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Breaking up Clay soil

I have very heavy clay soil. It comes up in big clumps just like the clay in our art cupboard at school! Having done some research, I am hoping to break it down using sharp sand and composted bark. I see that there is such a thing as 'horticultural sharp sand'. The price for this is very much outwith my budget. I was hoping to use BandQ Sharp sand that comes in small bags (I would rather pay more for small bags than buy a bulk bag as I will be transporting it myself (female) round a gravel path). My question is will a cheaper, bargain basement version of sharp sand help to break up my clay soil in the same way as the horticultural sand? It will be a lot of effort to dig in so I don't want to get it wrong and have to redo the heavy work. Thank you for your help. 


  • B3B3 Posts: 27,293
    Builder's sand will probably have salt in it.
    In London. Keen but lazy.
  • Hostafan1Hostafan1 Posts: 34,854
    edited April 2021
    Welcome to the forum.
    I'd avoid sand. IMHO it can make clay soil worse. 
    Stick with bulky organic matter like well rotted garden compost, or well rotted manure or even bark
  • B3 said:
    Builder's sand will probably have salt in it.
    Do you mean the cheaper version of sharp sand, that I am proposing to buy from BandQ, will likely have salt in it? If so, I presume that is bad? 
  • B3B3 Posts: 27,293
    Yes. But hosta is right. You are better adding organic matter.
    In London. Keen but lazy.
  • LiriodendronLiriodendron Posts: 8,298
    You'll get a variety of answers but here's my contribution!  IMO the most important thing to add to clay soil is organic matter - garden compost, well rotted manure, composted bark, mushroom compost etc.  Adding grit, gravel or sand just seems to make the clay gritty but doesn't contribute to the "workability" of the soil, in my experience.  Adding a couple of inches thickness of your composted bark to the soil surface, only digging it in if you're planting something but then putting more mulch on the soil surface, will make a real difference - though it takes repeated applications...
    Since 2019 I've lived in east Clare, in the west of Ireland.
  • TopbirdTopbird Posts: 8,329
    I have heavy clay and I wouldn't use sand at all, full stop. You're half way to making mortar.

    IMO the best way to deal with heavy clay is to dig it deeply and then work it frequently and to incorporate lots and lots of bulky organic matter. Homemade compost is excellent or well rotted farmyard manure (you can buy bags from the GC). If you have a local stables bake them a cake and beg for well rotted horse muck.

    Some people add grit to clay soil but I've never bothered (would need far too much to make any difference). I compost leaves from the pea shingle drive so quite a bit of pea shingle ends up in my soil mulch which helps a bit with drainage - but nothing beats organic matter and working the soil.

    Heaven is ... sitting in the garden with a G&T and a cat while watching the sun go down
  • Nanny BeachNanny Beach Posts: 8,715
    I agree no sand unless you are going into pottery making
  • Pete.8Pete.8 Posts: 11,286
    Another vote for no sand.

    There's a good RHS article here that I cme across -
    According to that article-

    For grit to have an effect on your soil you'd need to add at least 250Kg per square metre.
    It doesn't mention that you'd have to dig it in too :)

    So composted bark is the way to go.
    I've just bought 3000L composted bark fines to help with a new bed I'm making in Essex clay

    Billericay - Essex

    Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit.
    Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.
  • K67K67 Posts: 2,507
    All the above, the only time I added grit was under bulbs or when planting then only a handful so while it made me feel i was doing the soil good it probably had no effect.
    I have been using composted bark and this has definitely made a difference along with a good mulch of the bagged manure you can buy as no stables around.
  • Hostafan1Hostafan1 Posts: 34,854
    I had a client once who used to wait until her lawn cracked during summer droughts and tip pea shingle down the cracks. 
    It took many years, but it stopped the baking / flooding cycle. 
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