Clay soil is very dense and doesn’t let in much water or air. Water can cause clay soil to become even more compact, making it harder for roots to grow. Compacted clay soil also makes it hard for nutrients in the water to reach your plants’ roots. One of the most important things for healthy soil is aeration.
What can you do? If you have a garden with compacted clay soil, there are some easy ways to create more space between the particles and let air and water in.
One option is to work lots of organic material into your clay soil, such as compost or aged manure. You may need to dig a big hole first, then fill it back up with organic material and mix it into the soil that’s left behind.
What kind of organic material should you use? There are many options: cooked vegetable scraps from your kitchen, grass clippings from around your yard, moss from under trees near your yard, leaves from nearby hardwood trees (such as elm or oak), manure from your farm animals, rabbit or deer poo in the forest where you live, straw, sawdust, wood ash or walnut shells can all be added to your clay soil. If you need help finding organic material in your area, contact the nearest farmers’ market!
Another option is to build raised beds on top of an existing garden that has compacted soil. Raised beds are higher than the surrounding ground and filled with a different kind of soil mixture than what’s in the rest of your yard. To make one, you just have to create four borders around where you want it to go. This will keep rainwater from flowing onto other areas of your garden and cause them to get mushy and compacted too! Building raised beds is also a good idea if your yard has very sandy soil.
Once you’ve built up the ground, start filling it with organic materials and low-compaction soil. A mixture of 40% composted wood chip material and 60% native soil is ideal for building healthy raised beds in clay soil.
Using bunch grasses like fescue, orchard grass, and bluegrasses (annuals that don’t grow back every year) is another option for giving new life to compacted clay soils. You can plant these types of grass on top of your existing garden without changing out the actual soil. It’s also easy to mow them down when they get too tall.
As an added benefit, a bunch of grasses will attract pollinators and other insects to your area! These bugs actually help break up the soil too.
One more method is to plant trees and shrubs that grow deeper roots. This can help loosen compacted clay soil from below. Plant them about four feet apart from each other. Or, if you don’t want a lot of greenery between where you’re planting seeds or seedlings, just look for a long-rooted variety.
Aerating by Adding Amendments
Adding organic matter such as compost breaks apart the minerals of the clay, so they aren’t so tightly packed together. The best time to add it is in the fall when leaves drop off of trees, so they don’t overwhelm your yard. If you don’t have a lot of leaves, you can add them to your compost pile and wait about six months for them to break down.
You can also add peat moss which is made from decaying plants, so they contain lots of nutrients that help your garden grow.
Lastly, it might seem odd, but adding perlite or vermiculite can help aerate the soil because these minerals are light and will fill spaces in the clay once mixed with it.
Aerating by Planting Something
You need a thick enough layer of topsoil to plant something that will make a big difference when growing things in clay soil. Topsoil comprises decomposed organic matter and sand and has the perfect ratio of minerals and nutrients to make plants thrive.
It looks like a thin layer of dirt on top, but planting grass or wildflowers can help the soil aerate gradually rather than in one large change. In addition, the roots will poke holes into the clay allowing water and air in much easier than if it were left untouched.
Aerating by time
The longer you leave clay soil alone (or don’t use fertilizers that cause salt build up), the more compacted it becomes over time, making it very difficult for your plants to grow. If this happens, you can follow any of these methods to restore oxygen flow in the soil without renting heavy equipment like deep tillers. This will make digging even easier after aerating for a few years.
Adding organic matter can take up to 2 years before it starts to impact the structure of the soil, but don’t give up!
Once you do aerate, it will be worth the wait to watch your plants grow
Aerating by Digging Deeply
Some plants have long taproots that can dig deep into clay soil to relieve compaction. These plants are known for being good at growing in poor conditions because they can access nutrients deeper down than most other plants. Garlic, carrots, potatoes, and onions are great examples of this! If you live in an area where any of these vegetables grow well naturally, consider planting them for new growth each year or letting them go to seed so they continue to spread.
You can also invest in tools specifically meant for digging up compacted soil like a broad fork or, even better – a spading fork. If you hire a company to come to aerate for you, they will use these digging forks that can be rented or bought from a garden center or online retailer.
Aerating by spading
Spading is another name for manually removing the top layer of soil and loosening it up, so it’s easier for water and air to get absorbed down into the roots of your plants. It works best when done in early spring before anything has sprouted yet because then you can easily dig through the dirt without hitting rocks or roots – which is just as hard on your body as it is on your patience!
How Big Should Sections Be?
To really aerate deeply, follow the rule of thumb that says you should be able to put your fist in the ground up to your knuckles. If you can’t, then it isn’t that big of a hole – at least not compared to what someone else would consider deep enough!
When digging out sections for planting, don’t make it too much bigger than the pot or container the plant came in because the soil will get lost when adding amendments, and if you remove too much, it could kill your grass. You will also want to keep an eye on how wide each section is because leaves falling from trees cover up plants quickly, so they need very little topsoil underneath them.
Lastly, you should plan out how many plants are going where before digging anything deeper than an inch or two into the soil! This way, you can pour the right amount of amendments into each plot before planting to avoid wasting money on amendments.
Compacted clay soil isn’t always a death sentence for plants, but it is extra work that someone else could easily do for you if you don’t feel like dealing with it. No matter where you live or what kind of plants you want to grow, there’s an easy way to fix compacted clay soil so your garden will flourish!