How to Improve Clay Soil for Gardening


Every gardener knows that a beautiful plant starts with soil rich in oxygen and nutrients. Sandy soils allow water to flow through the plant roots too quickly, leaching out valuable nutrients. Clay soils hold water in, thereby drowning the plants. To achieve the desirable nutrient and oxygen-rich, loamy soil needed to grow beautiful plants, organic matter must be added to the garden. In the case of clay soils, an abundance of organic matter must be added.

Step 1

Pick up a handful of moist soil and squeeze it in your palm. Then open your hand and give the clump a flick with your forefinger. If the soil stays in its clumped state, you are dealing with clay soil.

Step 2

Perform a soil test to determine the pH of the soil. Add nutrients recommended for the plants you will be planting.

Step 3

Amend soil generously with organic matter before planting in it. Amendments can be purchased at any home and garden center, plant nursery or you can use your homemade compost.

Step 4

Till the soil thoroughly before adding amendments. After the soil is tilled, spread the amendments over the garden area and till into the soil at least 8 inches.

Step 5

Break up the soil around the plants with a hoe in established gardens. Add the amendment as a top dressing and work it into the soil, being careful not to disturb the plants' roots.

Things You'll Need

  • Amendment
  • Soil test kit


  • University of California-Davis: Clay Garden Soils Require Special Care
  • Washington Post: Unearthing Clay Soil's Virtues

Who Can Help

  • "Gardening in Clay Soil"; Sara Pitzer; 1995
Keywords: amending clay soil, preparing clay soil, problem clay soil, soil test kit, testing clay soil, clay soil gardening

About this Author

Brenda Reeves started writing in 1979. Specializing in gardening topics, her articles appear on numerous Web sites, including eHow. Reeves has a Bachelor of Arts in English and creative writing from California State University, Northridge.