Dealing with the clay soil is the real matters for gardeners in Mid-Atlantic. Of course, it should not make you stop gardening just because the soil does not work. Gardening in clay soil means that you should choose the right plants and add some organic matters.
If you live in the Mid-Atlantic, native soils run the gamut right from sandy to acid and even loamy blends. Clay soil can be the most difficult type soils to deal with. The soil is so heavy and drain slowly but dries like the concrete finish. Clay soils also the real matter in spring. It is slow to warm and even difficult to dig.
So, instead of being hopeless, you can discover some perennials that are able to survive in clay like Black-eyed Susan and here are the easy tips to gardening in clay soil.
Best Perennials For Clay Soil
This is the root of the problem. You should find the best perennials that can deal with the soil type. The best choice to have a colorful garden for a long season is clay soil is by choosing any plants that can deal with extra moisture. For example, you can plant spring bulbs. Most bulbs can grow well in well-drained soil to thrive. Nevertheless, there are some that can tolerate clay soil like crocus, daffodils, and grape hyacinth.
The Summer Bloomers
The next choice is to count on the long-season bloomers like catmint, black-eyed Susan, bee balm and others to create a beautiful summer garden. In addition, it is possible to add meadow rue, astilbe, and Siberian iris to add accent color with flowers that bloom in a shorter time.
Adding Colors In Garden For Fall
The next thing to do is to add some fall colors to your garden. Here, you can grow Asters to create bright blooms for a beautiful display in autumn in your garden. Alternatively, go with toad lily, obedient plant, and oxeye daisy. These are the best fall flowers to add to your garden.
Add Organic Matter
Adding organic matter can improve the clay soil. Organic matter makes you able to loosen the soil texture. In addition, it works to create the air pockets to save the roots and the microorganisms. Here are the tricks to add organic matter in the clay soil:
- Dig and replace. Consider the best spot with heavy clay and then dig out the clay soil. Toss the soil on a tarp and then blend it with bagged potting soil and compost. After that, return it to the bed. Store the extra improved soil in the loosely closed plastic bag.
- Improve your soil is a must. Anytime you want to plant, dig the hole twice as large. After that, add the organic matter like compost. Or, you can add extra soil you save from the first tip.
- Add mulch is great. In fact, the sun and the clay soil means bricks. You should avoid the brick effect by covering the clay soil with mulch about 2-inch. You can even use shredded bark as the organic matter as the soil decomposes.
How To Improve Clay Soil
Heavy clay soil drains slowly, stays saturated longer after irrigation or rain. When the sun comes out, the soil then dries and forms cracked surface. On the other hands, clay soil has richer nutrients compared to sandy soils. The soil tends to hold water tightly as well which can be the advantage for some plants. If you want to make clay soil is easier to work and more manageable, here are the things to do.
Tools and Materials
- A soil test kit or commercial test
- Wheelbarrow or cart
- Organic mulches: straw, compost, and aged manure
- Cover crop (oats, clover, rye, and wheat)
- Test the soil pH and adjust as needed. Clay soils are rich in nutrients but too alkaline or too acidic that will never help your plants. You can use the home test kit or send the sample to the soil testing lab and follow the recommendations to adjust pH.
- Add organic matter for about 2- to 3-inch layer into the soil to shovel depth. Grass clippings, additional compost, and shredded leaves are the perfect organic matter to keep your plants growing well throughout the season. This should be the routine activities to do.
- Build raised bed since clay soils hold water. By building raised beds, you can improve the drainage and encourage water to run off easier. Raised beds can be the simple mound of soil, or make it from wood, stone, or brick. If you want to reduce compaction, you can size the beds so you can reach the middle of the area without stepping in the bed.
- Mulch beds during the winter. Driving rain will pack down the base soil. For this reason, you should keep the beds mulched by adding organic matter. Do this during the growing season and over the winter are a perfect choice. Having a layer of straw over the raised beds, for example, can be a nice thing to your plants since you are protecting the soil from compaction and prevent from erosion. In addition, this way will reduce weed growth. When the spring comes, you should transfer the mulch to the garden path.
- Plant a cover crop. The cover crop is similar to the living mulch. There are various cover crops that great for different regions. For example, if you live in the North, the winter wheat and the winter rye are the popular options. On the other hands, if you live in warmer regions, crimson clover and oats are the popular choices. If you want to have a winter cover crop, you should sow after you have harvested the last crops. In the following spring, till the plants into the soil and add more organic matter.
It is important to note that improving clay soil needs time and patience. Therefore, you should not expect any overnight results. On the contrary, if you follow the steps above, you will see some improvements each year. It takes a few years to have rich and plant-friendly soil after all. It is great to add compost at any time. If you are tilling in fresh and uncomposted organic matter like leaves, cover crop, and straw, you should wait for a few weeks before growing your plants to give the time so the material can break down first.