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Clay soil in allotment tips

Hi there,

Just taken on a large allotment with clay soil, any tips much appreciated for improving and managing the soil well. 

I've also read some advice talking about grit improving the soil, any thoughts ? 
Or best to use mulch and manure? 



  • Avoid compressing the soil if it is clay so stay off it when it is very wet. Soil life is your friend in bringing a good structure to the soil so adding organic material will boost the activity of the living things that will help keep it free draining and aerated. The organic material can be left on the surface of the soil and incorporated by earthworms and other types of life that will improve the soil over time. My soil science lecturer described the aim with good management of clay soil being helping it to form into peds or clumps where the soil is in aggregates that form a loose soil structure with space in between the peds that allows the free movement of air and water. Organic material is supposed to be important in helping the soil particles stick together and form into this structure and adding grit in large quantities to improve drainage he described as a waste of time from his attempts to improve clay soil on his own land. I found that including plants with deep roots as well as adding manure helped improve clay and helped prevent it becoming waterlogged.
    Happy gardening!
  • DovefromaboveDovefromabove Central Norfolk UKPosts: 80,515
    My father farmed clay land which he improved with much farmyard manure over the years. He always say that when it’s so wet that the clay soil clings to your boots you should stay off the land. 
    “I am not lost, for I know where I am. But however, where I am may be lost.” Winnie the Pooh

  • FairygirlFairygirl west central ScotlandPosts: 47,289
    It's loads of organic matter - by far the best way, as already said. There are no short cuts unfortunately. 
    Grit doesn't help unless you can afford to buy it by the ton, and even then, in beds and borders, it would make little difference over time, so it's a waste of time and money. It's good for pots.  :)
    It's a place where beautiful isn't enough of a word....

  • PosyPosy Isle of Wight.Posts: 3,564
    Organic matter is the best improver, as much as you can get as often as you can get. Grit is also useful  - very coarse sand, not gravel. The worms taking it down theory depends on whether you have many worms and long years of waiting. If the land has been in use as an allotment there should have been quite a lot of work done on the soil already but if it is new to this use, and very heavy clay, you will need to dig the stuff in because it can take several years for worms to do the work for you.
  • Pete.8Pete.8 Billericay, EssexPosts: 9,389
    Following some building work I had a border of almost pure orange/grey clay dumped by the builders that I wanted to plant up.
    I read this article from the RHS site How to improve clay soils and I bought and dug in 3000L composted bark fines from CPA Horticulture.
    I was really surprised at how fast it worked - within 3-4 months I planted it up and though still quite clayey it's full of worms now and plants are growing well
    Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit.
    Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.
  • FairygirlFairygirl west central ScotlandPosts: 47,289
    I'm considering using composted bark to mix in to other material for seed sowing and general pot culture to replace peat based composts. 
    I built raised beds when I moved in here due to the nature of our soil and climate, and because of the type of 'garden' it was. Definitely easier in the long run.
    The large border I made along the boundary was done in a conventional way - turf stripped, and loads of horse manure laid on top. It was in very good condition for planting the following spring/summer. 
    It's a place where beautiful isn't enough of a word....

  • Thank you all, brilliant advice much appreciated. 
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