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The Best Way to Quickly Soften Clay Soil

By Sommer Leigh ; Updated September 21, 2017

Clay soils are not exactly loved by many home gardeners. While these soils are nutrient-rich and able to retain moisture, clay compacts and drains slowly, making it difficult for most plants to survive. Trees and shrubs can thrive in clay soil, but annuals, perennials and vegetables are unable to establish their root systems. The National Gardening Association recommends amending clay soil with organic matter such as compost to quickly soften, lighten and improve drainage of these soils. The result will be a rich soil that any plant will love.

Till the soil with a rototiller or rake 6 to 8 inches deep, working until the soil is 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 four different areas of a dry garden, mix together and test.

Till amendments into soil, adding lime if pH is too low or sulfur if the pH is too high. Work to a depth of 6 to 8 inches. Add lime or sulfur until the desired pH levels are reached.

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

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

Water the soil well until it appears saturated.

Plant seeds or plants according to planting instructions.


Things You Will Need

  • Soil test
  • Rake
  • Rototiller
  • Shovel
  • Lime
  • Sulfur
  • Compost
  • Manure

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.