Soil - Knowledgebase Question

Anderson, So
Question by Chrome2013
April 25, 2010
I have just moved to SC- I have no clue what to do with this red soil. I'm from the north where it's dark brown rich dirt and I am just at a loss what I can do to change it, if I even can. Please any advice would be greatly appreciated.

Answer from NGA
April 25, 2010


Clay soil has its pros and cons. It hold moisture quite well - actually too well - and it holds nutrients, as well. On the other hand, it doesn't drain very quickly and is almost impossible to rewet once it dries out and cracks. You can improve clay soil with the addition of organic matter but it will take several years before you can turn your clay soil into rich, loamy garden soil. I think it's well worth the effort, though. For small flower beds, just spread 3-4 inches of compost or other organic matter over the bed and dig it in to a depth of 8-10 inches. Level the soil and plant your plants then cover over the bare soil between the plants with 2-3 inches of compost. This mulch will help suppress weeds and slow water evaporation. At the end of the growing season dig the mulch material into the soil and add a new layer. After a few years of this annual process, you'll end up with rich garden loam.

Not only will organic matter improve the structure internal drainage of the soil, it will also loosen and aerate it. 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. The good news is that 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 (Zones 5-9) Asclepias tuberosa Butterfly Weed (Zones 4-9) Aster (various) Aster (Zones 4-8) Coreopsis Tickseed (Zones 4-8) Echinacea purpurea Coneflower (Zones 3-9) Eryngium yuccifolium Sea Holly (Zones 5-10) Helianthus angustifolius Swamp Sunflower (Zones 6-9) Helianthus x laetiflorus False Sunflower (Zones 5-9) Heliopsis helianthoides Ox Eye (Zones 4-9) Hemerocallis Daylily (Zones 3-10) Liatris pycnostachya Kansas Gayfeather (Zones 4-9) Liatris spicata Blazing Star, Gayfeather (Zones 4-9) Monarda fistulosa Wild Bee Balm (Zones 3-9) Ratibida pinnata Drooping Coneflower (Zones 3-10) Rudbeckia hirta Black-eyed Susan, Gloriosa Daisy (Zones 3-7) Sedum 'Autumn Joy' (Zones 3-10) Silphium integrifolium Prairie Dock (Zones 4-7) Silphium laciniatum Compass Plant (Zones 5-9) Silphium perfoliatum Cup Plant (Zones 5-9) Solidago Goldenrod (zones 5-9) Vernonia noveboracensis Ironweed (Zones 5-9) Yucca filamentosa Adam's Needle (Zones 5-10) Ornamental Grasses Suited for Clay Soils Acorus gramiineus Grassy-leaved Sweet Flag (Zones 10-11) Andropogon gerardi Big Bluestem (Zones 2-7) Elymus canadensis Canadian Wild Rye (Zones 3-8) Miscanthus sinensis Eulalia Grass (Zones 4-9) Panicum virgatum Switch Grass (Zones 5-9) Pennisetum (various) Fountain Grass (Zones 6-9) Sorghastrum nutans Indian Grass, Wood Grass (Zones 5-8) Spartina pectinata Prairie Cord Grass (Zones 4-7).

Some shrubs that grow well in clay soils include Amelanchier (Serviceberry), Aronia (Chokeberry), Korean barberry, Siberian peashrub, Tatarian dogwood, Pagoda dogwood, Dwarf bush-honeysuckle, Elaegnus, Forsythia, Witch Hazel, Viburnum and Winterberry. Best wishes with your landscape!

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