Problem Clay soil


Can anybody help I have had my new home just under a year and this year is the year to tackle the garden. I started full of happiness till I stuck my folk in and heard the squelch of the soil. I then set about it with a spade and started to dig down and to my horror horrable water and clay soil. How can I set about starting to improve the soil and its structure or am I just wasteing my time with this and resign myself to having raised beds .

                      Regards Stephen (Tyne & Wear)



  • I have a very similar problem, I have rocky clay soil and don't really want raised beds. I have found the best remedy is to plant something with large stringy root base like parsley or certain types of ornamental grass. let them grow for a season then dig them up if it's a larger plant or dig them in if it's grasses. I only disscovered this when I dug up my expired parsley plants to find beautifull soil this spring. I have also spent a fair sum of cash on composts and work it into my soil twice a year to improve the quality. Hope this helps.

  • We're into our seventh year here on clay soil, and every year I just put more compost in, I concentrate on one bed a year, which explains why it's taken so long! You do see results eventually. If you can afford to, then bulk buy in a load and dig in.

  • hkmincahkminca Posts: 7

    Dig in plenty of sand and grit and if possible leave over winter for the soil to rest and the frost will get to work on breaking up the big chunks. At this time of year all you can do is dig several times and mix in lots of sand and grit. Don't leave it too long as once it dries out it will be rock ahrd and you won't be able to get a spade into it.

  • i have been reading a few blogs and it appears that (like myself) people with new build homes have clay issues. this is due to the hardcore machines etc... 

    i am about to tackle the issue and have been advise on all of the above, Plus add in drainage troffs where possible.

  • EdentoyEdentoy Posts: 64

    Nothing beats a good dig, hard work but well worth it,add plenty of well rotted horse manure and come autumn a good amount of rough sand.

  • markbrydenmarkbryden Posts: 1

    After 10 years I decided to dig out the clay from borders down to a good spade and a half and relace with good soil and compost bought in.  The work is hard but the difference is worth it IMO.

    One border at a time.  

    Before my soil would compact to rock hard even with treatment.  Now its always easy to plant and weed.  

    Short term pain long term gain.


  • but what do you do if you have established perrenials everywhere, making it very hard to get to the soil an dig it? would love nothing more than to turn my whole lot of clay soil over but don't fancy removing half the plants image 

    is there a best season to do this anyway?

  • PentilliePentillie Posts: 411
    Had similar trouble when I moved here 15 years ago. I solved the problem by, every year for about 5 years, buying 20 sacks of spent mushroom compost, costing on average ??2 a sack. This was laid as a mulch in the autumn and early spring, and gently forked in. With worms doing their bit the soil gradually lightened up,and now is in really good condition. I now add all old potting compost, and finished gro-bags as their relatively dry and powdery nature also help break up any clay still lurking. May not work everywhere but I'm happy with my soil now.
  • AtillaAtilla Posts: 1,493

    The water means that the clay soil is compacted so you really do need to uncompact it before planting. Unless you are digging out the clay soil, you should never use a spade: always use a fork. Fork in bark and compost and leaf mulch and it will get better. I would not bother with sand as it adds nothing - try and keep off the soil when it is wet (yes I know that is not that possible but it does help)

  • TherapymumTherapymum Posts: 4
    I agree with the digging, compost and sand/grit. The compost and sand helps to open up the tight clay grains. Drainage also helps, but is really hard work. The positive thing is that clay soil can be tremendously productive and is well worth the effort. Freshairfanatic, add loads of compost on the surface and fork in in the autumn/winter so that the frost can open the soil up.
  • Thanks Therapy- I shall give that a go this Autumn, trying to dig around the established plants as much as I can. Think I'll also stick with the compost and grit rather than sand, idea. It's almost impossible to keep off the soil when wet, especially as we've had almost 7 weeks of rain! The grass looks pitiful this year and I've been patching it up here and there, but with the clay soil it immediately compacts and new grass seedlings get trampled into the clay if they are walked on - argh! Do I have to fork in manure at all? Or is compost and some grit enough? What about bark chips over the top too which gradually break down into soil? Thanks all for so many good tips, you are very helpful!

  • PS: is compost better to use than topsoil?

  • If all else fails try building raised borders

  • AtillaAtilla Posts: 1,493

    Compost and grit is fine. If you have heavy clay then mix in bark chips as you need the large organic matter to loosen it up and add humus. Sand and clay makes a sort of cement in dry weather that is why I said avoid it! Parts of my garden have blue clay that is teribble to work with as it just sticks to everything and causes water to stop draining away, causing roots to rot.

  • BobTheGardenerBobTheGardener LeicsPosts: 6,356

    The good news is that clay soil is very fertile, once you improve the drainage and structure.  As you have established perennials, it sounds like it isn't too bad.  Like others have said, you need to dig-in grit, sharp sand (don't ever use builders sand - that will cause the 'concrete effect' in dry weather, but sharp sand is fine) and as much compost as possible.  To improve the drainage around your established plants, stick a fork in as deep as you can and wiggle it about to leave 4 holes.  Pour sharp sand down the holes.  Use as much compost (any type, even the cheap stuff) as you possibly can each year and also put at least 2" layer as a top dressing and let the worms do their work.  I can even now grow carrots on my clay soil - the sharp sand really helps with those.  It did take many years of effort to get it to the stage where I can grow almost anything though!

    A trowel in the hand is worth a thousand lost under a bush.
  • I have heavy clay soil and over the years have developed it into lovely loam.

    It wont take for every, start now with adding compost, grit, sand, spent compost, manure etc etc and repeat every year

    Mulch in autumn as well and by next spring you will notice a massive improvement

  • i  have blue clay, if i used a cement mixer how much sharp sand , compost , and clay should i mix together to get a decent workable soil ?

  • I have clay and over many years have added sand, compost and top soil. I also empty my tomato grow bags on to the garden when the toms have finished. It's quite a steep hillside, so hard to dig.

    Lots of things doing well though, roses don't mind it. If I get plants not suited to clay, I just put them in pots. Some things that spread I other people's gardens, don't spread in mind. Can't grow yellow loosestrife at all, but have a wide variety of plants doing well.
  • Bunny ...Bunny ... Posts: 3,455
    I have yellow loosestrife in front , goes great also on clay , there must be something different in our conditions we should try and figure out for you to have it image
  • I can grow purple loosestrife! Sloping site, catches the wind, sun most of the day on 2/3 of the garden, but not as far north as you. Right up on the Pennines though so we always get the bad weather. Perhaps I just started out with some poor specimens. Will try again this year. I have seen some growing at the side of the road up the hill from me. Perhaps I will go and pinch some!
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