Working with Clay Soil

What makes clay so sticky?

Clay is composed of very minute particles which have a large surface to absorb water. High water content causes the stickiness.

Should clay soil be worked when wet?

No; never. It puddles and makes a poor environment for roots. Digging too soon in spring may make it practically useless for the season.

How much wood ashes is it safe to use on heavy clay soil?

At least 10 lbs. per 100 sq. ft.

My garden plot is heavy clay soil and produces well, but it is hard to work up. Would well-rotted manure and wood ashes be of benefit?

Yes. Fine cinders would also be beneficial.

Can coal ashes be used to loosen clay soil?

Only if they have been exposed to weather to leach out harmful substances. So few homes burn coal today that supply is limited. Steam cinders from high temperature boilers in electric generator plants are plentiful. They can be used up to one third the volume of clay to be treated. Break up or discard cinders more than 1/4 inches in diameter.

What proportion of steam cinders should be mixed with clay to make it good for flowers?

A 2 inch layer spaded in will be safe.

Are steam cinders in clay soil better than sand?

Yes; they are of more help in opening it up and admitting air.

Does it make any difference what kind of sand is mixed with clay soil to lighten it?

To what depth should the sand be spread on before spading in? Yes. Coarse or ungraded sands, containing a large proportion of 1/16 to 1/8-inch particles, will bring about the greatest improvement when added to a clay soil. Incorporate a 3 inch layer of such sand.

What shall I do to keep ground loosened?

It gets sticky and lump. I mixed in sand and ashes but they did not help. Probably too little sand was used. Manure and/or peat moss should improve such a soil.

My ground gets hard and dry on the surface, so that it is difficult for the young shoots to break through. It is soft enough beneath the surface. What can I do?

Incorporate sand, and, if possible, well-rotted compost or peat moss, in the upper surface.

My garden soil is mostly clay. I dug under quite a few leaves in an effort to add humus to the soil. Will leaves tend to make the soil acid?

Usually not; but it would be advisable, in any case, to test the soil for acidity, which see.

Is chemical fertilizer harmful to clay soil?

No. Often necessary to furnish mineral elements so plants will grow. Ground limestone, a 2-in. layer, spaded into clay, will make it more workable. Gypsum is also recommended; consult your county agent concerning its use.

What can be added to a clay soil to increase root growth?

It is slightly acid, and in partial shade. If wet, soil must be drained by use of tile. Add organic matter or peat moss. Slight acidity is all right for vegetables and for most ornamental plants.

What kind of fertilizer is best for inert clay soil?

Incorporation of organic matter and ground limestone will probably benefit such a soil. The fertilizer to apply will depend upon the crop to be grown.

How may I improve a heavy, extremely wet clay soil?

Pine trees thrive on it. The physical condition of an extremely wet clay soil can be improved by using 4-in. agricultural drain tile and the incorporation of liberal amounts of screened cinders or sand. Add ground limestone, as necessary, to lower the acidity.

Will adding ashes and dry leaves to thin clay soil bring it to the consistency of loam?

Yes, if you add enough, and wait long enough. Apply compost, peat moss, or both, to hasten the process.

The soil in the garden is very clayey and needs conditioning. How can I do that with all the shrubbery and perennials in?

Remove perennials after hard frost and spade in 3 inches of compost or peat moss and 2 – 3 in. of steam cinders or ground limestone. Replant perennials at once.

What are the best materials to mix with a heavy soil of blue clay?

Peat moss, compost, and fine cinders.

What crops would help to break up soil of blue clay?

Shallow rooted ones, such as rye and oats.

Is lime helpful to soil of blue clay?

Have soil tested to determine if lime is needed; usually it is helpful.

How does gray clay differ from red clay?

Depends on kinds of minerals the clay is composed of and amount of air present when clay was formed. Red clay usually contains iron.

Is gray clay fertile?

Yes, but probably would be better for plants if it is fertilized.

What can be done with gray clay soil to make it produce?

Add compost or peat moss first, then apply fertilizers as crop growth may indicate the need for them.

Is it best to grow a green manure crop in gray clay soil over winter, or dig it up in the fall and leave it so?

Fertilize soil, grow a winter cover crop, and plow under in spring.

What will darken light colored (gray) clay soil?

How many years will it take to make such soil black in color? Organic matter – manure, etc. It would require several years of constant applications, but it is not at all necessary to make the soil black in order to have it be productive.

Is pipe clay soil acid?

Clay soils vary in their degree of acidity. To determine the reaction of the particular soil in mind, test it or send a sample to your State Agricultural College.

I have a patch of heavy red clay soil to condition. Is there an easy way to do it?

I’ve used peat moss, sand, leafmold, and well-rotted manure. Use more of the same. Sorry; no easy way.

My tract of land has heavy, tough red clay base, with only light topsoil covering. What is best treatment?

Grow cover crops of soybeans plowed under before beans are ripe. Follow with crop of rye to be plowed under the following spring.

Will peat moss make a red clay soil heavier?

No. It loosens it up and makes it easier to handle.

What green manure crop is best for rocky clay soil, and when should it be sown?

Grow soybeans planted in spring, and turn under before beans are ripe. Follow with rye or oats, to be plowed under the following spring.

I have a rocky clay soil that has never been used except to grow grass. Should it be exposed to the winter, or put to cover crop?

For a small area, remove surface rocks, add 3 in. of peat moss with some sand or ashes, and plow under. Do not disk or harrow until spring.

What does a white clay soil need, when it becomes baked hard after a rain?

In the early spring it is loose and mellow. Needs organic matter in the form of peat moss, compost, or leafmold. Apply a 3-in. layer and spade in.

How can a very heavy yellow clay soil around the foundation of a house be improved so that plants will grow in it?

Incorporate 2 in. of steam cinders screened through 1/4-in. mesh, and 2 ins. of compost, straw, or peat, preferable in the fall.

What is the best way to prepare heavy clay for fruit trees?

Drainage must be good for fruit trees in heavy soils. Spade or plow under a liberal quantity of compost or peat moss. Sod spaded under is likewise good.

The soil of my garden consists mostly of clay. Would it be suitable for planting trees such as apples, pears, and cherries?

Yes, if well drained.

How can I prepare clay soil in full sun for growing lilies?

All varieties will grow in moderately heavy soil. Add 3 ins. of well-rotted compost or peat moss and spade to a depth of 6 ins. Soil must be well drained for satisfactory results with lilies.

What ornamental plants will grow in clay soil?

If well prepared – organic matter added, well drained, fertilized – clay soils will support growth of almost all plants.

What shrubs, flowers, and trees grow best in red clay soil?

If soil is well drained, most shrubs and trees will grow. For flowers, add compost or peat moss along with fine cinders.

We have clay ground and must prepare it inexpensively. What vegetables will be successful?

Spade in a 3-in. layer of organic matter, and expect any vegetable to grow. However, root crops will do better in lighter soils.

Is it practical to begin a vegetable garden on a rocky clay soil of poor color and texture?

Probably not, unless no other soil is available. Remove surface rocks and add large quantities of compost or peat moss each year. Fertilizer will also be needed.