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How to Make Clay Soil Plantable & Fertile

By Sommer Leigh ; Updated September 21, 2017
Clay soil compacts into hard to till clods.
cracked soil image by Ana de Sousa from Fotolia.com

Blame clay soil for your inability to grow anything in its compacted form. While clay has its advantages--it retains nutrients and moisture--few plants can break their roots through the compacted mud. Fortunately, you can improve the texture and fertility of clay soil by adding amendments. Blend amendments and clay soil together to create a rich, loose soil any plant will thrive in.

Till the clay soil when dry. Never till when wet as it compacts the soil and makes it more difficult to work with. Set the tines of the tiller in the soil. Work in rows down to a depth of 8 inches. Keep working the soil until completely loosened.

Remove rocks and weeds from the soil by hand. Throw away in an outdoor trash container.

Shovel a 1-inch layer of each soil amendment--peat moss, manure and compost--onto the top of the soil. Purchase peat moss, manure and compost from a garden center. Purchase manure and compost cheaply or get it free from farmers and city compost programs. Till the garden area again to incorporate the soil amendments.

Shovel a 1-inch layer of coarse builder's sand, available at home improvement stores, on top of the soil. Till the soil again to mix the sand into the soil. Never add the sand with the other amendments or before adding the other amendments; it will change the texture of the soil into a cement-like consistency.

Apply the amendments and the sand on a yearly basis. It may take several years of adding amendments to change the texture of the soil drastically.

Shovel a thin layer of mulch or organic matter such as grass clippings on top of the amended soil. This will reduce evaporation and prevent soil crust formation, which does not allow water to pass through to the soil. Always keep a layer of mulch on top of the soil for extra protection.


Things You Will Need

  • Rototiller
  • Compost
  • Manure
  • Peat moss
  • Shovel
  • Mulch
  • Organic matter

About the Author


Sommer Leigh has produced home, garden, family and health content since 1997 for such nationally known publications as "Better Homes and Gardens," "Ladies' Home Journal," "Midwest Living," "Healthy Kids" and "American Baby." Leigh also owns a Web-consulting business and writes for several Internet publications. She has a Bachelor of Science in information technology and Web management from the University of Phoenix.