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Starting a new Vegetable Garden in Clay Soil

Posted: Sat Jun 06, 2009 11:55 am
by HoytShooter
I live in Michigan and once you get below the sod and a few inches of top soil, I am on some pretty heavy clay. I don't think a vegetable garden will thrive in this clay.Instead of digging out 12+ inches of clay throughout the entire garden area and replacing it with a top soil mixture (lots of labor!), I was thinking of taking 5 gallon buckets and planting them about 1/2 way into the ground,like this (the "X"'s represent buckets):

X X X X X X X X X

X X X X X X X X X

X X X X X X X X X

And then planting the vegetables in the buckets.

Is this a crazy idea? Will it work?
I am new to this and looking to plant my first vegetable garden. Thanks for the help!

Posted: Sat Jun 06, 2009 12:08 pm
by jal_ut
You will do better planting in your soil, whether it has clay underlying or not. IMO Most soils have clay in them and some are heavier than others, but good crops are grown on clay soils. It will help to work in lots of organic matter. Also the addition of sand will help to reduce its stickiness.

Clay soil holds water better than sandy soils. You won't need to water as much.

Just one caution, never work clay soil when it is too wet. It turns to clods.

Plant roots spread out an amazing distance both outwardly in all directions and also downward. Putting plants in a bucket really restricts their root systems.

Posted: Sat Jun 06, 2009 12:13 pm
by HoytShooter
Thanks for the reply.
How should I proceed planting in the clay? Should I remove a the top couple inches of clay and fill in with a sand/topsoil mixture, and then till it all up with existing clay surface?

jal_ut wrote:You will do better planting in your soil, whether it has clay underlying or not. IMO Most soils have clay in them and some are heavier than others, but good crops are grown on clay soils. It will help to work in lots of organic matter. Also the addition of sand will help to reduce its stickiness.

Clay soil holds water better than sandy soils. You won't need to water as much.

Just one caution, never work clay soil when it is too wet. It turns to clods.

Plant roots spread out an amazing distance both outwardly in all directions and also downward. Putting plants in a bucket really restricts their root systems.
:

Posted: Sat Jun 06, 2009 12:30 pm
by TZ -OH6
You do not have to remove the clay, simply mix it in with the topsoil and organic matter to deepen the root area. You can even break through it if you dig deep enough. The clay layer is generally 6-10 inches thick and blocks root penetration to the looser subsoil below.

Trench digging (triple digging) generally breaks through it, but it is a lot of shovel/pick work but is not frustrating like digging out stumps. I put a big tarp on the lawn next to the garden row dig a hole three shovel blades deep (which gets past the clay layer) and just keep digging out the front of the trench, while pileing all of the dirt on the tarp that and then ammend and mix in the clay when I put the soil back in. Rototilling the top layer will smoothe it out.

Its a good idea to triple dig a new garden anyway to loosen up and ammend the soil for good root penetration.

Posted: Sat Jun 06, 2009 12:34 pm
by jal_ut
I would add some organic matter, maybe grass clippings, compost, or leaves. then till it and plant. I would not remove anything. If you can get some sand add some sand before tilling.

Posted: Sat Jun 06, 2009 12:38 pm
by jal_ut
You can even break through it if you dig deep enough. The clay layer is generally 6-10 inches thick
Depends on your area. One lot I lived on I had a big dipper (backhoe) dig a 21 foot hole to see what was down there, and he never got out of the clay.

In spite of that, I did grow some outstanding crops on that lot.

Posted: Sat Jun 06, 2009 5:49 pm
by TZ -OH6
You can look up your soil type on the internet a couple of ways. Many states have a map of soil types and then you can look up the fact sheet for that type and it gives you the depths and compositions of the different horizons. There is also a national satalite imagery map where you can zoom in on your property and it will overlay the soil types to it, and then you can look up the soil fact sheets. My property has at least three soil types, two run diagonally through my garden (one with clay layer one without) and the satalite map hit the transition on the head.

https://websoilsurvey.nrcs.usda.gov/app/

Posted: Sat Jun 06, 2009 11:40 pm
by N2H2o
along with the organic matter i would also ad some Gypsum. this will help prevent the clay from clumping together.

Posted: Sun Jun 07, 2009 1:07 am
by kylie77
I have HORRIBLE clay soil full of rocks. Honestly it's just solid grey clay under the first 6 inches or so. This year I added topsoil, and peat moss, and mushroom manuer. When I planted my tomatoes I dug a big hole in the clay and added potting mix, mushroom manuer, peat moss, bonemeal, coffee ground and egg shells mixed that together with some of the exsisting clay soil. So far so good though! My plants are growing well. My tomatoes have taken off and seem to have grown more everytime I look at them!
Here are some pics of what I have growingin the absolute worst part of the garden.

So, don't give up on your soil. Just cause it's not perfect doesn't mean you can't use it for growing.

[img]https://i713.photobucket.com/albums/ww134/vegpics/IMG_3040.jpg[/img]

[img]https://i713.photobucket.com/albums/ww134/vegpics/IMG_3042.jpg[/img]

[img]https://i713.photobucket.com/albums/ww134/vegpics/IMG_3043.jpg[/img]

planting in clay

Posted: Sun Jun 07, 2009 7:59 am
by rainbowgardener
There've been a bunch of threads about this... clay soil is common in lots of parts of the country. Try typing clay soil into the search box, upper left of most pages, it will give you references to what's here about it.

Here's just a couple to get you started:


https://www.helpfulgardener.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=15180&highlight=
www.helpfulgardener.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=12835

I think you are better off amending your soil than planting in plastic, which can cause other problems (you would have to be really careful about the drainage in your buckets, your plants could get rootbound, etc).