JOHN’S JOURNAL

How To Improve Clay Soil

As we know the Ribble Valley soil certainly grows plants well, but there’s no denying it’s very claggy and clay-lilke! Digging over can be a tiresome task, turning the clods over, breaking them up and then trying to get young plants established in it. What’s the trick to improving it? Well let’s have a look at how you can easily improve your soil and turn it into something which falls apart when you turn it over with a fork.

The good thing to start with is that clay soil is very high in nutrients, but it simply lacks air particles meaning it doesn’t necessarily drain or behave very well with moisture, it’s either too wet and squelchy or it dries out in the Summer and turns to concrete, it has a high clay content of course making it stick together when you squeeze it in your hands and this is what happens in the ground when it is left to settle. So firstly when looking to improve your soil you need to look at what is growing in the bed first, plants can be trimmed back at this time of year and still transplanted, leaving beds and borders emptier ready for a good digging over, shrubs can be dug around and if you happen to have any perennial weeds these are best dealt with firstly with a herbicide to kill off any root systems so you don’t accidently propagate them when breaking them up.

The digging over is the tricky bit but you just need to persist, then once you have dug it all over and broken up all the soil as best as you can you then need to add a layer of organic matter. For this you can use rotted compost from the compost heap, spent mushroom compost which is rotted down straw, or old farm-yard manure which is at least 12 months old is also good. All of these are full or fibrous material, lots of air and they also have an amount of food as well to help in addition to the nutrients already in your clay soil. A 3-4 inch (7-10cm) layer is perfect and you spread this across the bed and then set too digging it over, this is the imperative bit and will hugely increase the workability of the soil, preventing it sticking back together and making it a lot more friable and the perfect place for new plants to establish a strong root system. Then in the summer when it’s dry the air pockets make the soil more absorbable to water, and it lets water pass through it better in the Winter, and there you have it, after planting remember to cap off with bark mulch to reduce weeding and after 4 years this also gets dug in and replenished, again improving the soil structure.

 

QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

Here you can send in and find out the answers to those gardening problems

If my soil isn’t deep enough what do I do?

For flower beds you need 30-40cm of depth to grow a variety of perennials and shrubs in, for grass you need 10-15cm. If it isn’t deep enough for flower beds the best bet is to raise them out of the ground, you can either use a timber edging which can then potentially double up as a bench seat or you can build them out of stone or rendered blockwork. This also gives another dimension to the garden so embrace the level change

Can I mix in multi purpose compost to clay soil?

You can happily mix in any old compost out of your pots to help break it up, but for new planting stick with rotted organic matter as it enriches the soil and really helps new planting get going. Multi purpose compost is a very lifeless compost and only suitable to open up soil based John Innes composts in post or used on its own for bedding plants with some slow release fertiliser mixed in.

My flowerbeds are very wet. What can I do?

Either embrace it with plants that like wet soil and even consider incorporating a wildlife pond, or it will be down to the drainage as to why it is so wet so extending a drain into the bottom of the flowerbed will then help it drain, make sure the drain is deep down below the topsoil layer and into the clay subsoil layer. This way the water that cannot pass through the subsoil will find the drain and then get away.

 

JOBS FOR THE WEEKEND

 

Plant of The Week

Camassia leichtlinii caerulea

A delightful bulbous perennial which is perfect for either threading through flowerbeds or also growing amongst wildflowers. Producing single stems of mid blue flowers which clump form in time, beautiful against the oranges or geums or softly combined with whites.