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Regarding clay....

Posted by Panoply76 8 (My Page) on
Wed, May 22, 13 at 15:19

The soil I have to work with is just about solid clay about a foot down. So drainage is a huge problem not to mention clay being pretty crapy for growing anything.
Are there ways to deal with this? I mean, I suppose I could shell out big bucks and have a backhoe dig out a large amount of dirt and then refill it with better soil, but something short of that is there hope?
Do any plants LIKE clay? My garden is a butterfly and hummingbird garden so I'm looking for plants that atract them. Anyone know a plant that can tolerate clay, the poor drainage of clay AND attract butterflies and/or hummingbirds?

Thanks,
Pano


Follow-Up Postings:

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RE: Regarding clay....

Nothing like Gulf Coast gumbo clays to challenge a gardener. There are a number of approaches, but which to follow depends a good bit on what you want to plant and grow.

First - forget about digging out and filling in with a more desirable soil. That will leave you what many refer to as a bathtub. Basically you will have a clay tub filled with nice soil. The when you irrigate or get substantial rainfall, the tub will fill with water. It's not a good scenario for long-term plantings.

For permanent installations it is generally best to plant species well suited to the native soils, and there are many. Just look around and they will become evident. A second choice is raised beds. But most perennials will still want to root and grow at depths beyond the common raised bed depth. So again, plants well suited to the native sois are your best bet.

You can improve your heavy clay soils by incorporating a fair amount of organic matter (compost, etc.), up to 10% by volume in the first 6" of soil. Then follow with a 4" layer of a wood-based mulch on top after planting. Add new mulch periodically to keep at least a 2" layer on top. Over time the clay soil beneath will become better.

For annual plantings of flowers, veggies, etc., raised beds with more highly amended soils or imported "garden soils" work well. The key here is enough depth, and to build them on top of the natural grade. That way you end up with a false bottom tub, and the water not only drains through the bed soil, but away as it hits the clay beneath.

For annual plantings TAMU recommends the addition of 3" of expanded shale tilled into the top 6" of soil (produces a 3" raised bed), then followed with 3" of compost tilled in on top of that the new 6" depth for a 6" raised bed (see link below).

Here is a link that might be useful: Expanded Shale - A new Possibility for Amending Clay Soils


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RE: Regarding clay....

Don't know why I didn't notice this before. I totally agree with the above, just keep putting OM on the surface when it presents itself. Leaves, lawn mower bag, small yard trimmings, kitchen waste buried slightly so it doesn't harbor fruit flies, mulch, pine needles, home made compost, anything you can get/find. The drainage will improve, as well as water retention in dry times. Similar to reclaiming an area from grass/weeds via smothering/lasagna.

This works in clay (in housing developments where I lived in OH, they take all of the top soil away to sell, then build the neighborhood,) and in sandy, won't-hold-moisture "soil" that I have here. I've never had any issues with bath-tubbing this way (but have created such situations amending holes for larger, woody individuals installed mid-lawn,) in a bed because the surface and below isn't disturbed, which through experience I know is unnecessary if one is patient in not expecting instant results. The forest floor is a beautiful rich loam, with lots of humus and tilth, from layer after layer of decomposing OM landing on its' surface. The worms and other decomposing entities will, along with rain, distribute the by-products to their proper levels in the soil, as well as your digging here'n'there occasionally to add/move plants.

After just a few months of being covered with decomposing OM, a difference will be apparent. After a year, digging will be noticeably easier, the color different. After 2 years, there should be little trouble with drought or flood, depending on the surrounding topography and weather. Compared to areas that were tilled to start, I can't tell a difference when I 'dig in' after 2 years. It's one of the most addictive parts of gardening, to me, improving the soil, then observing those improvements.

Just remember that no 2 gardeners do everything the exact same way although both may have great plants. Gardening usually goes more right than wrong, and you have to pick the ideas and methods that work for you, your schedule, budget, climate, what's actually available for free or sale at stores, and just sounds like something you can do. Some of the stuff I read sounds like it would work great, but I just don't want to do it, or can't envision how it would benefit. I've learned that if I approach something about gardening with confidence, it usually works. If I'm hesitant and doubtful, haven't asked for enough opinions usually, it usually doesn't go well. My Mom and I have usually opposite opinions about any garden-related issue or topic, and her yard looks fine, so does mine, each according to their own taste. I wouldn't want her yard and she wouldn't want mine.

Going back to individual plants, Lantana could care less about any of this soil improvement, whether you do anything or not, so a good one to start with. Buddleia seems happy anywhere I stick a piece, sometimes in the middle of grass. Cannas are easy, but give them a spot you mow around, or has a border (like a wall,) so they don't creep into other plants. Angelonia (likely killed by winter but so worthwhile) also won't mind 'crappy dirt.'

Some other annuals/house plants that don't get enough attention for their attraction to these visitors... Basil, Coleus, Pentas, any Plectranthus flowers, Zinnias.

From the selection of plants I enjoy looking at, I try to choose those that also appeal to butterflies and hummingbirds. We have a ton of both currently hanging around, well worth the efforts.

So what did you decide to do? How is it going so far this year?


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RE: Regarding clay....

Just saw that you kind of asked the same thing twice. Hope one version of what I said is helpful/applicable in some way. Yes, I really do like to yak about dirt...


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RE: Regarding clay....

Moving to South Tx. from Pennsylvania has presented quite a challenge in gardening. I'm used to the regular soft soil, now all I have is several ft of this rock hard clay. I have done a little research & it says to try & ammend the soil by adding compost, & hummus. I did that with some top soil & 2 " of Mulch. So far I have only planted some Hostas, & Japonicas & a Split leaf phillodendrun. This is only late February and the weather hasn't quite settled yet. Keep you guys posted how I made out.


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