Growing plants in red clay soil

General    None Given

Just moved to Arkansas , and all my soil is red clay. How do you get any thing to grow?

Posted by: Fred E. Woelk Jr (1 point) Fred E. Woelk Jr
Posted: March 30, 2014


Clay can be very productive. It holds water well and is high in minerals. However, dense clay can be hard for young plants to get a start in and isn't very good for root vegetables.

Incorporating compost and other organic material into the soil by tilling, double digging or hand mixing is the fastest way to get there, but interferes with health soil tilth. (Assuming you have it in the first place.)

The slow way is top dressing with compost and mulches and letting the soil microfauna do the work, but this can take a very long time. Planting really tough root vegetable plants can help speed this up. Don't pull and eat them, let them contribute to the soil as they decay. But the slow way is at least a year to see improvement.

Once you have a garden established, continue to top dress with mulches to keep the soil improvement going and avoid tilling. Tilling clay tends to create very hard surfaces and balls which are difficult for roots to penetrate.

Posted by: Nicole Castle Brookus (21 points) Nicole Castle Brookus
Posted: March 30, 2014

Clay soil is nice because it holds water, and nutrients quite well. However, it's often too hard and dense to grow things. I would suggest adding lots of compost and organic matter, and tilling this into the soil. Peat moss is especially good at giving the soil a better texture, but it can make the soil more acidic, so be careful. Unfortunately, one application of compost/peat moss, is not going to remedy the soil permanently. Usually such additives have to be reapplied each year, so a rototiller might be a wise investment! Over time, the soil will become looser, so not as much organic matter will have to be added. Another option is to use raised beds. If you build them at a medium depth, you could till some of the native soil into a large overlayer of better compost amended soil. Red soil also indicates that the soil has been heavily leached by rainwater, so you might want to do a soil test to make sure that you have enough nutrients in the soil for your plants. Adding compost will also help any nutrient deficiencies.
Hope that helps!

Posted by: Heliantha (1 point) Heliantha
Posted: March 31, 2014

We have red clay here in TN too. It can be tough to work with, and like glue on boots, it will also permanently stain light color clothes.
It does grow things quite well, but to make it easier, you should pick a garden spot with a slight slope, not a "bottom" as we say, where water will stand and collect. The crown of a hill is nice too.
Start adding compost and manure as much as you can as often as you can. Bed down the garden for the winter with a deep layer of manure and compost under hay mulch. Since we don't have much "brittle time" in winter, the decomosing goes along slower, but quite well. It will be incorporated by spring.
I would be hesitatant to add any sand type amendments, as sand +clay = what they use to make brick clay, and you don't want to make the soil harder than it is.
Please check your pH as red clay tends to be acidic in my area, I have to lime it.

Posted by: Jen H (1 point) Jen H
Posted: August 31, 2014

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