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Breaking Up Clay Soil With Cover Crops

Posted by lodigardner Zone 9 Lodi, CA (My Page) on
Sat, Feb 21, 09 at 22:20

Hi! I live in Lodi and have BAD compacted soil. I cleared up some grass and well, I was wondering if I can use cover crops to loosen up the soil since its already late february. Of course I'll add compost to, but will the cover crops work? If so, which are the best? I am planning to use a variety of cover crops if possible. example: mustard, rye etc...). So which is the best combo for somewhat clay like soil? Oh yeah and I can leave it on for about a year so it can do its job because i heard some cover crops have best results if left on for about a year. Please recognize that this is NOT necessarily for green manure, but improving soil.

Thanks so much, i appreciate the help- Newbie

P.S. If you would know, what are some good tasty grapevines (will concord be good?) grapes for Lodi, CA? I heard we might have a drought this year.

Follow-Up Postings:

RE: Breaking Up Clay Soil With Cover Crops

If you let a cover crop go to seed doesn't that mean the following year you will also have that cover crop whether you want it or not due to self seeding?
I believe I read comfrey is supposed to break up clay soil.

RE: Breaking Up Clay Soil With Cover Crops

  • Posted by riotbrrd z9 / Sunset z15 / No (My Page) on
    Sun, Feb 22, 09 at 17:55

I've heard that mustard is good for breaking up clay.


RE: Breaking Up Clay Soil With Cover Crops

  • Posted by hoovb z9 Southern CA (My Page) on
    Sun, Feb 22, 09 at 21:25

I would stick with compost, coffee grounds from Starbucks, and a thick (4-6") organic mulch. It will be a lot less work in the long run. If you leave your cover crop on for a year, it's going to reseed itself quite effectively, and then you'll be fighting weeds.

RE: Breaking Up Clay Soil With Cover Crops

I think it is too late this season to start a cover crop. After the first rains in the fall when the soil has the right moisture content to work, I would rototill it plant a cover crop heavy in Fava beans or Bell beans. If the rains do not persist you may have to water a time or two to assure germination. This all needs to be done before the soil cools enough that germination is affected. The object is the most vegetative material possible before tilling it in about the time they bloom. Compacted clay soil needs decaying vegetative matter to open up the soil structure to oxygen and soil microbes. A cover crop is just one of the tools to correct the structure problem. Al

RE: Breaking Up Clay Soil With Cover Crops

I live in the Wilton area,and it has taken years of amininding this hard pan/clay.If it will rot it goes in the garden. Some I compost and some I just barrie.
If you are just starting a new garden I would go to the landscaping materal yard and get a yard of planting mix and add a wheel harrow full to about 100sq feet. That would save you years of aminding. Then just add compost at planting time. Works great

RE: Breaking Up Clay Soil With Cover Crops

  • Posted by slogal CA z9/Sunset 15 (My Page) on
    Wed, Feb 25, 09 at 3:55

I planted a cover crop for my clay soil a few years ago but planted as calistoga suggests, in the fall to catch the rains. I planted an annual mix (not perennial!) of oat/cowpea/bean/vetch that I got at the local farm supply. When the plants had about half bloomed (and before setting seed -- important if you don't want them coming back next season), I cut it all and let it lay on the soil and eventually tilled it in.

I don't know if I would till if I did it again as it does disturb the soil structure (not to mention those lovely earthworms). But my method worked for me -- it added a lot of organic matter to my soil inexpensively and without backbreaking labor. The only cost was time, which I could more easily afford.

RE: Breaking Up Clay Soil With Cover Crops

It is true tilling a cover crop into the soil causes a lot of time spent clearing the vegetaive matter from around the tines of your tiller. My orchard is on a hillside too steep to safely use my wheel tractor(scares my wife)so I till it all with a front tine tiller which I am able to wrestle around on the steep slope. When the tines get too full of the cover crop material I have to stop and clear it out with a root knife. At my age it takes me several days to do the orchard but I think it is worth it. No matter how hard it rains my hillside accepts the water with NO run off. In the fifty years life of this orchard no summer water has ever been required. Al

RE: Breaking Up Clay Soil With Cover Crops

Hi lodigardener,
Fenugreek will tackle compacted clay & it should adapt to semi-arid California (Lodi?). You don't need to wait for spring soil to warm up for planting 1 pound seed per 500 feet square.

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