Easy, eco friendly, free of money and quick ways to improve clay soils for 1 – 3 seasons. Moreover, how to have good harvest on clay right now!

In this article, I will write mostly about clay soil. The difference between these types of soils is in proportion of clay and other components (organic, sand, rocks...) 

Varieties of clay loam soils
How to get a good harvest on Clay immediately!
Stages of improvement of clay soil
 1. Alignment of the landscape
 2. Drainage
 3. Improving soil structure and porosity
   Mineral particles
   Organic materials
   Increasing nutrient level
4. The pH level of the soil - key factor
  How to determine pH level
  Alkali clay loam improving
  Acidic clay loam improving
Protection of soil quality
  Cover crops and green manure

The biggest drawback of clay is its density. Because of high density, clay does not let water or air to pass through to the roots. As a result, even small rain can flood garden and destroy any harvest. In dry weather, clay forms a very hard crust.
The biggest benefits of clay that it is rich in nutrients and after improving, this soil, is very good for any plants.


Varieties of clay loam soils

It is not a problem to define your type of soil. Just make a ball from a piece of wet soil and see the result:
1. If this ball doesn’t hold any shape or falls apart, then you have quite a good and light clay loam. This soil is not in need of much improvement, just organic fertilizers.
2. If the ball is holding its shape, then you have heavier clay loam and it needs to be improved.
3. If you manage to make any figurine (without cracks) then you have a very bad soil - clay. You will have a lot of work to do, to improve it.


How to get a good harvest on Clay immediately!

As I wrote, clay loams could be rated from one of the best soils - light, to the worst sol - heavy clay loam (or just clay soil).

First, you need to decide whether you need to improve all your land or just small places where you're planning to grow plants (only vegetable beds, garden, and flower beds).

If you have a clay soil, you will have to spend not less than 3 years to improve it. In this case, if you want to have a good harvest, it is better to start by making high beds for vegetables and holes for trees filled with good soil. In this case, you will start to have a good harvest before your land will be completely improved.

However, even heavy clay loams could be good enough for some plants! For example:

Fruit trees need some improving (dig a hole, add to it some moisture, sand, black soil, humus and mix this with clay) after that apples, pears, plums, cherries, aronia, quince, figs will grow well and give a good harvest.

Ornamental plants for clay soil: mock orange (philadelphus), dogwood white, barberry, spiraea, shrubby cinquefoil, cotoneaster, Highlander, hops, loosestrife, guelder rose, hawthorn, norway maple. These plants can grow without improving, but better with.


Stages of improvement of clay soil

If you decide to start improving your clay soil, very important to work according the plan!


1. Alignment of the landscape

It is necessary to level the hills and lowlands. This stage is important because of irrigation or rainwater will flow down from the hills into the lowlands. That result lack of water in the hills and flood in the lowlands. Water also will destroy landscape (vegetable and flowerbeds) because of the clay is easily washed away.


2. Drainage

If rains are often in your region, you’ll have to make drainage.

Before work, you need to make one test: 1. Dig a hole with deep about 60 cm. 2. Feel it by water. 3. After one day look at it. If the water is gone, that you only have to make an easy drainage system. If water is in the hole that you have to make a difficult multistage derange system.

The drainage system is big and interesting subject for a separate article!


3. Improving soil structure and porosity

Structure – is a ratio and arrangement of main soil particles (sand, organic, clay, rocks) bond together into structural units. Structural units can be from massive (clay can form very big monolithic piece of soil with zero porosity) to very small (like sand with good porosity).

The term “weak” or “heavy” characterized hardness of structural units.

Porosity - is the term, which characterizes open space in between soil particles and soil structural units. Better porosity – more air and water can get to the roots and be held near the roots.

Worse porosity - air and water can't get to the roots (very small porosity of clay) - or pass through it (very big porosity of sand).

There are 3 types of porosity:

- Macro porosity is the voids between soil structures. More macro-pores - more air and water can pass through the soil... and go away under the influence of gravity. Less macro pores less air and water can pass through the soil to the roots. The smallest macro pores is in the clay.

- Micro porosity is the voids in soil structures, between soli particles. These pores can handle water and nutrients and make it available for plant roots.

- Bio porosity is the spaces made by soil creatures - worms and larvae, or after rotting of dying plant roots. These pores can multiply entrance of air and water to the plant roots.

The best balance between pores - the best conditions for plants

Therefore, clays and heavy clay loams have a very heavy structure with pure rate of macro and bio porosity. But good rate of micro porosity. The best way to improve this type of soil by improving the structure.

To improving structure of this type of soil, we need to add some components, which will break the monolithic structure of clay. This process is not so quick but easy. You will have to add components not less than 3 seasons.

1. Mineral particles such as coal, fired clay (maybe crushed old bricks), sand, claydite (garden gypsum)... These materials make macro pores enough for water and air.

2. Organic materials used for improvement of micro porosity. You can choose any you have: peet moss, cut straw, bark, old leaves and soil from forest or sawdust. Sawdust absorbs nitrogen, so you have to add some fertilizer urea.

4. Increasing nutrient level. Only after (or better during) improvement of soil structure you can add some organic fertilizers. If you do that earlier these components, without oxygen can not be decomposed properly, this only increase acidic level of soil and spoil it. Actually pit moos, cut straw, bark and old leaves is fertilizers, but not good enough!

Compost and or humus is the best way to improve the nutrient level of soil. Compost can be of plant or any manure (but manure compost must be very good, rotten not less than 1 - 2 years of rotting)!


The pH level of the soil - key factor of improvement

The pH level of the soil - one of the most important factor, you should take into account during the work! The best soil for most of the plants is neutral, only some of them feel good in alkali or acid soil. Using different components, you can increase negative pH or make soil more neutral.

How to determine pH level

The easiest way to determine your soil pH is... to ask your neighbor. If they have a garden, they must know.
If there are not, just take small piece of clay, mix it with distilled water and use litmus paper according instructions.
Difference in pH will affect the choice of organic materials for soil improvement. Some of them will increase the alkali level, some acidity's.

Alkali clay loam improving

Materials with acid pH are the best choice for alkali soil improvement!

Peat, pine's or spruces' needles, sawdust and bark of coniferous trees, even topsoil from coniferous forest will be the best material for alkali clay improvement. These components have acid reaction and addition of them will help to make the soil more neutral.

Acidic clay loam improving

If the soil has an acidic reaction any components can be used, but adding some slaked lime will be necessary. Decomposition process in acidic soil is very slow and inefficient, as a result pH level will be lower and lower...


Protection of clay soil quality

pH of water for irrigation must be tested. Better water for irrigation is neutral, if it has too low or high pH it should be improved or changed.

As plants consuming nutrients from the soil, it must be added regularly (better during autumn mixing). The best fertilizer is organic with acid or alkali components.

Cover crops and green manure

There are many useful plants for the soil, named green manure. Some of them make soil more rich, some protect from erosion or drying.

Best green manures are radish, rue, phacelia, rape, mustard... they must be planted in early spring before crops or in late autumn, after harvesting. These plants grow very quickly and after month of growing must be cut and mixed with soil.


Another good solution is mulching. This protects soil from drying, erosion, and plants. Mulch protects soil from summer hot and drying sun and help to winter plants and pests.