The Q&A Archives: Improving Clay Soil

Question: The soil in my yard is mostly clay. I would like to improve the condition but I'm not sure what and/or how much to add. Can you please tell me which hosta is the first to come up or if light conditions have something to do with this. Thank you. Rae G. Sheffield Lake, OH

Answer: Soil improvement takes time, but it pays off in the long run. Clay soil is generally high in nutrients, but without organic matter to lighten it, those nutrients are hard for plants to access. Work the soil only if it isn't wet, othewise you'll end up with a brick-patio for a yard! Incorporate organic matter (compost, shredded leaves, grass clippings, aged manure, etc.) with a tiller and grow a cover crop of some sort, such as red clover, which has a root system that digs deep and will help break up the clay. If you want to do this in stages, you can created raised beds on top of the existing soil using the materials mentioned above. Move the beds from year to year, and eventually you'll have improved soil over your entire yard. Gardener's Supply Company (; ph# 800-863-1700) has a free bulletin titled "Simple Steps to Better Soil" that you should find helpful as well. For early hosta varieties, I suggest giving Savory's Gardens a call (5300 Whiting Ave., Edina, MN 55439-1249; ph# 612/941-8755). They are the experts in this field!

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