How to Cultivate Clay Soil


Imagine trying to get a breath of air in a room that has none. That is what a plant experiences in soil containing too much clay. Particles of clay are much smaller than those of other types of soil. When they pack together there is no room for anything, including air and water, to penetrate. There are certain plants that will grow in clay soils, such as the daylily and goldenrod, but most plants require a well-draining soil. To achieve that type of texture will require breaking up and amending the clay soil in your garden. Generally, you will need one cubic yard of soil amending material for every 100 square feet of soil.

Step 1

Cultivate clay soil with a gardening fork and not a shovel, according to information provided by the University of California. This is especially important when working with damp soil. Dig into the existing planting bed, turning the soil and breaking up large clods. Remove any roots, rocks or other debris.

Step 2

Spread a four inch layer of organic soil amendments such as compost, well-rotted manure, and lawn clippings over the top of the soil. If your soil is particularly compacted, add an inch or two of shredded bark to aid in aeration and drainage.

Step 3

Use the fork to blend these materials into the top eight inches of the existing soil, mixing it in well.

Step 4

Spread a two inch layer of wood mulch over the amended soil and level the area with a rake.

Tips and Warnings

  • Clay soil should never be worked when it is wet. Allow it to dry to damp prior to working.

Things You'll Need

  • Gardening fork
  • Soil amendments such as compost, manure or lawn clippings.
  • Wood mulch, such as shredded bark
  • Rake


  • University of California Cooperative Extension
  • Ohio State University Extension

Who Can Help

  • North Carolina State University
Keywords: cultivating clay soil, amending soil, organic soil amendments

About this Author

Victoria Hunter, a former broadcaster and real estate agent, has provided audio and written services to both small businesses and large corporations. Hunter is a freelance writer specializing in the real estate industry. She devotes her spare time to her other passions: gardening and cooking. Hunter holds a Bachelor of Arts in English/creative writing.