The Q&A Archives: clay dirt

Question: I live in Charlotte NC and there is lots of red clay soil. What is a good way to ready the soil for flowers like Roses and pansys? I am a novice

Answer: Clay soil can grow a terrific garden. The main concerns are that it does not drain well and then once dry, can be difficult to remoisten. It also will compact and harden like concrete if worked when it is overly wet. This means that there may only be limited windows of opportunity when it can be worked. If it sticks to your shovel, it is too wet. If it is too hard to dig into, it is too dry. Generally speaking I would suggest adding generous amounts of organic matter such as good quality compost, rotted leaves, well aged stable manure and bedding, spoiled straw, or similar materials. Loosen the soil and work in the organic matter; a layer six inches thick is not too much. You may also want to add some coarse sand (builders' sand, not the fine play sand) or some fine grit, maybe an inch. Gardening on a slight slope or using a slightly raised bed can also help. Then take care to add organic matter on an ongoing basis by using an organic mulch year round, this will help feed the soil as it breaks down over time. Your soil improvement program will be a long term one but will reward you in years to come.

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