Dealing with Clay

Asked September 1, 2019, 7:23 PM EDT

I'm trying to deal with some clay issues when planting and with my lawn. When I plant shrubs, and such, I add material from Lowe's but the clay never really mixes in well and I don't like creating a bowl of water for the plant to sit in. I made a roll of clay, in my hand, that was dense and greater than four inches long before it broke. Also had sod laid and want to soften the clay for the roots. I bought some gynsome, but now I'm seeing it may be better used out west. Could you please give me some guidance for our area. Thanks Pat

Shelby County Kentucky

1 Response

Hello Pat,

When dealing with heavy clay soils, amending with organic matter is the best way to improve the soil's texture. Unfortunately, when adding soil amendment around shrubs, it is almost impossible to avoid creating a bowl for the plant to sit in. The soil outside of the amended area becomes an obstacle for root growth. This causes the roots to circle the hole, behaving almost like a potted plant. The best way to avoid this is to amend the whole area, but that is not always practical. Another option is to create a larger bowl for the shrub to grow in by digging a large hole. For shrubs, a hole three feet in diameter is a good start, but the larger the amended area the better. Mixing clay soil with amendment can be a very difficult task. Even if it is not mixed the best, the pockets of organic matter will still create pathways for the roots to grow and put a little bit of nutrients into the soil. Poorly mixed soil and amendment is not ideal, but it is better than nothing.

For your lawn, Gypsome will improve the soil texture a little bit, but it is not the best option. It is mainly used out west where sodic soils are a common issue. For Kentucky, the best option would be to top dress the lawn with some kind of organic matter such as peat moss or some form of compost. Unlike Gypsome, organic matter will add much needed nutrients to soil while improving its texture. Before top dressing, it is also a good idea to aerate the lawn. This provides areas for the organic matter to enter the soil more quickly. Keep in mind that it may be necessary to top dress several times, depending how poor the soil quality is.

I hope this helps. Feel free to contact your local Extension Office if have any more questions!

-Kyle