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How To Amend Clay Soil - Easy Amending Tips

Updated on August 29, 2012

How To Amend Clay Soil

Since most of are not blessed with ideal soil, we are sometimes forced to amend clay soil. It is true that you are stuck with the hand that you are dealt so if you are dealt clay, you will need to work diligently to correct this. Whether you only have a little bit of clay or if your soil is predominantly clay, you can simply add organic matter to your soil to create an fabulous starting point.

Clay Has Potential

Before you attempt to amend clay soil, it is helpful to become a little educated on soil mineralogy. Technically speaking, soil is made of sand, silt and clay particles. The clay particles are the smallest, the silt is intermediate-sized and then largest particles are made up of sand. Being able to amend clay soil is very important and extremely helpful because the clay particles are stacked, kind of like your favorite sandwich and then they are almost glued together by a type of electrochemical force. The large surface area is made by the horizontal arrangement from the clay particles.

Each individual clay particle holds its own negative charge and they can attract, hold onto and even absorb positively charged elements such as ammonium, potassium, calcium and magnesium. Believe it or not, clay soils have a ton of potential because they are really extremely fertile and have the ability to provide plant nutrients.


If you are going to amend clay soil, it will demand short-term and long-term goals The first goal you need to be focused on is adding as much organic matter in the clay as deep as you possibly can. This will improve the structure and tilth that will improve the overall health of your soil.

Long-term strategies to amend clay soil should be to try to build organic carbon and humus to help promote nutrient cycling. You can do this through applying manure consistently as well as organic matter and compost.

If you build organic matter it will help you to amend clay soil in a few different ways. Organic matter will separate the clay particles and it will coat the soil particles. Even more importantly, all of the microorganisms that usually degrade the organic matter will actually produce some byproducts, called glomalin. These special byproducts work to bond all of the individual clay particles together as one. This particle aggregation that happens when you amend clay soil will reduce erosion, crusting and runoff. Additionally, it will increase the rate of water infiltration.

When you add organic matter to soil, even in large amounts it will break down rapidly. Then, any organic matter that is remaining will resist further degradation for future years, sometimes even decades. It is important to know that any stable increases, which are called humus are going to occur extremely slowly so any stable amounts of organic matter increase will needs to be a futuristic long-term goal that you will reap the benefits from years down the road.

Amend Clay Soil

Never Disturb The Clay

When you amend clay soil, you should try to incorporate organic matter regularly and deeply, especially when you first start out in the beginning while you are still working hard to try to whip your clay soil into shape. Aggregating stability, drainage, soil particle aggregation, water holding capacity, nutrient retention and plant root growth all are increased once you start to incorporate organic matter into your clay soil.

If the soil happens to be inverted by tillage, major losses can occur of the organic matter. Extensive tillage stimulates the microbial activity which gives them a healthy appetite so after your clay does become friable you need to reduce tillage. As long as the soil is undisturbed, the fertilizers are not going to homogenize inside the tillage layer so plant feeder roots will often proliferate solely in the top two fertile inches of the soil.

Tilth Explained

If you are going to amend clay soil it is also helpful to understand what tilth is. It is the soil's physical condition in relation towards the ease of tillage, seedbed quality, ease of seedling emergence and deep root penetration. If soil is well drained, it will take in water rapidly, will not crust, will not create clods and will facilitate aeration. This is referred to as the soil having good tilth. A good tilth is actually obtainable when you amend clay soil if you are dedicated and utilize proper techniques.


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