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How to Improve Clay Soil With Compost the Right Way

Moving and navigating through your garden can be painful when your clay soil isn’t reaching its full potential. The heavy, compacted soil makes more work for you in your lawn and garden.

To improve clay soil and make it an optimum growing medium with compost, you’ll need to mix in enough compost to make a half clay half compost mixture. Purchasing compost is an option, but it’s also very easy to make at home using things you would usually throw away.

You can improve your clay soil with compost by adding 3 to 6 inches of organic compost matter before planting. You can also work it down towards the roots of your plants for maximum nutrients and soil structure.

Does Compost Help Clay Soil?

Mixing compost into your clay soil has many benefits if you distribute it properly. Compost can help alleviate compaction issues that often happen with clay soil.

Some of the given benefits of mixing compost in with your clay soil include curating the perfect environment for plant growth and breaking up your stubborn clay soil.

Providing the Ideal Conditions for Plant Growth

When you mix in compost with clay soil, you’ll find that the nutrients from the compost exacerbate plant growth in your garden over time.

  • Clay soil is already an excellent foundation for plants.
  • Clay soil has tiny individual particles compared to other types of soil.
  • These particles make it possible to hold water and other vital nutrients to your garden’s growth.
  • Clay soil that’s managed properly requires less irrigation and fertilizer overall.
  • When your clay soil becomes compacted, these benefits are hard to utilize.

Adding in compost ensures your plants get all the benefits of clay soil in the plant’s roots. Compost introduces diverse plant life into your clay soil, supporting healthy and fast-growing plants with nutrients not received otherwise.

Breaking up Stubborn, Compacted Clay

When you’re trying to dig into your clay soil and feel like your spade is about to crack in half, it’s time to introduce compost. Adding in organic compost matter can help break up that stubborn clay soil that compacts together, making you unable to give your plants the nutrients and water source they deserve.

  • Compost helps break up the compacted clay soil that holds nutrients, water, and air together and restricts them from moving.
  • Compost helps guide the particles that make clay soil into one cohesive sediment that distributes these nutrients evenly.
  • Adding compost will improve plant growth and water drainage and distribution.

Here’s a great video with some more tips for gardening in clay soil, with a lot more info below:

How Much Compost Do I Mix with Clay Soil?

When adding compost to clay soil, you may think if you’re even adding enough or even too much. You want your clay soil to be soft and moveable but also not compromising nutrients from the clay. So how much compost do you add?

When preparing to add compost to your clay soil, think about a few elements. Consider the size of your garden and the pH of the soil to determine how much compost you need to mix with the soil.

How Big is Your Garden?

Knowing how large the space you need to fill is the first step in calculating the amount of compost required. If you can measure the dimensions of your garden and know the depth of your digging, this will give you a more accurate answer.

Have You Performed a Soil Test?

Soil tests are available for consumer use. These tests give you an accurate idea of any nutrient deficiencies and the pH level of your soil. Depending on the type of plants you grow, these tests make it easy to pinpoint a problem in the ground and address it. Investing in one of these tests ensures a healthy crop every year.

  • Once you complete these steps, consider the amount needed and dimensions of your garden when determining the amount of compost to use.
  • A general rule of thumb is to add 1 to 3 inches of compost tilled into the clay soil (source).
  • The compost should be worked down into the top 10 to 12 inches, where the roots grow.

Adding compost to your clay soil will help distribute those nutrients to your plants and improve digging in your garden. After adding in your compost, you won’t feel like you’re trying to dig through cement every time you tend to your garden.

How Do You Get the Best Compost To Improve Clay Soil

After considering using compost to help improve your clay soil, you may wonder: Where do you acquire compost? Or, how do you make nutrient-rich compost?

You can purchase various kinds of compost, but making it yourself is best to get the maximum nutrients for your clay soil.

How Do You Make Compost?

Composting is a great way to break up stubborn clay soil but also helps manage your waste. That’s a win-win for everyone, right?

To make your own compost that will improve clay soil conditions, you need to create a space in your yard, bucket, or container. Then, start saving waste that would usually be thrown in the garbage.

There are a few different types of compost you can make, including hot compost or cold compost. Check out our How To Start Composting Guide for more info.

Hot and Cold Composting

Hot compost is more hands-on composting, while cold compost is more passive. The Hot compost process occurs in the warmer months, while cold composting is done year-round. Hot composting requires more work for a faster compost turnaround.

Hot composting requires a perfect carbon to nitrogen ratio to ensure microbial activity is in high gear for quick compost creation. Compost piles (source) should be 25 parts carbon to one part nitrogen. This can be done by ensuring your pile is composed of carbon and nitrogen-rich ingredients.

Some of these ingredients include:

  • Shredded paper
  • Dry leaves
  • Grass Clippings
  • Weeds
  • Coffee grounds/tea bags

Both hot or cold composting methods will work well by adding to clay soil. Cold composting isn’t as fast as hot composting but is a less hands-on approach for the casual gardener.

When cold composting, start collecting this kitchen waste to make your compost pile. This waste can include:

  • Eggshells
  • fruit peels
  • vegetable scraps
  • coffee grounds
  • grass and plant clippings
  • dry leaves
  • shredded newspaper

These are only a few of the household materials you can compost. Visit our What You Can and Can’t Compost List for a lot more info.

You will create your pile from these materials and water it regularly. Don’t oversaturate your compost pile, or it will rot. An excellent way to test to make sure your pile is composting properly is to reach in the middle of the pile and feel around with your hand. The compost should be warm.

When you feel the middle of the pile is warm, it’s time to turn. You can accelerate the oxygen flow in a pile by turning it weekly. The oxygen flow will keep it from smelling bad and disperse the nutrients in each layer equally.

Final Thoughts

Curating the perfect compost is the best way to enhance your clay soil to help your garden reach its full potential.

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