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How to Garden in Black Clay Soil in Texas

The soil in many areas of Texas is the heavy black clay variety. While these clay soils retain moisture and are nutrient rich, clay also drains slowly and compacts, making it difficult for most plants to thrive. Some trees and shrubs thrive in clay soil, but most annuals, perennials and vegetables struggle to establish their root system in this soil. The National Gardening Association recommends adding organic matter to these soils to improve drainage and lighten the soil. The end result will be a brown, rich soil that any plant will love.

Till soil with rototiller or rake 6 to 8 inches deep, working it into soil until it is broken into a workable consistency.

Remove weeds and rocks from the soil by sorting through it by hand.

Perform a soil test, available at gardening centers, to determine pH. Take samples from different areas of a dry garden, mix together and test.

Till amendments into soil–lime if pH is too low or sulfur if pH is too high–working to a depth of 6 to 8 inches.

Till 2 to 3 inches of compost or manure into the top of the soil.

Rake the area level, smoothing the soil by dragging a rake back and forth across the soil until it appears even.

Water soil well until it appears completely saturated.

Plant garden plants or seeds in soil as you normally do.

Garden Has Too Much Clay?

The appearance and behavior of the soil in both wet and dry conditions is one indicator of the clay content. When dry, clay soil often cracks and has lots of clods. Even when dry, clay soil is a challenge to dig and work because it dries hard. If you haven't started planting in your garden yet, get a shovel and start digging to help determine if you have a lot of clay. Wet the small sample of soil and work the water into the soil with your hands. When you squeeze wet soil high in clay, it tends to hold its shape much like modeling clay would. The website for "Fine Gardening" suggests using the ribbon test on wet soil. The next part takes some patience. Place the jar in a solid spot and wait.


Check soil more than once to verify results.

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