Why Do I Like Clay Soil?

Garden Clippings for November 30, 2019

The two of us were sitting around the fire pit when Ben said “Dad, you’ll look forward to the day you move from this place and live somewhere on sandy soil.  You will be rid of this clay forever!”

“Not so quickly, Ben,” I shot back.  “This clay is not bad stuff.”

Clay has its drawbacks, for sure.  Planting flowers and vegetables can be hard work.  Riding the lawn mower on bumpy grass is enough to knock your teeth out and working in the garden after a rain can be a muddy mess.  But for the rest, clay soil is quite agreeable.

While my friends who live on sandy soil water their grass and invest in sprinkler systems, I can leave the water hose in the garage.  Clay soil has far greater water holding capacity than sandy soil.

Planting trees can be a challenge in clay soils, especially when digging holes during the dry weather months of July and August.  And for the first year after planting, growth of new trees can be sluggish.  But once the roots of trees are established, they grow like rabbits.  They will grow far stronger and quicker than trees planted in sandy soil.

Grass, flowers, trees and shrubs don’t need as much fertilizer as those planted in sandy soil.  If you count the particles of a pound of clay soil and compare that to the particles of sandy soil, you will find a huge difference.  Clay particles are tiny and can therefore hold nutrients stronger and longer.

Transplanting anything in clay soil is a cinch.  Digging the hole might be more work, but I have found that plants that are dug up and moved in clay soil seldom miss a beat.  Water well after planting to eliminate air pockets and you are away to the races.

Plants love clay soil.  Top of the clay-loving list are Cedars and the healthy Black Cedars I have growing in our landscape are proof.  Other clay loving plants are Locust, Dogwood, Willow, Flowering Crab, Tulip tree, Spruce and Linden.

Trees such as White Pine, Rose of Sharon, Magnolia and many Maple types that prefer sandy soil, can easily be planted in clay soil provided they are planted on a slight mound where the excess water can drain away.

Those who complain about clay soil would be wise to amend their soil by adding compost, peat moss or any products rich in soil microbes to improve texture.  Avoid compaction by waiting a day or two after a rain to work in the garden.