How to Improve Clay Soil for Lawns (Six Effective Ways)

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All gardeners dread having clay soil in their yards. However, clay soil shouldn’t stop you from gardening, or make you give up on certain areas, or cause you to worry that your plants won’t grow and thrive. There are many ways to improve clay soil for lawns.

Six effective ways to improve clay soil for lawns are:

1. Aerate clay soil lawn.
2. Contour your lawn.
3. Add soil amendments.
4. Add mulch.
5. Plant cover crops.
6. Build raised beds.

How to Improve Clay Soil for Lawns

Here are six clever and efficient ways on how to improve clay soil for lawns. The more of these ways you understand how to put into effect, the more successfully your soil and plants can grow in your garden.

1. Aerate Clay Soil Lawn

Aeration means injecting air pockets into clay soil to break up compaction and invite microorganisms into the soil. It is best to do core aeration before topdressing the oil.

Core Aeration

Core aeration entails pulling out soil about ¾- inch wide by 3-inches long. An aerator then works on the grass in different directions. Core aeration doesn’t mean you’re over-aerating your lawn.

Aeration is one of the best ways on how to improve clay soil for lawns because when clay soil is not properly prepared, there will still be a sheet of clay underneath soil that has been loosened or amended.

Aerate your garden soil at least twice a year before planting – at the end of fall and in the spring.

Tilling

Some people think that tilling the soil can improve clay soil. Tilling makes clay soil more compacted. A one-time tilling can be a good aerator when the soil is moist but not waterlogged.

2. Contour your Lawn

Contour the terrain of your garden by creating alternately low valleys and high peaks. Shapes can be raised beds or terraces that can help manage or slow down water.

Lawns with clay soil easily become compressed. Contours fight gravity and all drainage issues.

The best time to build contours is when the soil is moist but not waterlogged. Building contours when the soil is soggy will make it even more compacted.

3. Add Soil Amendments

The best time to add amendments to the soil is immediately after aeration. When it rains, the amendments will be washed into the holes and soften the clay soil.

Here are some elements you can add to clay soil.

Compost

Compost made from kitchen scraps can condition the soil very well. It can also improve drainage.

Leaf Mold

Leaf mold consists of decomposed leaves. They are rich and considered ‘black gold’ for your garden soil. Leaves should have decomposed for a year or two to be considered leaf mold.

Green Manure

You can make green manure by cutting green plant matter from your garden. You then spread the green manure evenly over clay soil. Green manure is a nutrient-rich amendment.

Livestock Manure

This refers to animal wastes.

All kinds of composted manures are great soil conditioners.

Manure application should not be done on waterlogged soil or frozen soil. This is to make sure that valuable nutrients from the manure do not get washed away.

Worm Castings

Worm castings are a kind of homemade organic matter. They are high in humus, nitrogen, and minerals.

Adding sand is one of the first ideas that come to mind upon discovering clay soil in your yard. But, never add sand on clay soil because sandy soil and clay soil are complete opposites and will not make a good mix.

Adding sand to clay soil will not improve your soil, instead, it will create concrete-like soil.

Instead of attempting to convert clay soil to sand, add as much mulch as possible to improve the structure of clay soil.

Save yourself a headache, and never add sand to clay soil.

Adding amendments to clay soil is not quick nor an easy task.

It may take years before soil amendments can overcome the issues that come with having clay soil in your garden.

Being able to grow healthy plants, is the best reward.

4. Add Mulch

If you will not be planting a cover plant, add some mulch after aerating and adding soil amendments.

Remember, bare clay soil will be breed more compacted soil.

Shredded leaves are one of the best mulches because they feed the soil well. Straw used to be a good mulch material but can be polluted with herbicides.

Instead, you can opt for alfalfa hay because it is a legume that is not sprayed with herbicides.

Add mulch heavily in hot and dry conditions so you can protect the soil from fungal issues during the rainy season.

5. Plant Cover Crops

Cover crops are planted for a different purpose instead of for consumption. Cover crops help embed soil amendments deep into the soil clay because they root downward and thickly.

While reducing soil erosion, cover crops enrich the soil.

