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The Pros & Cons of Clay Soils

16-Nov-2013 | Contributed by: Guest Author

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Clay soil

Why clay soil dries out, it cracks and clods, making it very difficult to work with.

The heaviest of all soil types, clay can be very difficult to work with, especially when wet, but has the potential to be very fertile for many crops. Clay particles are very small and compact. The soil is sticky to touch when it is wet, and smooth to touch when dry. Clay soils are made up of over 25% clay. When wet, they are compacted when trodden on, making them difficult soils for keeping heavy livestock.

Pros of clay soil

  • Clay soils are high in nutrients, and if drainage can be managed, plants can take advantage of this.

  • Red clay often has good aeration and drainage.

  • Naturally alkaline, clay soil rarely needs liming.

  • Composting clay soil will last a long time as it stores nutrients well.

Cons of clay soil

  • Because clay particles are so small, water, air, and roots find it difficult to move through the soil.

  • When dry, clay forms into hard clods of dirt.

  • If too acidic, or if worked when too wet, the soil will puddle.

What to grow in clay soil

  • Wheat
  • Leafy vegetables
  • Peas
  • Field beans
  • Tomatoes
  • Chaenomeles
  • Oak trees
  • Heleniums
  • Peppers
  • Potatoes
  • Roses
  • Asters
  • Daylilies
  • Yarrow
  • Perennial geranium
  • Yucca
  • Sedum
  • These clay-tolerant trees and shrubs

Tips for working with clay soil

  • Leave clay soil alone when it is wet or it will puddle.

  • Work with clay when it is dry (but not so dry that it is rock hard) to loosen it and improve drainage.

  • When working with clay, allow air and frost to get to the soil to help break it apart.

  • To improve your clay soil, add compost or organic matter, and sand.

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