nature isnt the same year after year....although I really love this form and love to over think gardening. Im the guy that can grow a paer/apple in zone 3a by grafting....think that blows my guest away in Sept?


 o
RE: Clay soil - how do I fix it? Or do I have to?

There are The addition of organic matter is wonderful. The problem is that it breaks down over time wither it be peat moss or compost and it has to be redone. There is nothing wrong with that if it gives you pleasure and you need the exercise. I do it for this reason. When I plant now I also add Micorrizal Fungi. It goes down with the roots and changes the clay structure. It also extracts nutrients from the clay, that may be plentiful but unavailable.


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RE: Clay soil - how do I fix it? Or do I have to?

pls8xx--

Based on the redox features in your picture, you have a seasonally high or perched water table at some point in the year.


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RE: Clay soil - how do I fix it? Or do I have to?

Oil Robb,

I'm going to put this on a tshirt and sell them here on GardenWeb!

a bunch of leaves and newspapers strewn all over and some dork using old carpet to kill thier weeds because of some thought process that tilling is bad

Allen


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RE: Clay soil - how do I fix it? Or do I have to?

Organic matter in soil is supposed to be broken down by the Soil Food Web over time because that is the source of many of the nutrients plants need to grow. Ma Nature adds more organic matter to the soils she tends each year and so should you since it is part of the evolution of our world.
Perhaps some might find this Soil Biology Primer interesting and helpful.

Here is a link that might be useful: Soil Biology Primer


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RE: Clay soil - how do I fix it? Or do I have to?

"Adding Gypsum to clay soils will only help if your clay is sodic, usually only a problem where rainfall is sparse. "

Why is that?

Do you have experience raising crops in clay soil where rain is sparse?


 o
More about gypsum

Interesting thread...

The gypsum myth and more facts. See link below.

Adding composted manure to my clay soil each spring has done
wonders in my garden.

Here is a link that might be useful: Gypsum fact sheet

This post was edited by dominoswrath on Tue, Jun 18, 13 at 7:02


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RE: Clay soil - how do I fix it? Or do I have to?

In case the link is ever broken, cut and paste the
PDF file here:

Linda Chalker-Scott, Ph.D., Extension Horticulturist and Associate Professor, Puyallup Research and Extension Center, Washington State University
The Myth of Gypsum Magic
“Adding gypsum to your yard or garden will improve soil tilth and plant health”
The Myth
Upon continued prodding from one of my university extension colleagues, I recently watched several episodes of a well-known gardening program on television. My kids joined me, alerted by my animated responses to the host’s non-stop torrent of advice. Among many amazing discoveries I learned that by adding gypsum to my yard or garden I would improve my problem soils by changing the particle size and loosening compaction. Further searching on the web revealed that gypsum would also improve drainage, decrease acidity, and eliminate soil salts. Previously, I had heard of gypsum for use in soil reclamation projects, but not for a typical urban landscape. Since gypsum is simply calcium sulfate, could this chemical truly transform soil structure and serve as a fertilizer for yards and gardens?
The Reality
This myth falls into the category of agricultural practices misapplied to ornamental landscapes. Gypsum effectively changes the structure and fertility of heavy clay soils, especially those that are heavily weathered or subject to intensive crop production. Gypsum also improves sodic (saline) soils by removing sodium from the soil and replacing it with calcium. Therefore, one can see improvement in clay soil structure and fertility, and desalinization of sodium-rich soils, by using gypsum.
What other effects will gypsum have on soil and plant health? There are a number of scientific studies on gypsum usage both in the literature and on websites. Briefly, researchers have found:
• Gypsum does not usually change soil acidity, though occasional reports of both increasing and decreasing pH exist;
• Gypsum can increase leaching of aluminum, which can detoxify soils but also contaminates nearby watersheds;
• Gypsum can increase leaching of iron and manganese, leading to deficiencies of these nutrients;
• Gypsum applied to acid soils can induce magnesium deficiency in plants on site;
• Gypsum applied to sandy soils can depress phosphorus, copper and zinc transport;
• Gypsum can have negative effects on mycorrhizal inoculation of roots, which may account for
several reports of negative effects of gypsum on tree seedling establishment and survival;
• Gypsum is variable in its effects on mature trees;
• Gypsum will not improve fertility of acid or sandy soils;
• Gypsum will not improve water holding capacity of sandy soils; and
• Gypsum’s effects are short-lived (often a matter of months)
With the exception of arid and coastal regions (where soil salts are high) and the southeastern United States (where heavy clay soils are common), gypsum amendment is just not necessary in non-agricultural areas. Urban soils are generally amalgamations of subsoils, native and non-native topsoils, and - in home landscapes - high levels of organic and non-organic chemical additives. They are also heavily compacted and layered (and gypsum does not work well on layered soils). In such landscapes, it is pointless to add yet more chemicals in the form of gypsum unless you need to increase soil calcium levels. This nutrient deficiency can be quickly identified by any soil testing laboratory for less than a bag of gypsum costs. (If you need to improve sulfur nutrition, it’s wiser to use ammonium sulfate). To reduce compaction and improve aeration in nearly any landscape, application of an organic mulch is more economically and environmentally sustainable.
The Bottom Line
• Gypsum can improve heavy clay soil structure and remove sodium from saline soils
• Gypsum has no effect on soil fertility, structure, or pH of any other soil type
• Most urban soils are not improved by additional gypsum
• Before adding gypsum or any chemical to a landscape, have soil analysis performed to identify
mineral deficiencies, toxicities, and soil character
• Adding gypsum to sandy or non-sodic soils is a waste of money, natural resources, and can have
negative impacts on plant, soil, and ecosystem health
For more information, please visit Dr. Chalker-Scott’s web page at http://www.theinformedgardener.com.


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RE: Clay soil - how do I fix it? Or do I have to?

and gypsum is very mulch maligned, it is for clay breaking or soil improving not PH changing, if you add gypsum and mulch the effect will be long lasting just add gypsum it will last about a year, don't short change it.

we have lived in many places in our state and gypsum ha worked from being applied to sandstone clay sandy loam to volcanic clay.

the post has nothing to lose except a few bucks for a bag of gypsum.

don't think the poster needs critical acclaim

len


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RE: Clay soil - how do I fix it? Or do I have to?

Reading all these posts have been really helpful.

One thing that I started doing was just placing mulch on top of the places I have mulched before. I've noticed that this has been helping the soil drain better. Before, my backyard would look like a swamp after a heavy rain. But over the years, I've been letting the grass taller and adding the grass clippings, mowing the leaves and small branches, and letting decompose. Now, I rarely see water standing after it rains.

This year, though, I collected leaves my mom was going to throw out and took them to my house and scattered them around my fruit trees as mulch. Plus, I placed wood chips over them so the wind wouldn't take them.

I'm trying to create a compost tea for my fruit trees every time it rains. This is the first year doing this, so I'll see how it goes.


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RE: Clay soil - how do I fix it? Or do I have to?

My dad grew on orange clay in PA - probably similar. Everything you read will tell you not to add sand to the clay. He grew in raised beds - added about 3 to 4" course builders sand on the top and tilled it in (maybe 6") with his mantis -loads of compost as well of course. His soil was beautiful. Try building one bed with 2x6 treated lumber. Add 3" course builders sand and 3" compost. Till into the top 3" of clay with a cultivator. You will be amazed.


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