When the roots of crop covers grow, they will act as a living soil amendment.

When the whole plant is embedded into the soil, it can add organic material to the soil.

They will also make its roots create little waterways for air to get through and water to drain well.

Choose cover crops depending on the climate in your areas, soil, and your style of gardening.

While there are many cover crops to choose from, nitrogen-fixing crops like the red clover and vetch are particularly beneficial.

You will also have to till and cut some cover crops before planting new crops.

If you have heavy clay soil, you can plant daikon radish as a cover crop. This plant can grow thick and has very long roots. This plant can also break up compacted soil.

Summer cover crops should be planted in late spring so they can attract beneficial insects. Plant fall cover crops in early fall or late summer so they can grow flowers for pollinators and fill empty spaces in your garden.

You should chop cover crops a few weeks before planting if they did not die on their own yet.

6. Build Raised Beds

If you do not have the time and patience to invest in how to improve clay soil for lawns, you can build raised beds on top of your clay soil and fill them up with new, high-quality soil.

The soil in your raised beds will, over time, mix with the clay soil underneath.

After working on any of the ways on how to improve clay soil for laws, avoid walking in your garden bed. This will cause new compaction and you will have to start all over again.

The best way to avoid walking in your garden beds is to build narrow ones so you can easily walk on all sides. You can, however, build garden beds in any size you wish if you don’t walk in your now rich and pampered soil.

Clay soil has many benefits if you allow it to reach its full potential. With a little effort and some creative ways, you can have healthy and well-maintained clay soil where you can grow healthy plants.

What is Clay Soil?

Soil texture is one of the characteristics that determine the quality of the soil. Soils are classified as silt, sand, or clay. The best type of soil is loam which is an even mixture of silt, sand, and clay.

Soil texture is technically measured based on particle size. There is a way, however for homeowners to determine whether their yard has clay soil.

Dig some topsoil and wet it until it becomes damp. Squeeze the soil. You should be able to squeeze the soil without water dripping out. After squeezing, open your hand and examine the soil.

Silt soil will initially hold its shape but will fall apart when you punch it. Sandy soil will crumble.

Clay soil, on the other hand, will have these characteristics:

Clay feels smooth when rubbed between your thumb and finger.

You can shape a moist fragment of clay into a ball and then into s sausage shape without it cracking.

Clay feels slightly dense and sticky.

When you roll clay soil into a clay sausage and its moist surface will be shiny when you rub it, it is likely that you have what is called heavy clay.

Pros and Cons of Clay

Why do gardeners dread clay soil?

• Clay can easily get compacted and reduces the amount of oxygen reaching the roots.

• It is difficult for roots to be established because it is hard to penetrate clay soil.

• Clay absorbs and traps water for a long time, thus, creating puddles and problems with drainage.

• Clay soil is alkaline, thus, less iron is absorbed by plants

• When dry, clay becomes rock hard

On the other hand, the pros of Clay include:

• Clay has great water-holding capabilities

• Clay can be extremely fertile

• Clay soil needs less irrigation and fertilizer

All is not lost when you have clay soil in your yard. You simply need to know how to improve clay soil for lawns.

Final Thoughts

As you can see, while it is frustrating to have clay soil in your yard, there are a lot of ways on how to improve clay soils for lawns.

After you’ve tried any of the methods discussed above, you can confidently plant anything in your garden. With the right gardening techniques, your plants will grow and thrive.

To ensure it doesn’t become clay soil again, add topsoil made of organic matter every year. Avoid tilling and compacting the soil. More importantly, occasionally, do a soil test.

Now, when your friends or neighbors complain about clay soil lawns, you’ll be able to encourage and advise them. You’ll know what to say.

Jenny Marie
Tribal Writer

Edited By
Patricia Godwin

Patricia Godwin

Patricia has many years of experience as a content writer on various subjects, but her first love is gardening. She’s never met a plant she didn’t like and, consequently, she writes about every type of plant you can think of. Once an avid gardener with a herb garden, a succulent rockery, and a rose garden – to mention a few. Nowadays, she’s constantly on the move searching for interesting plants to bring to your attention; and explain to you all the details you need to grow, care and maintain these plants.

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