The Q&A Archives: Improving Clay Soil

Question: I have lived in this house 4 years and the existing plants do pretty well, but new plantings don't. I have had success planting pumpkin seeds, various squashes and sunflowers. Most other things die after planting. I got a soil test kit and it showed almost no phosporus, nitrogen or potash in the soil. I dont know how the soil could be so depleted but? I have sprayed often with Miracle grow and it helps to an extent. The soil is heavy, dry clay. The house has been here since the 50's and was once an orchard. Any other tips? Thanks.

Answer: Nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium are essential elements for healthy plant growth. Using Miracle-Gro will supply the foliage and roots of your plants with needed food, but it won't improve poor soil. To make your garden a more hospitable place for plants, you'll need to improve the soil. Clay is made up of very fine particles, and packs down hard, eliminating air. The best thing to do to loosen and lighten clay soil is to add lots of organic material like compost, well-rotted manure, grass clippings, leaves, etc. This allows the moisture to be absorbed and held by the soil for use by roots, and also improves drainage, allowing air to enter the soil making it more hospitable for worms and other "earth-healthy" creatures.

Clay soils are often acidic; the soil test should tell you if, and how much, lime you need to add to raise the pH. It takes some time to improve clay soils, it's worth the effort!

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