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The Best Way to Quickly Soften Clay Soil

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.

Types Of Clay Soil

There are several categories of soil, and due to their unique characteristics, each provides different growing benefits and different limitations. The types of soil are sand, clay, silt, peat, chalk and loam. Clay soil is considered to be a high-nutrient soil. Although this soil can be a challenge with which to work, once you learn how to cultivate it, this soil will give you great results. Identifying clay soil is relatively easy to do. To the naked eye, all soil may look the same, which is why people often confuse the types of soil, but there are specific ways to differentiate them. Clay has a smooth texture** because of its small particle size. If the soil has large particles, this will give it a rougher texture, while the small particles in clay give it a smoother texture. There are four types of clay soil that differ in characteristics depending on the amount of clay in the soil. This type of soil has a propensity to form a crust, which makes the soil hard. This type of soil is generally easy to till, but you should not till this type of soil in wet conditions. It is very nutrient rich, but it cannot be tilled in wet conditions. All you have to do is break up the clay into separate crumbs, which will allow the water and nutrients to better reach the plant roots. Other plants that work well in clay soil include magenta-flowered blazing star, asters, goldenrods, black-eyed Susans, yellow-flowered coreopsis and ornamental grasses like switchgrass, Indian grass and big bluestem. You can grow vegetables in clay soil such as lettuce, chard, snap beans, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cabbage. If you're feeling adventurous and have the right climate, you can also grow rice in clay soil. Silt soil is light, has a high fertility rate, holds moisture and drains well. If you've ever wondered what silty soil looks like, this type of soil has fine particles, so it is known to wash away quickly if you don't add a different kind of organic matter to make it compact together in clumps. Loam soil is a mixture of sand, silt and clay soil.

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