Soil Amendments Such As Organic Matter And Gypsum Improve Heavy Clay And Relieve Compaction
Amending your soil properly can overcome heavy, compacted clay and get it back on track for healthy lawn and garden growth. Adding materials such as organic compost, pine bark, composted leaves and gypsum to heavy clay can improve its structure and help eliminate drainage and compaction problems. Avoid adding sand or peat moss to clay; they can make those problems worse.1
Your soil test or extension agent can help you determine the right amount of organic matter for your soil. As a general rule, when possible, add a layer of 3 to 6 inches of organic matter on your soil before planting, and work it down into the top 10 to 12 inches—where most roots grow. In following years, build on your efforts by adding 1 to 3 inches of organic mulch as a topdressing each year.1 As it decomposes, it continues to gradually improve clay soil.
Gypsum is easily applied to the soil surface with a regular lawn spreader. It’s an ideal amendment for improving soil structure and relieving compaction in existing lawns and gardens. Lilly Miller Garden Gypsum starts working immediately starts working immediately to help loosen compacted clay soil, increase water penetration and improve drainage, correcting soil conditions to allow for better plant root growth.
Gypsum enhances soil without affecting soil pH and provides calcium to prevent blossom end rot disease.
What Should I Do To Stop Water From Sitting On Top Of The Soil In My Lawn
Your goal is two-fold. You want to improve the aeration and the texture of the soil. This will improve drainage and stop water from sitting on top of your lawn.
I suggest you read Sydney’s article on How To Improve Clay Soil For New Or Existing Lawns. There are several approaches listed so at least one of them will be right for your situation.
Aeration is helpful. You can improve soil drainage to some extent with this approach. The problem is that you are usually only aerating the top few inches of soil. If your clay soil layer runs deeper than that, you’ll only see a limited benefit.
Personally, I am a big believer in a concept that I call Deep Soil Integration. This is essentially a process of drilling holes in clay soil to improve drainage. I fill the holes with organic material. Over time, that organic material decomposes and the result is a better quality soil.
This allows for the water to drain more effectively through the clay to the more porous soil below. At the same time, you are literally changing the texture and composition of the soil which will allow for longterm benefit.
I’ve done this for the past two years and have been very pleased with the results. It has not only improved the drainage in my yard but has significantly improved the quality of grass growth on my lawn.
Clay Soil Can Provide An Excellent Foundation For Healthy Plant Growth
Clay’s potential as one of the best soil types for plant growth lies in its unique properties. The individual particles that make up your clay are extremely small compared to other soil types such as sand, silt or loam.1 Thanks to the surface area of all those small particles, clay soil has a greater capacity to hold water and nutrients your lawn and garden needs. Managed well, clay soil typically requires less irrigation and less fertilizer, and leads to healthier plants all around.
Even if you’re certain you have heavy clay—and have the clods on your boots and tools to prove it—take time to test your soil before you make changes. A soil test takes the guesswork out of your starting point, so well-intentioned soil work doesn’t backfire and make things worse. If you’re new to soil sampling, your local county extension agent can help with advice and soil testing kits.
Your test results and recommendations can include ways to improve your clay soil, along with helpful information about your soil’s organic matter, pH and nutrients. In areas with heavy clay, it’s a good idea to test your soil every three to four years.1
Amending your soil with organic matter helps improve its structure.
Gypsum Enhances Your Soil And Delivers Extra Benefits To Your Garden
Improving soil structure and relieving compaction aren’t the only ways that gypsum benefits your lawn and garden. Gypsum adds calcium and sulfur—essential plant nutrients—to your soil. While lime adds calcium and makes soil less acidic, gypsum adds calcium without affecting your soil pH.
Adding gypsum to vegetable gardens helps prevent calcium deficiency, a primary cause of blossom end rot disease. This common disease can undermine your harvest of garden favorites such as tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, and melons. Adding gypsum at planting time keeps calcium plentiful, so fruit can ripen without end rot. The calcium in gypsum helps your strawberry patch reach its juicy potential, too.
Always read product labels thoroughly and follow instructions.
