Improve Clay Soil: It is a slow process---

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Improve Clay Soil

By wildflowers
May 12, 2013

This isn't a quick fix, but if you have areas where you simply cannot garden due to the heavy clay soil, Gypsum (aka calcium sulfate) can improve the soil structure. There's no need to dig or till the gypsum in. Just add it to the top of the clay soil. The Gypsum will break up the clay on a molecular level, allowing water to permeate through. It's best to apply several applications (over a year or more) before you add your other amendments and finally begin your new garden. We've done this and I think it's worth the time. Gypsum can also be used to remove sodium from saline soils.

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Name: Caroline Scott
Calgary (Zone 4a)
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CarolineScott
Aug 31, 2013 12:58 PM CST
In my yard it seems that it takes about one year,---- for a layer of gypsum to soften the clay so I can maybe get a fork into about one inch.
Yes, it is necessary to repeat the process.
Name: Ann ~Heat zn 9, Sunset
North Fl. (Zone 8b)
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flaflwrgrl
Apr 21, 2014 6:40 PM CST
Can you do this after the fact? I have some areas where there was already a garden (of sorts) here & I have added some plants so I'm wondering if I can still apply this or will it hurt my daylilys & other plants?
I am a strong believer in the simple fact is that what matters in this life is how we treat others. I think that's what living is all about. Not what I've done in my life but how I've treated others.
~~ Sharon Brown ~~



Name: Christine
North East Texas (Zone 7b)
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wildflowers
Apr 22, 2014 6:59 AM CST
I would say yes. Gypsum is a natural mineral containing calcium which is good for your garden plants.
May your life be like a wildflower, growing freely in the beauty and joy of each day --Native American Proverb

Name: Ann ~Heat zn 9, Sunset
North Fl. (Zone 8b)
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flaflwrgrl
Apr 22, 2014 7:08 AM CST
Thank You! ! The area surely needs it. It's like trying to dig rock in some areas b/c the clay is so *clay*!
I am a strong believer in the simple fact is that what matters in this life is how we treat others. I think that's what living is all about. Not what I've done in my life but how I've treated others.
~~ Sharon Brown ~~



Name: Christine
North East Texas (Zone 7b)
Charter ATP Member Birds Organic Gardener Native Plants and Wildflowers Winter Sowing Herbs
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wildflowers
Apr 22, 2014 7:16 AM CST
I know what you mean, Ann! We have lots of clay too! A garden plot doesn't come easy around here!! Hilarious!
May your life be like a wildflower, growing freely in the beauty and joy of each day --Native American Proverb

Name: Ann ~Heat zn 9, Sunset
North Fl. (Zone 8b)
Garden Sages Native Plants and Wildflowers Xeriscape Organic Gardener I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! Garden Ideas: Master Level
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flaflwrgrl
Apr 22, 2014 8:00 AM CST
It's really my 1st time dealing with clay & man, oh, man; I could not believe how hard it was to dig a hole in it! Glare I can dig 7 holes in the places that aren't clay in the same time it takes me to dig 1 hole in the clay! Then the clay sticks to your shovel or spade or whatever & you can't get it off. Plus, it sticking effectively *blunts* your tool. I am at a loss with how to deal with the blasted stuff! Grumbling Grumbling Grumbling Grumbling

Gypsum is definitely on my list! Thumbs up
I am a strong believer in the simple fact is that what matters in this life is how we treat others. I think that's what living is all about. Not what I've done in my life but how I've treated others.
~~ Sharon Brown ~~



Name: Rick Corey
Everett WA 98204 (Zone 8a)
Sunset Zone 5. Koppen Csb. Eco 2f
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RickCorey
Jul 8, 2014 5:29 PM CST
One "trick" to digging clay is to adjust its moisture carefully.

Too dry = too hard = you need a pick.
Too wet = sticky and it compacts permanently

Just the right amount of water makes it less hard and somewhat less sticky, but still a pain to work with.

My preference is to swing a heavy pick, and dig it in chunks a little on the dry side. That way it won't compact into permanent bricks.

I BELIEVE, but can't prove, that organic matter leaching down into a layer of hard clay does soften it gradually, as years of accumulating soluble organics attract soil microbes, insects and worms. I think this because I carve my raised beds out of hard clay, building the root zone down as well as up. After a year or two, the "floor" of these raised beds becomes softer as water drains (very slowly) from the raised bed soil into the clay layer under it.

(I do dig drainage trenches to lower points in the yard so that the bed, the "floor" and the clay layer under it have somewhere to drain TO without relying on the very slow "perk" rate through dense clay.)

Pedogenesis (making soil from dead minerals):

When I'm screening out rocks and roots, the clay has to be a little on the dry side or it will stick together and coat the screen. Not bone dry, or I can't crush it enough to fit through 1/4" hardware cloth.

Then I mix it with some amendments including compost (and fine bark or coarse sand if I have enough). That way, whatever is broken up mixes with the amendments instead of reverting to pudding. NOW, when moistened slightly and crushed and screened again , it might mix in finer clumps with the amendments. If I have enough new soil "in process", I also age it this way and hope that roots and soil life will do a little micro-mixing.

(At this stage, I'm fighting to break up small "clay balls". Sometimes I just set the clay balls aside for later processing, on the theory that they are the purest and meanest clay in my soil.)

I also bought a bag of gypsum (CaSO4), but used it sparingly and saw no difference over a few years. Maybe the improvement was there but I didn't realize it, or I should have used more.
[Last edited by RickCorey - Jul 8, 2014 5:33 PM (+)]
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