clayey soil

madabouteu(8A - central Alabama)April 10, 2006

OK, I am in Gadsden, though not permanently here until June. The soil is clayey, though a rich brown in color, quite a change from the rich back loam of New Orleans! How should I treat the soil to make it more workable? What plants would grow best in it? TIA

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If it's brown it's not a clayey as you think. Most true clay soils here are either yellow or red and even they are more productive than most people think. Their major problem is they turn water more than they absorb and therefore dry out fast, and get very hard. Everyone is going to tell you compost first then compost second, and I agree with them but it also helps to add some sand.
What part of Gad do you live? I'm in Riddles Bend area of Rainbow City.

    Bookmark   April 10, 2006 at 10:03AM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

I'm afraid that I will disagree heartily in regards to adding sand. You would need to incorporate an enormous amount of sand to create porosity rather than cements out of a clayey soil.

But a little bit of organic matter will go a long way! OM, when icorporated into any soil, acts much like a sponge. In a clayey soil, OM creates those much needed larger pore spaces, as well as an improved environment for the crucial microbes that make our soils function properly. In a sandy soil, OM provides a water holding capacity.

You organic amendments can be almost anything...I like to use aged and finely milled bark chips. Old leaf litter, grass clippings, compost, etc. Too much rototilling is detrimental to soil structure, but you will need to get some of the OM in new planting beds, at least once. After that, maintaining a good organic mulch will probably be all that you need to do. The worms, if you let them, will do the annual tilling for you. Frequent tilling destroys the permanent worm channels.

The mulch will allow water to infiltrate the soil surface, rather than run off the surface as tedp2 commented on. Soil moisture will be much slower to evaporate from a mulched surface, too. It will also buffer against soil temperature extremes.

I've been in Alabama nearly 4 years and have been much pleased with the results of my horticultural efforts in our (RED) clay soil. You will have to learn how to water (and NOT to water) and fertilize a little differently, but I think that you will be pleasantly surprised. Clay soils do not equate to problems.

Just let organic matter become a part of your soil system.

    Bookmark   April 10, 2006 at 2:32PM
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I swear I responded to this post yesterday. I have lived in Montgomery my whole life, 30+ years. I have had red dirt and I am now living with grey clay that sometimes has white or yellow marbeling. Red dirt/clay is MUCH nicer. Red dirt is almost always acidic. Grey clay/prairie soil is usually alkaline. I will concur with adding sand. Adding organic matter is fine and easy to add to your planting hole. But, it doesn't last forever and you are then left with solid clay. After you have plants in the ground, it is much harder to add organic matter to your soil. Worms can ony do so much. Mulching will improve the top few inches of your soil, but your roots will still be sitting in clay. I like to add a bucket or two of sand to my planting holes along with some organic matter when I plant.

There are several things that will grow well in clay without having to do much amending. Cannas and grasses do very well. I've had good luck with Colcocasia, but I do amend my planting holes before I plant these.

Good luck,

    Bookmark   April 11, 2006 at 12:59PM
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alex_z7(7 AL)

I once found a list somewhere that listed good plants for clay; maybe if you try a search on it you can find something. I do remember that the mahonia (also called Oregon Grape, I believe) does well in clay. But there is a whole realm of possibilities, so do not despair over clay.

    Bookmark   April 11, 2006 at 2:45PM
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catbird(z7 AL)

Sand will work well in clay soil if you use the course construction sand, not fine sandbox type. I also live in Gadsden and decided several years ago to do a large border garden. In late summer, I put lots of layers of newspaper over the grass (and weeds!), covered that with a thick layer of hardwood (decomposes faster than pine) chips delivered by a tree cutter, and let it sit for 6 months or so till the grass and weeds died and the wood and newspaper decomposed. Then I spread a truck load of coarse sand over it and my husband worked it all into the soil with a rototiller. I now have wonderful soil! It's that "moist, but well drained soil" the gardening catalogues tell you to plant everything in. I add more mulch every year and let it compost on the garden. Weeds are easy to pull, too. Now if I just had time to work in it like I'd like to . . . .

    Bookmark   April 17, 2006 at 9:39PM
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