Pennington with design is a registered trademark of Pennington Seed, Inc.
Fast Acting is a trademark of Encap, LLC.
Drainage Isnt Going To Help If The Plant Isconsistently Overwatered
According to the University of Vermont’s Department of Plant and Soil Science, of all the problems with taking care of potted plants, “watering is probably the one cultural practice that causes the most problems.”
Obviously, plants need water, and underwatering can cause a plantto die or stop growing, but overwatering can be just as problematic. If a plantis consistently overwatered, it won’t matter how well the soil drains or howmany holes are in the bottom of the plant.
Most plants require that their soil becomes dry before it iswatered. This gives the roots a rest from a moist environment and will helpprevent bacteria or fungus growth. Other plants do require that their soil isconsistently moist, but it is rare to find a plant meant to grow above thewater that requires its soil to be saturated all the time.
The best way to ensure that a plant is watered properly is to doresearch on the plant and see what it requires. Typically, sticking a finger inthe dirt is enough to tell if a plant needs water or not.
No hard and fast rule is out there on how often a plant should bewatered because so many factors come into play that influence the rate that aplant uses water and the rate at which soil will dry out. These include:
- Sunlight exposure
- The humidity of the environment
- Quality of the soil
Compacted Clay Inhibits Healthy Growth For Grass And Other Plants
The same properties behind clay’s benefits also present its biggest challenge. The small size of clay particles means they fit closely together, leaving less room for air, water and nutrients to move—especially when pressure compacts them. The particle shape increases the likelihood of compaction, too. Clay particles are flat, like plates, instead of rounded like grains of sand.
Clay becomes compacted for many reasons. Walking on your lawn or garden when its wet is a common cause. Heavy, beating rains also drive clay particles together. Once compacted, clay restricts water, nutrient, and air movement, leaving plants vulnerable to root diseases and nutrient deficiencies.1 And, like your garden shovel, tender new roots hit a wall of hard clay when they try to grow. Salts from fertilizers and winter de-icing solutions build up in heavy clay as well.
Aeration helps relieve soil compaction by creating holes that allow water and nutrients to penetrate.
Root Structure: The Biology Of Plant Survival In Wet Or Dry Soil
A continually soaked yard suffocates lawn roots, leading to rot. Just like humans, plants cannot survive without air. If a patch of land is constantly wet, water fills the crevices within soil, and the roots cannot access oxygen. Too-wet conditions limit plant growth. Those species that do survive in a soggy setting are more susceptible to disease.
With that said, certain plants have evolved to flourish in wet conditions. Mangrove trees, for instance, have developed special above-water structures that allow them to get enough oxygen even when their roots are submerged. On the other hand, some inland species are generalists that can grow almost anywhere. The red maple is a good example. It thrives across the Northeast because it adapts its root structure to surrounding circumstances. In wet areas, red maples send out more lateral roots to absorb surface water. The same species will grow more taproots to access deep water in dry conditions.
Now that we have a biological perspective on why wet lawns fail, let’s take a look at the reasons why a yard becomes be soggy.
Portland Landscaping Expert Discusses Overcoming Soggy Lawns
July 02, 2015
Sodden lawns are not uncommon in Portland landscaping. Portland’s geology features layers of clay and undulating hills—two problematic features for lawn lovers. Clay-laden soil retains water; it creates a dense top layer , which is difficult to break through when planting new shrubs and trees. And Portland’s hilly topography naturally creates dells where water gathers. The Portland landscape dooms many lawns to suffer sogginess.
Perpetually drenched lawns are unlikely to thrive, as grass roots rot in too-wet environments. Over time, the desired turf grass may lose ground to moss and less desirable foreign grasses that are better suited to moisture. Soggy lawns tend to pull down property value, as uneven grass decreases curb appeal. And there are day-to-day hassles of a soggy lawn—more mud tracked in by pets and kids, for one thing. What is the point of having a lawn if you can’t enjoy it due to lingering puddles? But this enjoyment factor is nothing compared to the worst possibility of all—damage to your home’s siding or moisture under your house due to excessive standing water.
