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Clay Soils can be difficult to work with year-round but with a little knowledge and effort, they can be an asset to your garden and reward your hard work.
As heavy clay soils are dense, they can easily become waterlogged in winter and in summer if exposed to prolonged periods of dry weather can become very hard and crack. Therefore it is advisable to try and improve the structure and texture of the soil by mixing in some variety or varieties of organic matter.
Materials such as composted bark, straw and long manure can help to open the clay out and add nutrients. You can also add compost and garden waste such as leaf litter, general garden and household compost that will help, particularly if you do so alongside using coarser material such as manure.
If your clay soil is established with plants or trees and bushes and you can’t fully dig it out to improve it, you should make sure it is well covered with a generous layer of mulch such as garden compost or leaf mould or a high-quality topsoil. This will help to ensure the clay stays moist in the summer and will add more beneficial nutrients. Once laid, don’t try to dig it in and over a year or two you should see an improvement in your soil.
There are some techniques you can and should use with clay soil to get the best results for your plants.
When planting, make sure you have prepared the planting hole properly by breaking up the bottom and sides of the hole with a hand fork or pitchfork so you are not creating a reservoir for water to collect in and to help routes better establish themselves.
When planting in clay, try to avoid doing so in later autumn and winter when it is hard to ensure there is no waterlogging which could kill young plants in particular.
Clay soils are suited to a wide range of plants and trees. Most trees in the UK are fine in clay soils for example. Trees like Oak and Ash are fine in clay soil and apple trees will also fair well. Conifers like Pine will grow well as will a range of decorative trees.
Shrubs can grow very well in clay soils with some ideally suited to it, for example, hydrangea’s. Roses and a range of climbers are also known to grow well in clay soils, but we would suggest improving the soil with organic material first to give them more nutrients and to improve the structure.