Don’t get baked by dense clay soil

Don’t get baked by dense clay soil

Harvesting the most robust plants possible is the goal of every gardener, regardless of the crop. And since one of the crucial components of plant health is nutrient-rich soil, why not plant in one of the richest soils available: clay. Clay is actually loaded with nutrients, but unlike silt- or sand-heavy soils, clay-rich soil is often too dense to garden in. Its slow drainage deprives roots of oxygen, and hard-baked surfaces keep seedlings underground.

But even if your plot looks like the cracked surface of a dried-out lake, there are measures you can take to bust through the clay and take advantage of its nutrient wealth. (Just don’t make the rookie mistake of simply dumping sand into the clay and mixing it up—unless you’re planning on growing a concrete jungle.)

Here is a clay-soil-improving game plan courtesy of a blog post (“Amending Clay Soil”) at

1. Pick up some coarse builder’s sand from a building or landscaping supply store—enough to cover your planting area with a 3- to 4-inch layer.

2. Gather enough compost (and/or manure) to cover your planting area with one 3- to 4-inch layer, plus enough for an another 1-inch layer (this final layer can be replaced with 2-inch layer of straw).

3. Cover planting area with a 3- to 4-inch layer of builder’s sand and a 3- to 4-inch layer of organic material (compost and/or manure), and till or turn with a shovel to a depth of 12 inches.

4. Sift a 1-inch layer of organic material (or spread a 2-inch layer of straw) on top to keep surface from drying out and allow things to slowly mix together.

5. Plant! Remember to add more organic material each growing season.