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Compacted clay soil

Help! I'm planning, finally, to get rid of the decorative chippings that the previous owner laid over the entire garden and lay a lawn. But having scraped them off, I'm now confronted by an incredibly compacted, heavy clay soil that I can't even penetrate with a fork. Has anyone got a suggestion? I will be laying top soil over it, but only have enough to cover the area up to 10-15cm deep. 

Any suggestions? Not sure if a rotavator (never used one) will work on such a heavy clay.


  • If you're looking to lay grass this year, you are going to have to get it dug over to at least one spades depth or the grass will drown the first time it rains heavily over winter. Plenty of grit and manure will help keep it broken up. If you can wait until next spring, give a dig down to a spade depth, mix in plenty of grit and sow with a green manure and leave over winter. Next spring, give it the double depth digging and then rake flat. The winter frost will give it a good kicking, That's what I did when I lifted chips out the garden. If you have the time, lazy gardening always wins, hands down image

  • FairygirlFairygirl west central ScotlandPosts: 35,119

    I was about to say the same as you  Verd - mix the gravel in. That's what I did in a similar type of area. You need to add enough manure and grit as possible, then let the ground settle a bit before adding the topsoil. No shortcuts really or the grass will always struggle.

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

  • RedwingRedwing Posts: 875

    That's what I was going to say too......mix in the chippings.

  • Hi guys, 

    sorry to jump on your thread!

    i have a similar issue, I have a large flower bed that is heavy clay. I've just mulched over the whole bed with 2" of soil improver (3 cubic meters worth!).

    my aim to to replant the bed with topiary shrubs and a few perennial plants but now thinking i need to rotivate the whole bed and really mix the stuff together first. 

    will this work? Does it matter if the ground is wet? Or can I leave it for the worms to do for me so long as I dig large holes adding plenty of grit before planting?

    any advice will be great! Thank you!

  • Sooz5Sooz5 Posts: 2

    Thanks for all your replies. I will have a go at digging the area, though if I can't even get the prongs of a fork in, I am dreading attempting it with a spade. But everything I've read agrees with your comments that if I don't, the grass will die.

  • Pete.8Pete.8 Billericay, EssexPosts: 6,107

    A good heavy rotavator can help.
    You could try a pick just to break up the surface, then use the rotavator to break up the first layer, then repeat.

    Some 40yrs ago I used to use my dad's rotavator which probably weighed as much as a small car - thats' the sort you're looking for. 

    Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit.
    Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.
  • Im guessing the previous house owner knew of the clay problem and covered it with chipping as an easy way of dealing with the problem. A mattock might help with digging up the clay. Ive just bought one from BnQ to dig over in my clay garden after reading of Monty Dons recommendation.


  • I agree with Pete8. Rotavate the area. You will need to get air, grits/gravel, sand and organic matter into the the soil if you want the lawn to last.

    Homebase has quite a large powerful one which I am thinking of getting. I am also on heavy clay. Pickaxes are fine for small areas but it's back breaking work which I can guarantee. This is not a small machine and won't fit in a car unless your car is like a truck + its heavy


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