Moving thick heavy clay to another part of garden?

I have a good two-three cubic meters of clay so thick you could make pots and fire them as is, probably! I also have more brown leaves than I know what to do with from neighbours trees.

Also I just emptied a very old compost bin (6 years+) It smells really woody and fresh. Not foul in anyway.


The plan is: I have large fern trees at the end, and I'm thinking of building up the area with the spare clay. Can I mix the clay and leaves together, to kind of bury the leaves a bit and hope they mulch down naturally? Is clay too thick for that? Also, will the trees suffer in any way with all that sodden clay around them? I'm pretty sure rainful doesn't quite hit the area. The current ground part is really dry compared to the lawn.


  • pansyfacepansyface PEAK DISTRICT DerbyshirePosts: 14,848

    Hello Mel. Firstly, are you in UK? Your tree ferns are rather exotic and expensive things and it would be a shame to do the wrong thing.

    As far as clay goes, three cubic metres is a lot of clay. Spread too thickly it could create a waterproof barrier to lower layers of soil. This might in turn mean that worms and other creatures are driven away. It also might create anaerobic conditions (no oxygen) which might mean that your leaves never rot or, if they do, they might become very foul smelling. A lot of ifs.

    Another if. If you have the spare space in your garden, you could try an old trick I was once shown for dealing with clay. Make a bonfire (good time of year) with plenty wood in it. Pile chunks of clay on top and set fire to it. It should burn for several days. When the fire goes out, the clay is burned solid (like pottery). You can then smash it up and it won't be sticky any longer.


    Apophthegm -  a big word for a small thought.
  • nutcutletnutcutlet PeterboroughPosts: 26,019

    Is this clay your basic soil or has it been dug out for foundations and is really sub-soil?

    If it's the latter I think I'd break it up as best I could and leave it to break down in the frost, then mix with all the other things you mention. Without treading it back to a paste in the process

    I wouldn't let it anywhere near a tree fern. Having said that I don't grow tree ferns here, too dry, so what do I know about them?

  • FairygirlFairygirl west central ScotlandPosts: 25,187

    I could have a great bonfire if I tried that pansyface!

    I'd agree with nut - if they're tree ferns I wouldn't want to pile a load of solid clay round them, although as far as I know it's the top of the trunk which is the 'live' bit and the main trunk is sort of static, so perhaps someone who knows more about them can advise on that. 

    Mel - normally you'd make a separate bin for letting leaves rot down - a cage of wire mesh is the usual way, and you would mix your compost in with the clay to help open it up and make it a better medium for use, but 3 cubic metres is a lot of clay - probably too much for the amount of compost you have. You could mix the compost and clay half and half,  let it break down a bit over winter as nut says, then you can use it in the garden for beds and borders. Alternatively, get rid of the clay altogether somehow and just use the compost as a mulch on existing areas.

    It's a place where beautiful isn't enough of a word....

  • Steve 309Steve 309 Posts: 2,753

    Take up pottery as a hobby?

  • BamboogieBamboogie Posts: 239

    I think pansyface has covered most of it, but I'll just add you can buy a product called 'clay breaker' which you add this time of year. It's better than the traditional adding of lime cause it doesn't change pH of soil as much.

  • BobTheGardenerBobTheGardener Leicestershire, UKPosts: 7,916

    The 'clay breaker' Bamboogie mentions is actually gypsum.  The cheapest way of obtaining gypsum is as 25kg bags of plaster (yes, the stuff for going on walls) from a builder's merchant - the cheapest stuff is actually the best for this as it will contain no additives. image

    A trowel in the hand is worth a thousand lost under a bush.
  • LesleyKLesleyK Posts: 4,029

    That's really good to know Bobimage. I have areas of heavy clay too.  How much would you add?

  • So glad I asked. I'm going to try burning some of it, and I'm going to use plaster image And, try to get rid of some of it. They charge for taking soil to the dump where I am, so I'll try my best to use as much of it up as I can.

  • BobTheGardenerBobTheGardener Leicestershire, UKPosts: 7,916

    There's actually some controversy regarding the efficacy of adding gypsum and I think that's because there are so many types of 'clay soil'.  What I did and recommend is to do some testing on small areas of your own soil, using various amounts and started with one good handful per square yard.  There are no typical dosage figures as it depends completely on the chemistry of your particular soil.  Gypsum is Calcium Sulphate and if your clay is in a limestone area, it probably won't help.  It can take 2-3 years to show any effect.

    Adding lots of organic matter, however, is always going to help improve clay soils and will have an immediate effect but gypsum is certainly worth trying as it can really help some types of clay soils.

    A trowel in the hand is worth a thousand lost under a bush.
  • LesleyKLesleyK Posts: 4,029

    Thanks Bob I'll give it a try too.  Will report back in a couple of yearsimage

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