Correcting Clay Soil


Clay soil makes growing nearly any type of plant, including flowers, vegetables, trees and grass, very difficult. Clay soil won't drain properly, won't provide proper aeration to the plant, and can become so hard and compacted that roots won't be able to penetrate the soil. Although clay soil will never be perfect, it can be improved and made viable for planting.

Step 1

Cultivate clay soil and remove large dirt clods. Use a garden fork to cultivate the soil to a depth of 8 to 10 inches, breaking up any large clods with the fork. Allow the soil to dry slightly so that the remaining clods are crumbly, then soften the clods with a fine spray of water. Rake the soil to smooth out remaining clods.

Step 2

Improve the soil by incorporating 3 to 6 inches of decomposed organic material into the top 8 inches of the soil. Compost, well-rotted manure or leaf mold are all good choices, and will immediately improve drainage and aeration. Shredded bark, sawdust and straw can be used, but are slow to decompose.

Step 3

Plant the improved area as desired. Water the area carefully. Avoid deep watering that will wet the soil beyond the newly-improved area, as the water may have difficulty moving freely from one soil type to another.

Tips and Warnings

  • Never add sand to clay soil. When wet, the mixture of sand and clay will become brick-hard.

Things You'll Need

  • Garden fork
  • Rake
  • Decomposed organic material


  • UC Davis: Clay Garden Soils Require Special Care
  • Colorado State University: Choosing a Soil Amendment
  • NC State University: Improving Your Soil
Keywords: correct clay soil, cultivate clay soil, clay soil

About this Author

M.H. Dyer is a long-time writer, editor and proofreader. She has been a contributor to the East-Oregonian Newspaper and See Jane Run magazine, and is author of a memoir, “The Tumbleweed Chronicles, a Sideways Look at Life." She holds an Master of Fine Arts from National University, San Diego.