How to cultivate clay soil

To cultivate your vegetable garden, vegetable garden and also all other types of crops, it is important know your soil according to the most important parameters. Among the decisive aspects is the texture which expresses the size of the particles that compose it, and which influences its physical characteristics and, essentially, its ease of implementation.

clay soils they are the finest and they are usually very fertile although they tend to compact . For cultivation, they require certain precautions that we describe in this article, especially in the aspects of processing and fertilization. Organic matter is, as always, a very important factor, as well as the layout of the garden in raised beds, and we will see why.

Due to their physical characteristics, “heavy” or clay soils are those composed mainly of fine particles, such as clay, while “loose” or sandy soils are those composed mainly of coarser particles, such as sand. Both types of soil have advantages and disadvantages, it being understood that the ideal soils for cultivating an orchard or a vegetable garden are intermediate situations, that is to say “average” soils. In orchards, we can clearly recognize these differences when working the soil and by observing their behavior after the rains.

However, the soils all different from each other and each reflects its own history and particularities, the result of these specific places and the base from which they come.

How to recognize clay soil

Clay soil is recognizable and observe the particle size of its particles which in this case is tiny (diameter less than 0.002 mm). We can also be guided empirically by certain characteristics that are noticeable when dry and others that are noticeable when wet.

When clay soil is dry tends to form the characteristics cracks , all the wider and deeper as the percentage of clay is high. when it’s wet it gets muddy sliding , and the drying process is much slower than in loose soil. If it doesn’t drain well, it’s easy to see a floor like this flooded for long days.

You can also check its clay texture touch her : we take a dagger of damp earth, and we realize that we can knead it and make it into a ball that does not crumble, but remains intact, and we can also slide it between our hands by stretching it .

There are also many floors with a particular texture such as clay-limestone soils, or clay-sandy, clay-clay soils, depending on the different percentages of the different types of particles.

If you want to know exactly the texture of the soil you are treating, you can call on a specialized laboratory perform an analysis carefully taking samples from the surface layers, excluding the top centimeters.

Benefits of clay soil

clay soils these are fertile lands : clay minerals bind nutrients to themselves then give them to plants and form complexes with organic matter.

In these soils with small pores, there is less air circulation than in loose soils, which has the consequence that the organic matter that we add with compost, manure or green manure oxidizes a lot. slower. In practice the organic matter distributed lasts longer .


Clay soils become problematic if it rains often , because they take a long time to dry after a rain and you never have time to work with them when another rain comes. In fact, these soils they should only be worked when “soaked” , that is to say when they are at the right level of humidity: neither too wet nor too dry. Working clay soil that is still wet is very exhausting and causes the formation of clods which once dry become as hard as stones.

water stagnation it can cause problems with the roots of vegetables and even fruit trees, for which it is necessary to choose resistant rootstocks.

when drying clay soils can be compacted and form the surface bark and characteristic crevices not beneficial to the roots, .

However, the defects listed are very accentuated especially in soils low in organic matter : where they are constantly verbalized, the difficulties are much less.

How to work clay soil

clay soils must be worked in depth due to its tendency to compact and not drain well. The first time you work them, it is important to use the shovel or pitchfork, then the hoe, mixing the first layers of mature compost (3-4kg/m²) or mature manure (4-5kg/m² ).

After this first intervention, it is strongly recommended divide the garden into permanent raised beds from the surface , delimited by paths specifically intended for passages. This initial effort of design and division allows the soil of the flowerbeds, however clayey, to remain softer. with time.

From year to year we will be able to assess whether the fork is used, which in any case sinks deep into the ground leaving the soil layers unchanged. Raised beds are never walked on and allow excess water to drain which avoids rotting of the roots in the rainy season.

Once the vegetables are planted or transplanted, between the rows it will be necessary to hoe often to break up the typical cracks as well as to remove the grass that has grown in the meantime. For this, in addition to the classic hoes, the trident is very useful , with which one literally scratches the surface of the soil, which once moved becomes oxygenated. If, on the contrary, we spread a good layer of organic mulch like straw or dried grass, the aforementioned works are not necessary and, on the contrary, this material contributes to enrich the soil.

how to improve

The possibility of add sand to clay soils , mixing it directly to the culture beds, in the first layers. In this way, the floor is illuminated .

However, the constant supply of organic matter plays the main role in the physical improvement of these soils and we remind you that it is carried out through: distribution of fertilizer or manure, green manure, organic mulch with slowly decomposing materials in the ground, burying or decomposing crop residues on site. Organic matter must be added annually.

It may happen that we find ourselves cultivating the garden in clay soil and poor in organic matter, and in this case, despite the abundant contributions, it is possible that the first notable improvements will not be seen until after the 2 or 3 first years of management. careful, but we must not give up because little by little the soil of life is repopulated and balances are established.

Things to Grow in Clay Soil

There is a tendency to think that some vegetables cannot succeed in difficult soils like heavy clay. Indeed, apart from extreme conditions, the most common vegetables have some adaptability under different conditions.

What really makes the difference is our management and therefore one should never neglect tillage and the addition of organic matter, which can really improve a tenacious soil.

Some vegetables, such as carrots, prefer sandy soils because they can deepen their roots well, but by making clay soil and soft and careful cultivation techniques, satisfactory results can also be obtained with this species.

when planting fruit plants to have to ask for information about the rootstock and guide us in the choice of tolerant types, but also pay particular attention to the dig a pit which should be deep and include the addition of soil amendment such as compost or mature manure.

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