HOW CAN YOU IMPROVE CLAY SOILS




You only need to experience digging over an area of wet, heavy clay once to understand how soul destroying this can be. Generally it will be enough to question your sanity for starting such a job, shortly followed by the nagging feeling there must be an easier way?

Unfortunately, the prospect of a repeat performance year after year is often enough to quash even the most passionate gardener’s motivation, but there are things that you can do to improve matters.

It’s not all bad news with clay soils as they are great for holding onto nutrients and of course plenty of water. This is great for areas prone to dry summers, but what they give with one hand they take with the other as clay soils are they are also poor draining and slow to warm up giving your plants a shorter growing season.

The prospect of digging over clay soils will be particularly difficult to avoid for anyone growing edible crops as this is all part and parcel of managing your soil. However if you can help the clay naturally break up into smaller, more manageable clumps your life will be so much easier.

HOW TO BREAK UP CLAY SOILS

Unfortunately when it comes to improving clay soils there is still digging involved although you can choose to use a rotavator. Be aware however that using powered machinery on clay soils will almost guarantee that you will create a hardpan within the soil. A soil hardpan is a compacted layer of soil formed by – amongst other things - repeated cultivation to a similar depth.

There are three ways to approach the improvement of clay soils, all of which are simple to employ. You may wish to consider using all of them in one go in while you are still young enough to benefit from your hard work.

1. The first approach is to add as much organic matter to the soil as you possibly can. This can take the form of leave mould, farm manures, home made composts, composted bark - whatever you can get your hands on really, but price will be important because you can end up using tonnes of the stuff. Increasing the organic content of clay soils will help to coat the clay particles and cause them to granulate. The more organic matter to can dig in to the soil, the more friable it will become.

2. The second approach is to add plenty of grit and again, find a cheap source as you can end up using huge amounts of it. Do not use soft sand as this can bind with the clay creating an even more solid structure. Although grit this will help to break up the clay and improve the drainage, it will do little for improving soil fertility.

3. The third way is to use a ‘Clay Breaker’ product. This will bond with the clay particles helping in it to form into granules. It is often found as a pelleted blend of mineral gypsum, limestone and other organic matter such as cocoa shell and poultry manure.

Apart from the clay breaker, whatever product or products are using you will be looking at an application depth of between 3-4 inches. This will need to be dug into the soil to a depth of around 8 inches. You will need to repeat this process 2 or 3 times over the next few years in order to achieve the improved conditions that you are looking for. However, this will be well worth it in the long run.
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