improve clay soil - Knowledgebase Question

mayflower, Ar
Question by bppreston
March 5, 2010
Our soil at our new home is clay, hard as a rock and cracks in hot weather, or holds water for weeks after rain. No shrubs or flowers have survived. We want a garden, but the turnip greens wouldn't grow.We wanted to plant pecan trees, but don't want to waste money if they won't grow. What kind of shrubs,trees,plants,vegetables if any will grow in this horrible soil HELP, thanks

Answer from NGA
March 5, 2010


The best thing you can do for a clay soil is to add composted organic matter, which will improve the structure and internal drainage and aeration of the soil. Do this any time you plant or replant a garden bed. Add a couple of inches of compost and work it in deeply. You might also consider building raised planting beds which will not only make the soil easier to work but will also improve drainage. Choosing plants to grow in clay soil takes some discretion. Certainly, plants that need a well drained soil are not going to be happy growing in clay. But don't give up! There are plants that not only tolerate clay soil, many will also help break up and improve its texture. Rugged native prairie plants have the constitution to hold up in clay. Tap rooted plants can get deep enough so that their roots don't rot and they break up the texture of clay on their way down.

Some plants that tolerate clay soils include the following: Amsonia Blue Star, Asclepias tuberosa (Butterfly Weed), Aster, Coreopsis, Echinacea purpurea (Coneflower), Eryngium yuccifolium (Sea Holly), Helianthus angustifolius (Swamp Sunflower), Helianthus x laetiflorus (False Sunflower), Heliopsis helianthoides (Ox Eye Daisy), Hemerocallis (Daylily), Liatris pycnostachya (Kansas Gayfeather), Liatris spicata (Blazing Star), Monarda fistulosa (Wild Bee Balm), Ratibida pinnata (Drooping Coneflower), Rudbeckia hirta (Black-eyed Susan), Gloriosa Daisy, Sedum 'Autumn Joy', Silphium integrifolium (Prairie Dock), Silphium laciniatum (Compass Plant), Silphium perfoliatum (Cup Plant), Solidago (Goldenrod), Vernonia noveboracensis (Ironweed), Yucca filamentosa (Adam's Needle), Sweet Flag, Big Bluestem, Eulalia Grass , Switch Grass, Fountain Grass, Amelanchier (Serviceberry), Chokeberry, Korean barberry , Siberian peashrub, Buttonbush, Tatarian dogwood, Pagoda dogwood, Grey dogwood, Red osier dogwood, Dwarf bush-honeysuckle, Russian olive, Silverberry, Forsythia x 'Meadowlark', Hamamelis virginiana (Witch hazel), Winterberry), Junipers of all kinds, Ninebark, Potentilla, Rhamnus frangula (Glossy buckthorn), Rosa rugosa, willow, elderberry spirea, White snowberry, Lilac, arborvitae and Viburnums. Best wishes with your landscape!

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