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How to stop worrying and start loving clay dirt

Clay has more benefits than you might imagine

I started gardening seriously in my new house on a new block, one of the few houses left on my street. Because I had no idea, I guess I just blindly accepted the 10 pounds of clay that would bury a shovel in the ground and pile up on a pair of shoes and the 20 pounds of clay that would make the shovel feel like Thor’s hammer. It was a good workout, but it didn’t have to be that hard.

If I had known then what I know now, that working clay soil would have required a different strategy – one that was more economical and more horticulturally pleasing. Yes, I will say this. Clay soil is absolutely wonderful.

There are several basic soil types: loam, silt, sand, and clay. We were taught that we wanted loam or silt soil that was high in organic matter and well-draining. But it’s okay if you don’t have the magic mixture yet. I’m here to tell you that you can have the flower garden of your dreams out of clay without having to buy amendments or haul truckloads of improvements. It disrupts soil structure and life.

If clay and sand weigh the same, the surface area of the clay particles is 1,000 times that of the sand. These clay particles are nearly flat, so they can retain nutrients and moisture longer. Clay soils do not require as much fertilization as other soils, and may not require any fertilizer at all. How can we celebrate clay?

Match your plants to your soil. We should always strive for this, even if it means sacrificing our dreams for a special plant. The most important thing is to accept the landscape as we want to accept ourselves and each other. When we accept what we are given and work within its boundaries, new and meaningful possibilities open up.

A variety of native grasses and forbs thrive in clay soils. Clay-tolerant plants, including blue wild indigo, aromatic asters, swamp milkweed, little bluestem, Virginia mountain mint, American senna blazing stars and prairie clover are also very beneficial to pollinators.

Good trees include bur oak, hackberry, willow and crabapple, downy arrowwood, ninebark, chokeberry, buttonbush and arborvitae are good shrubs for growing in clay.

Save time and energy with smaller plants. Ideally, you will dig a hole twice as wide as the plant container to allow the roots to become more easily established when planting. Even if you have a gallon-sized pot, you can make a pretty good-sized hole when working with thick clay. And what if you have dozens of them? No, thank you. Please give me a plug and a 3-inch pot. It’s cheaper to get started. Because the hole is small, digging is faster. And they will become established as quickly as larger plants. A pickaxe is one of my favorite tools for digging plugs.

Another bonus of pint-sized plants? The more you buy, the thicker your garden will be. These plants act as a green mulch that repels weeds, shades the soil, and conserves moisture. Plus, that green mulch is converted into compostable material that enriches the soil from top to bottom over time. When you mow your garden each spring, use all debris as mulch.

The benefits of clay structures are welcome. Clay benefits those living in the northern United States, although it takes a little longer to warm up in the spring and is impossible to work with in wet conditions during that time. Roots can anchor and anchor well in essentially flat clay soil

layers, which is especially beneficial during freeze-thaw cycles in northern climates. New plants in loam or sand can emerge from the soil and expose their roots to killing air, but this is not the case in clay.

Clay is also fantastic for sequestering carbon. This is because the organic matter content is high and the air content is low, making decomposition less likely. Some decomposition products include methane and carbon dioxide, greenhouse gases that heat the atmosphere. Let plants absorb carbon from the air and store it underground.

I know many people may not yet be convinced of the wonders of clay soil. But it’s actually a great medium to work in, not the other way around. It has a solid amount of organic matter and there are numerous plants that can thrive in it.

Think of the grassland or prairie plants found throughout the United States. These plants can lose up to one-third of their roots each year. This means that as plants decay, they naturally improve the soil and create pathways for water and air to penetrates deeper. Combine this knowledge with the practice of leaving spring cuttings on the soil surface, and in just a few years you will see improved drainage in wet areas and improved plant health and flower abundance in dry areas.

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