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Embracing Clay Soil

Perhaps I should say, learning to get along with clay soil. Clay soil has advantages: it’s nutrient rich and is fabulous for water loving plants that thrive in soil that retains moisture. But with perks comes the struggles. Clay soil can hold too much water: resulting in plant loss, especially in the winter when the soil stays too wet and cold. Come spring, clay soil is slow to warm up, delaying plant growth. It also compacts easily. Compacted soil inhibits good air and water circulation within the soil and around plants’ roots. Clay-rich soil can crack deep breaks forming when it’s hot and dry, and turn it into a sludgy, muddy mess when too wet. 

So, what to do? 

I like to enjoy my time in the gardens: why else would I have so many plants? To that end I prefer to amend my soil. I may add copious amounts of mushroom compost in a new shade garden, or I may work in pine fines if I want to promote air and water circulation. Watering is far easier with well amended soil. The water penetrates the soil with ease, rather than pooling and running off. I can also weed with little effort. Yes, weeding can be relaxing and enjoyable if the soil releases the weed, roots and all.

Personal Note: In areas with heavy clay, when I dig, I often see few signs of life. While many say we should never disturb the soil structure, I have found that after carefully amending the soil, followed by minimal walking on the new soil, it has more life. I see more bugs, worms, and such in the soil. I see more birds digging about the garden and my plants thrive: the same plants that are supporting native insects and birds.

Final Thought: If your garden is a joy to work in, you will be more apt to tend to it, securing its longevity and good health. You may even want to expand your gardens to further benefit our native pollinators and birds. That’s reason enough to take the time to prep the soil, the foundation of your new garden, before planting.

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