Grey Soil

Hi, I'm hoping someone can help.  I recently dug up an old clematis in the back garden which had been in about 15 years.  When I dug it up the soil underneath was grey.  This also happened when I dug up what I call Golden Rod in the front garden many of the stems had fused together and I wondered if this was caused by the grey type soil although the clematis was ok just not flowering as it always had.  Any help would be appreciated.


  • Ladybird4Ladybird4 Third rock from the sunPosts: 16,234

    It sounds like you have a clay soil and possibly what you are seeing is the subsoil. Mine is like that and sometimes I think it almost looks like modelling clay. I do have to go down about 60+cm to find it. Clay soils are rich in nutrients and can be improved by adding grit and compost to improve the structure.

    Cacoethes: An irresistible urge to do something inadvisable
  • DovefromaboveDovefromabove Central Norfolk UKPosts: 44,416

    Lavenderlass - is my memory correct that you garden in central Suffolk?  My family used to farm in that area and I well remember patches of clay, not just yellow ochre in colour but also 'blue clay'.  

    Clay soils can be very fertile when improved - it will benefit from lots of organic matter, manure etc being incorporated image

    In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt ... Margaret Atwood
  • Pete8Pete8 Billericay, EssexPosts: 3,020

    I have sometimes come across something similar.
    Usually the conditions seem to be some soil at the top that is ok and reasonably moist, dig a little deeper and there's area of grey bone-dry dusty stuff, probably no more than a bucket full.
    ni dea of the cause, I just dig it over

  • pbffpbff Posts: 389

    Hello Lavenderlass,

    There is a type of soil called a 'gley', which develops in anaerobic conditions.

    Surface water gleys occur where the percolation of water is restricted by poor soil structure in the topsoil and subsoil, so producing a perched water table. This is especially common in clay soils (the clay particle itself is <0.002 mm in size and so the particles become compacted together very easily) and in wetter regions of the country.

    Anaerobic conditions develop beneath the water table, causing the iron oxides that normally give soil its brown colour to become dull grey or blueish.

    The extent of the waterlogging to which the soil has been subject to can be judged from the degree to which the soil is completely grey. Normally, there is a rusty, mottled pattern indicating that aerobic soil conditions do prevail for at least part of the year (e.g. in summer).

    Gleys are usually slow to warm up in spring, on account of their high water content, which results in plants coming into growth later than on other soil types. There are also less beneficial organisms to be found in the soil e.g. earthworms, which leads to lowered nutrient levels and a reduction in plant growth.

    Poor root penetration can also be a problem, resulting in slow establishment and poor anchorage.

    The cold, wet nature of the soil may also increase the incidence of plant diseases.

    Such soils can be considerably improved by incorporating plenty of bulky organic matter and grit.

    The addition of lime can help by causing the clay particles to bind together into more stable aggregates and thus opens up the pore space in the soil.

    The fusing of the stems of your golden rod is a physiological disorder known as fasciation.

    It can be caused by a genetic mutation within the plant; damage to the growing tip by pests, frost, chemicals, etc ; viral infection or a bacterium called Rhodococcus fascians.

    Fasciated shoots can cut out if you want, but in herbaceous plants, fasciation generally only lasts for that year anyway.

    Hope this helps!



  • PosyPosy Posts: 1,040

    That's really interesting, pbff. I would add that some clay soils have lumps of chalk in them. These soils are poor in nutrients, too, and along with grit and compost, they benefit from added acidic materials to enable the plants to take up the nutrients they need.

  • Many thanks to all of you for your advice.  You are all right I do have clay soil to which I have added compost over the years but not grit. Sorry Dovefromabove I live in East Yorkshire and upto now have had no problem with my soil or growing plants but will now try adding grit as well as compost.  Unfortunately, I dug out the Golden Rod thinking whatever was wrong may spread to other plants.  Many thanks again to you all.

  • DovefromaboveDovefromabove Central Norfolk UKPosts: 44,416

    Oh dear - must've got you muddled with someone else image  Sorry.  

    Good luck with sorting that patch of soil out image

    In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt ... Margaret Atwood
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