How to Make Clay Soil Farmable


Clay soil is a problem for most farming as it is hard-packed, making it difficult to work with. It holds too much moisture for most plants, causing unhealthy root conditions, and it can even cause root rot. It is difficult for water to penetrate clay soil, leaving the roots without enough water or oxygen. Adding organic material, such as compost, to a clay soil allows water flow and aeration, and adds much needed nutrients to the soil.

Step 1

Dig the farming or garden area when the soil is dry. Use a shovel for small- to medium-sized growing areas. Use a rototiller for larger gardens. Dig down a foot or more into the ground. Most plant roots live in the top 8 to 10 inches of the soil, but you don't want water to puddle at the very bottom, so it's necessary to dig below the root line.

Step 2

Turn the soil as you work. Hand pick out any debris, such as rocks, gravel, weeds or roots. Use your shovel to break up large dirt clods. Rake the growing area even.

Step 3

Spread a 2-inch layer of organic compost over the top of the raked soil. Compost is made of organic decomposed material, such as leaves, bark, fruits, vegetables, egg shells or a combination of such materials. Purchase compost from the nursery or garden center or start your own compost bin.

Step 4

Work the compost into the soil. Make sure it reaches all the way to the bottom of the worked soil and that it is mixed well.

Step 5

Remove some of the amended soil if you prefer the farming area to be flat. However, with the addition of compost, the slight elevation of the growing area will help with water drainage. You will see the ground compact a bit as the compost further decomposes. Repeat the process of amending clay soil every year with annual crops. In landscaping repeat the process in the area where a plant is added.

Things You'll Need

  • Shovel
  • Rototiller (optional)
  • Compost
  • Rake


  • North Carolina State University: Amending Clay Soils
  • University of Minnesota: Amending Soils for Perennial Beds
  • Oregon State University: Growing Your Own
Keywords: clay soil, amending clay soil, adding compost

About this Author

Karen Ellis has been a full-time writer since 2006. She is an expert crafter, with more than 30 years of experience in knitting, chrocheting, quilting, sewing, scrapbooking and other arts. She is an expert gardener, with lifelong experience. Ellis has taken many classes in these subjects and taught classes, as well.