The Q&A Archives: Clay For Soil

Question: We are now planning to do landscaping at our new home. We have recently purchased and planted a few rose plants, lilac bush, and a burning bush. A few of these plants are doing great, and some are not so great. I would like to know what type of plant will grow hardy in our very hard and rocky clay soil. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

Answer: There are many plants that should do well for you. I would suggest you work with a trained nurseryman or your local county extension to analyze the growing conditions where you want to plant and identify plants that will do well there. For instance, you need to check not only the soil type but also if it is especially wet or dry in that spot, if it is windy (especially in winter), and how much sun or shade it receives and at what time of day. (The plants you named all need full sun all day long and a well drained location so would not do well in a damp low spot, or in shade.) Also check how much space you have for each plant to grow and mature over time. Finally, make sure the plants are considered winter hardy into USDA winter hardiness zone 6. Using those criteria, you should be assured of successful plant selections.

When you plant in clay type soils, dig the hole with rough sides rather than smooth sides, to encourage rooting outward into the surrounding soil. Make sure to plant at the same depth or slightly higher than the plant grew in the container. Loosen any encircling roots at planting and direct them outward.

After planting, the most important thing you can do is to water correctly. To know if you need to water, dig into the soil with your finger. If it is still damp, do not water yet. When you do need to water, apply it slowly and thoroughly so it soaks down deep to the deepest roots. Wait until the next day, then dig down to see how far the water went (it moves slowly in clay); sometimes this is surprising.

Finally, keep your plants mulched with about three inches of organic mulch year round. It should be placed in a flat layer over the root area and should not touch the stem or trunk of the plant. Fluff it and replenish it as needed to keep it at that depth. This will help keep down weeds, reduce watering needs, and also feed the soil as it breaks down slowly over time.

I hope this helps you with your planning.

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