How to Grow Plants in Clay Soil


Clay soil can be a challenge to a gardener, but with the right preparations, growing trees, vegetables, shrubs and flowers is possible. Clay soil holds water and does not allow air to move to the roots of the plants. This stunts the growth of the plant, not allowing for as big a show as you would prefer. Soil preparation and careful plant selection will give you the garden you desire, even if your soil is not what you'd prefer.

Step 1

Choose plants that will work with the clay soil rather than against it. Rooted crops, such as carrots, do not grow well in clay no matter what amendments you make to the soil. Potatoes, on the other hand, will prosper in clay soil due to their strong root base. They can push past the clay soil, taking hold for growth. Check with a local garden center for native plants in your area that will thrive in your soil.

Step 2

Prepare the area to be planted. Till the clay soil to remove large clumps of clay. Shovel out those clumps that will not break up to leave the garden area free of large debris. Add sharp sand to the garden area, tilling it in with a rototiller. Layer the sand an inch thick across the area before tilling.

Step 3

Turn a compost of leaves and organic matter into the soil with the tiller. Add compost at a rate of three cubic feet per 1,000 square feet of garden area. Organic matter is any substance that was once living. Dead plants, manure, peat, tree bark and straw are popular organic materials added to clay soil. Till the area until all matter has been worked into the clay soil.

Step 4

Plant trees, shrubs and flowers close to the surface of the dirt. Choose a depth that is the shallowest recommended for the plant type. The roots will take hold in the newly composted soil rather than the deep clay beneath. Water thoroughly, being mindful not to make the area soggy. Clay soil will hold water and lead to root rot if water it is applied too often.

Step 5

Maintain growth with a weekly fertilizer-and-feeding treatment. Monitor drainage of the area during rain and moist weather. Dig out shallow drainage ditches to divert water away from plants if the soil becomes soggy on the surface. Add an additional layer of compost to the soil twice yearly to maintain a healthy soil base and allow for optimal plant growth.

Tips and Warnings

  • Always wear sturdy shoes when operating a rototiller.

Things You'll Need

  • Rototiller
  • Pointed shovel
  • Sand
  • Compost
  • Fertilizer


  • Our Ohio: Clay Soil Planting
  • Amendments to Clay Soil
  • Colorado State University Extension

Who Can Help

  • The English Garden: Clay Soil Plants
Keywords: clay soil, garden soil, gardening tips, soil amendments