Clay is the type of soil composed of small particles. It contains a lot of nutrients that gardens need. This type of soil holds moisture well, but compacts. Since it is made of tiny particles, it gives little space for air. However, it can be made ideal for garden plants through the soil amendment method. In this article, you will know how to loosen clay soil for gardening.
Characteristics of a Clay Soil
Clay holds moisture well. The particles in the soil are negatively charged. This means it attracts more positively charged particles. This makes the clay nutritious than any other type of soil. A few nutrients in clay soil are potassium, magnesium, and calcium.
Though nutrient-rich, the clay may still not amendable for planting. That is why you need to know how to loosen clay soil for gardening before you can plant on them. Clay soil drains slowly, and during spring, it doesn’t warm quickly. It is highly compact, making it difficult for roots to spread.
Improving Clay Soil with Gypsum
Knowing how to loosen clay soil for gardening is not easy. You can start by adding Gypsum to the soil. Gypsum is calcium sulfate. It has been used for breaking compact soil like clay. To improve clay with Gypsum, add 1 kilo of Gypsum to a square meter of soil. Mix it by digging into at least 15cm-deep. The Gypsum breaks up the clay into small crumby pieces improving the drainage. If the soil is still heavy, then you need to add more of the minerals.
After a few applications, the soil will normally break into small pieces. However, adding Gypsum isn’t enough as some plants need more than calcium and sulfur. This is when you need to add organic materials.
Improving Clay Soil with Organic Materials
While learning how to loosen clay soil for gardening is easy, the result won’t take over time. It needs a lot of patient and effort before it improves to a soil that suitable for planting. Before you start adding matters to the clay, you must avoid compacting the soil. Do not work on it while it’s wet. Wait for it until it drains and dries.
Add organic materials to the clay. Identify the garden bed that you want to improve. Remove all the plants in the garden and put it in pots for a while until the soil amendment process is complete. Add at least 6 inches of organic matter to the entire garden bed with clay soil. You can use grass clipping, or you use shredded leaves, compost, or rotted manure. Spread it over the clay soil and mix them up to 12 inches deep. You can use a shovel when mixing them, and if it is still hard to mix them, use a tiller.
Organic materials attract earthworms. This will help the process of improving the garden, as it burrows through the soil. Their casting will also add to the nutrients of the plants.
Test the Soil
As you learn how to loosen clay soil for gardening and before you could start planting, test the soil first to make sure it is ready for gardening. There are some easy ways to test the soil.
- Feel and Squeeze – The best way to test the suitability of soil is to feel its texture. Take a handful of soil in your hands. Good soil has small crumbs. It is well bound and does not break up. There should be spaces between crumbs to allow water and air through. Enough that allows the needed nutrients to reach the roots.
- Drainage Test – Some plants need more moisture, and others need fast-draining soil. To be able to meet the requirements of the crops you will plant, the soil has to undergo drainage test. To do this, dig a hole with 6 inches wide and one foot deep. Fill it with water and allows it to drain completely. Fill it again with water. Track how fast the water drains. If it takes more than four hours to drain, then it has poor drainage.
- Worm Test – Worms are an indicator of having healthy soil. When your soil has earthworms, there is a higher possibility that it contains beneficial microbes and bacteria that help plant growth. To do the worm test, be sure that it has warmed at least 55 degrees, and must have enough moisture. Dig a hole that has one foot wide and one foot deep. Put the soil on the cardboard, then sift through the soil with your hands as you put it back into the hole. When you find at least ten worms, then your soil contains enough nutrients and ready for planting.
Being familiar with the ways on how to loosen clay soil for gardening will give you healthy growing plants. Since clay contains nutrients needed by plants, it is ideal for gardening. However, it is too compact that prevent the root from spreading. So, you must break them and make them suitable for all types of plants. You know the soil is ready when it meets the requirements of good soil through testing. Know more about clay soils.