The Q&A Archives: preparing clay soil for gardening

Question: We have had a garden for 2 years, but it has not done well. The soil is red clay and very heavy. We want to add peat moss to try to lighten it up, but a friend said we should add lime to clay. What will the combination do to the ph? I tested the soil with a home tester, and the ph is betwen 6.5 and 7 over the area.

Answer: The good news is that most vegetables and flowers will be perfectly happy in a soil pH that is in the 6-7 range. Rather than adding lime, which will help to mellow the soil over a period of months, I would add organic matter to help loosen the clay soil. Start by spreading 4-5 inches of compost, aged manure or shredded leaves over the entire garden bed and digging it in to a depth of 8-10 inches. Level the soil and plant your veggies or flowers, then add another 2-3 inches of organic matter over the bare soil, around the plants. This mulch will help suppress weeds, slow water evaporation and moderate soil temperatures. At the end of the season dig the mulch into the soil and add a fresh layer. After a few years of incorporating organic mulch into the garden your soil will change from clay to nice garden loam.

Best wishes with your garden!

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