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Gardening On the North Coast

Soil Types
Soil Organics
Soil Differences
Soil Improvement
Improving Heavy Soil
Improving Light Soil
Inorganic Materials
Care and Maintenance
More Maintenance
Soil pH
Humus and Compost
Soil Mulches

What To Do If Your Soil Is Too Heavy.

Clay soils are sticky-slippery when wet, and bake hard when dry. They hold water and fertility well. However, the tiny clay particles have the shape of plates and nest so tightly that they practically eliminate pore space. Roots can hardly penetrate, and water drains poorly. Such soils are difficult to cultivate except at a certain stage of moderate moistness which may occur only a few days out of a year! Usually they are so slow to dry out in spring that you cannot do early planting. Then in summer they may cake and crack unmercifully. While this may not be too bad under a lawn, it is very bad in a garden.

For your garden soil, try mixing two or three inches of organic material into the top six inches of a cultivated bed, to loosen it and improve its structure. Drainage can also be improved by loosening the soil through cultivation and by mixing in soil amendments. If the soil remains soggy much of the time, it may even be desirable to lay tile lines about two feet beneath the surface, to carry off standing water to a drainage channel.

There are several common misconceptions about improving clay soil. One is that adding sand to a clay soil will loosen it up and improve it. Adding sand to a clay soil will probably make it harder and more like cement. Another is that adding gypsum to a clay soil will improve it through a process called "flocculation." This is true, but only if you have a very sodic soil (high in sodium), a quite rare soil type not found on the North Coast. Gypsum is a calcium sulfate product sometimes used for pH correction. On our soils it is better to use lime for pH correction. While gypsum does not help raise soil pH as well as lime, gypsum does supply the nutrients calcium and sulfur to soil. Shredded wallboard is an ideal additive if your soil needs these nutrients - it is available free from Doug Lantelme, owner of Bayside Drywall; call 443-8728.