How to Grow with Clay Soil


Gardeners may not always have access to rich soils and need to make due with less than perfect conditions. With a little care and preparation, you can grow a rich garden in clay soil and reap the benefits of fresh produce and stunning foliage.

Step 1

Remove any debris from the garden bed including large rocks and branches. Dispose of old plant materials and leaves as these may harbor disease.

Step 2

Break up the top 10 inches of soil with a power tiller. Shovel the broken up soil onto a tarp laid out nearby.

Step 3

Till to an additional 10 inch depth with the power tiller. Leave this broken up soil in the garden bed.

Step 4

Place a 3 inch layer of wood chips or shredded bark on top the garden bed. Till it in to the 10 inch depth that is already loosened.

Step 5

Place a 3 inch layer of compost on top the bed. Replace the removed soil from the tarp back in the bed then cover it with a 2 inch layer of wood chips or shredded bark.

Step 6

Till the bed to a 12 to 16 inch depth to thoroughly mix all the soil amendments together with the existing clay soil. Lay a final 2 inch layer of compost on top the bed before planting.

Step 7

Work in fresh compost with a power tiller every fall and spring to a 12 inch depth in annual gardens. Improve perennial gardens in the spring. Work in a 3 inch layer of compost to at least a 10 inch depth with a hand held cultivator around the plants, taking care not to damage the perennial roots.

Tips and Warnings

  • Do not add sand to clay soils. This forms a substance similar to concrete. Avoid replacing just the soil in the planting hole. The water will be wicked away from the lighter soil around the plants by the surrounding clay soil. The entire bed should always be amended for growing.

Things You'll Need

  • Power tiller
  • Tarp
  • Wood chips
  • Shredded bark
  • Compost
  • Hand cultivator


  • Colorado State Extension
Keywords: clay soil, amending soil, improving clay gardens

About this Author

Jenny Harrington is a freelance writer of more than five years' experience. Her work has appeared in "Dollar Stretcher" and various blogs. Previously, she owned her own business for four years, selling handmade items online, wholesale and via the crafts fair circuit. Her specialties are small business, crafting, decorating and gardening.