Clay Soil how to - deal with clay soil

How to Deal with Clay Soil

~~enjo posted Message 1500 in the Recycling BB
Dated : April 26, 1999 at 14:49:36
Subject:clay soil

We lived in another place once with a horrible clay problem. Dang clay was orangey red for miles around & down, it seemed, and permanently stained everything it touched. In rain, it was slicker than ice; in dry weather, it either cracked and crumbled (if you were lucky!) or baked as hard as concrete. Impossible to work with.

Okay here's what we did:
switched completely to "container gardening" (NOT the usual pots, although we did have a few on the decks & porch) and to "raised bed gardening."


~~Note, BEFORE hub actually built these things: we rented a super-heavy powerful beast of a tiller and chewed up all the ground that would be underneath the soil-filled boxes. Doesn't have to be neat, just has to be done.

~~Then all around the yard, he built various-sized & shaped large boxes of ordinary landscape timbers, stacked maybe 2-3 ft high & nailed together with those long deck nails. If you don't paint the timbers, they weather to various nice soft grey shades, which we like. All the neighbors --who eventually copied our plan out of desperation!-- painted their boxes to match the house or the house trim, which also looked fine although it's not our "style."

On a few, hub added simple wooden lattice trellising where the boxes were not already up against a trellis-wall of a deck, for example. Some boxes were "stepped" if needed to suit a slope in the soil, others were same height all around. We located the boxes wherever they'd fit neatly and look nice in our small yard. For example: beside/against one sunroom kneewall; along rear of a 14x14' deck; on one side of ground-level patio-type wood deck in front of our garden shed (the large lattice in that one provided some privacy from the neighbors behind us); a free-standing one in front of the covered front porch between it & front sidewalk; a long "stepped" one against one blank wall of the house; and a really cute triangular one between the large deck & part of a precious cobbly-stoned garden path hub made all through the yard (because the clay was so muddy & slick when it rained, even planted w/ grass or groundcover!).

~~Then we had a huge load of decent soil delivered, & we filled all the boxes. Believe me this is not as easy as it sounds... not the filling part, THAT was easy... I mean, trying to find someone who actually HAD decent soil for sale! And of course we amended the soil with various rich organic stuff, or for example with sharp coarse sand for loose-soil-loving plants, etc etc.

~~ANYthing at all grew in these containers. Flowers, ornamental grasses, shrubs, veggies, ground-covers hanging over the sides, vines, even some small trees.

~~Another plus: the boxes are easy to work in, especially as you get older --you simply work while sitting on the edge. Just remember, NEVER build one any wider than you can easily & comfortably reach across with hand tools. If a box is free-standing (you can walk around it), don't make it wider than *half* the distance you can easily reach across. Those child-sized hoes-rakes-shovels help too, or you can buy special (but often more expensive) trowels & other hand tools with longer-than-normal handles.

~~Remember too that these ARE containers, exactly the same idea as a pot on your deck, so you mustn't overwater or overfertilize plants.


You probably know what these are but I'll describe how we did it in this particular situation.
~~Laid out the beds where we wanted, marking w/ lime or garden hose. For example: Across rear of yard and against rear of house, different curved and straight beds; at one side of front yard, a large wide curvy bed; at outer side of concrete driveway, a very narrow straight bed ca. 20' long.

~~Then hub did the powerful beastie-tiller bit wherever the raised beds would go.
~~Then on top of the chewed-up spots we mounded that delivered soil --amended, again, as needed-- & gently sloped it off to help prevent erosion.

~~A raised bed usually should be planted as soon as humanly possible to help prevent erosion & wasting all the expense & work. We also used A LOT of that special porous weed-fabric over the raised-bed soil, plus topped that with A LOT of shredded cypress & cedar mulch, to help prevent erosion (also of course for the usual reasons you use the fabric & mulch).

~~Great big purchased trees (the yard had none as usual in many new developments), native shrubs and other native plants, even species roses-Old Garden Roses did well in these beds. Ours were purely ornamental, for beauty & privacy only; no veggies in them although they could certainly be used for that if desired.