No Till, Amendments

Asked October 19, 2018, 5:15 PM EDT

So, I understand the concept of "no till", but if you clay soil that doesn't drain, don't you need to dig out some of the clay and add amendment it with compost, peat moss, top soil for better drainage? I don't have heavy equipment or much help to do this.

Charles County Maryland

6 Responses

We don't want to just assume, but are you hoping to grow vegetables? How large an area?
Has your soil always had drainage problems or just this year while we have had such incredible rain? If you dig a hole a foot deep, does it fill with water? If you fill it with water, it should drain within a day. Given your area, perhaps you have a high water table?
See this page on soil:
This tells you more on soil amendment. You don't remove clay, but incorporate organic material.
You definitely don't want to work or dig in wet soil as that can hurt the structure.

If the soil in your sunny area where you want to grow vegetables does not drain, it may be time to consider raised beds or container gardening. Here is some information on that:

If you meant that you are trying to grow ornamental shrubs and flowers, you would think about installing a rain garden that you put in a low area, filled with plants that can thrive in wet conditions.



Here is a photo of the area that doesn't drain well. We had bushes planted there for 20 years. The same 7 or 8 bushes in the middle kept dying while the bushes planted further up front and further back flourished and grew over 10 ft tall. So, what did we do? We kept replacing the bushes! After completing our Master Gardening course last spring, my husband finally pulled up all the bushes. The 7 or 8 holes in the middle filled with water, and didn't drain for weeks!! Yureka... we figured our bushes got root rot! So, we could place the plants that like the wet in the middle. But, we have a huge Deer problem, and this area is in full sun. I find that most of the rain garden plants like part to full shade and aren't very Deer resistant. So, I thought if I have my husband dig up the middle section and add in compost, top soil, and raise up the area with additional top soil and compost on top, that would rectify the problem. But, cause more weeds for us to pull.


This second picture is my raised fenced vegetable gardens. Did I mention the humongous Deer problem?!!

We will be happy to look at your photos but we did not receive them. You may have to upload the photos to your computer. You can attach your photos to this reply.


Sorry, embedded photos in text. I have now attached the same - thanks!

It is not forbidden to till a garden--it's more like a trade-off. Tilling disrupts and kills the healthy soil microorganisms you want in your soil, but gardeners may need to do it once to correct a severe problem.

That said, you don't have to till. You may want to approach your vegetable and ornamental beds very differently.

You could work soil amendments into the raised beds, since they are smaller and it's a more manageable job. You could also just scratch up the surface and just layer on or raise the height with soil amendments in the raised beds.

The shrub bed it so large, you can plant a mix of rain garden plants in the wettest areas and plants that like better drainage in the dryer areas. That would not require digging the entire bed. Each planting hole can include some soil amendments. Make the planting holes wide, but not deeper than the plant's container. The plant's roots will eventually extend past the planting hole anyway, so ultimately it must be able to handle the native soil conditions around it.

Deer are a huge problem in most of Maryland. (Support hunters and managed community/park hunts.) You may need to fence the shrub bed temporarily while the shrubs are small, until they get good sized. Once they get over deer's heads, they tend to leave shrubs alone. Winterberry, for instance, when mature will be left alone. A shrub border of tall shrubs is easiest.

Though your shrub border is in full sun, if it runs somewhat east-west, the shrubs will shade each other.


Thanks so much... this was very helpful!!