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Always Somethin 05-22-2012 10:12 PM

Clay Soil
 
Recently moved into a new home. Previous owners have mulched the flower beds around the house. The beds have perennials and shrubs in them. When I pulled back the mulch to loosen up, the soil underneath was very heavy wet clay. I would like to "improve" the soil, but cannot rototil the wet clay. Plus, with plants already established and growing, I really can't rototil anyways. Is there anything that I can add to the top of the soil before laying down a new layer of mulch? I was thinking of adding a layer of mushroom compost, then put my new mulch on top of that. I thought that maybe after doing this over again each year, maybe in several years time the earthworms would work the compost down into the clay and loosen it up. Any ideas or suggestions?

user1007 05-22-2012 10:25 PM

Had terrible, heavy clay soil in Northern California and when it was wet it was impossible to work with. Of course when wet it had no air space either which is not good for plants. They can, in fact, become as if they were pot bound in heavy clay.

All you can do is try, when and where you can, to turn the soil over and fold in ammendments like compost and even things like perlite when you can. Just remember the organic ammendments and mulch on the surface take nitrogen from the soil as they break down and can toss the Ph off so monitor those situations.

A complete soil test is not a bad idea. California used to do them for free for homeowners but alas with the budget cuts that program did not survive. A thorough soil test is not expensive though and can save you tons of moola in the long run. It serves to purpose to fertilize and ammend if the soil cannot metabolize the nutrients or break things down. A soil lab will have all sorts of suggestions. If they don't, with soil test results in hand your real nursery or ag extension folks can be quite helpful.

A small soil turning fork is a great tool to have. Those tiny tillers sometimes work but just don't have enough weight to them to deal with heavy clay soil.

Drip irrigation is nice for clay soil because it applies the water slowly in gallons per hour not gallons per minute like conventional sprinklers. It is inexpensive and easy to install or retrofit to existing systems with the possibility of needing to convert to a low flow valve. You will save the cost of a nice drip irrigation system in no time. And come the next drought you will be able to justify watering your plants except for turf. There are now emitters that are suited to any plant material but turf. The only catch is the tubing, at least where the emitters are, has to be on the soil surface.

Patience and diligence will pay off eventually. I (or I should say my gardeners) finally got the soil around the California house in pretty good shape for planting just about anything. It did take awhile.

Where are you by the way? You might want to update your general location as it makes it easier to relate some times.

Canarywood1 05-23-2012 10:10 AM

[quote=Always Somethin;926844]Recently moved into a new home. Previous owners have mulched the flower beds around the house. The beds have perennials and shrubs in them. When I pulled back the mulch to loosen up, the soil underneath was very heavy wet clay. I would like to "improve" the soil, but cannot rototil the wet clay. Plus, with plants already established and growing, I really can't rototil anyways. Is there anything that I can add to the top of the soil before laying down a new layer of mulch? I was thinking of adding a layer of mushroom compost, then put my new mulch on top of that. I thought that maybe after doing this over again each year, maybe in several years time the earthworms would work the compost down into the clay and loosen it up. Any ideas or suggestions?[/quote


Had the same thing you have, mixed in number2 torpedo sand,problem solved.

bob22 05-25-2012 02:38 PM

Most soil sites will recommend that you not add sand to clay; it can turn it harder, like cement.
Organic matter amendment is the typical solution to clay soils.

puttster 05-25-2012 06:49 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Always Somethin (Post 926844)
I was thinking of adding a layer of mushroom compost, then put my new mulch on top of that. I thought that maybe after doing this over again each year, maybe in several years time the earthworms would work the compost down into the clay and loosen it up. Any ideas or suggestions?


Thats what I did and it worked. Dug 3-4" and mulched when replacing plants. This year wife wanted big shrubs so I started digging and lo and behold beautiful topsoil down 12", maybe more. Now that I think about it though the beds sit up higher than the lawn. Don't know how it happened really but it took 15 years.


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