The Process To Improvebreakup And Make Digging Clay Easier
- Spread the organic matter, Cover the entire area of clay soil you have selected to be improved and broken-up, with about eight inches of organic matter. This could be anything that hasn’t been treated with chemicals, including compost from your compost heap, rotted manure, leaf mold, fruit & veg waste from the kitchen. hay and straw bales or lawn cuttings .
- Dig it in to the clay. Now the hard bit. This can be carried out over several days. Dig the organic matter into the top 10 inches of the clay soil, working backwards trying not to compact the dug soil. Digging with a sturdy spade is the best way, but using a rotavator works OK too. Be careful if you are using a rotavator, it’s likely to bounce off the compacted clay until you get the hang of it.
The garden bed will end up a couple of inches higher when you have finished digging in the organic matter that will gradually improve the clay soil, and will settle down over a season.
Understanding The Problem Of Water Sitting On Top Of Soil
According to the Noble Research Institute, clay and silt have larger surfaces areas than sand which causes them to hold more water . When wet, clay can bind together so tightly that practically nothing can get through.
Soil types that have a tendency to repel water are often called hydrophobic. I think that’s a really good name. They are literally resistant to water.
But clay soil is funny. It will hold water on the surface but it also will absorb and hold water for extended times. In fact, it has one of the highest water retaining capacities of all soils .
If you are having problems with water standing in your yard, you need to increase the aggregates in the soil to allow for better drainage.
Should Drainage Materials Be Used In The Bottom Of Pots
Many gardeners claim that using drainage materials like rocks,gravel, or sand in the bottom of a pot will help improve drainage. It makessense as drainage materials are widely used in construction for allowing waterto drain properly, but in the pot of a plant, it is not ideal.
Using what is sometimes referred to as drainage material is never a good idea according to the Puyallup Research and Extension Center of Washington State University. These experts suggest that using items like rocks, pot shards, sand, pebbles or gravel as a base for the pot under the soil is very bad for drainage.
The truth is, only potting soil ought to be used in a pot withmaybe a little bit of a filler material mixed into it. Using drainage materialsactually makes it far more difficult for water to move through the pot. That1-inch layer of rock can block the entire drainage hole, creating a waterloaded pot that can lead to root rot and the ultimate death of the plant.
This article by Dr. Linda Chalker-Scott from Washington State University notes a previous study that found that when potting soil was placed over both sand and gravel, water was retained even more excessively in the soil over gravel. This means that the more jagged and coarse the material used as a base to potting soil, the worse the drainage. This surprises many people because normally when running water through just those materials, the more coarse the material, the faster the water will run.
Bricks That Adapt To Movement In Winnipeg’s Clay Soils
Organic materials in the ground, like soil and clay absorb water and therefore expand. Given some time without rain, these same materials will dry out and shrink. This movement of the ground is a fact of life, especially with our Winnipeg clay. So, before we build anything here, we have to take it into account.
There are two strategies for dealing with inevitable movement of the ground.
Build a structure so massive and monolithic that it will remain rigid on top of the moving ground without cracking and shifting. Most concrete driveways in Manitoba are an attempt at this strategy. A 6″ to 8″ thick concrete slab, laced with reinforcing steel bars, will do its best to resist the movement of the ground beneath it. But, we have all seen how well that works! It doesn’t take long and there are cracks.
The second strategy is to accept that soil movement will happen and build a structure with the flexibility to move along with it.
The patios and retaining walls that we build employ the second strategy. Concrete pavers and modular retaining walls are flexible systems that can move along with the seasonal changes in the soil moisture content.
How do we do this?
Part of the magic is to control the movement of water through the patio and in the ground below.
Buy Everything You Need For This Job At A Home Center
The dry well we used has a capacity of nearly 30 gallons. This unit can also be stacked on top of or alongside another if you need extra holding capacity. The dry well is very strong, and once you bury it, you can drive your car over it without breaking it. In fact, the dry well can be installed under a driveway. The drain inlet at the top is optional.
You can also choose to: drain water directly into the side port of the unit from a run of perforated or unperforated drain tubing, link two or more dry well units together, or use it independently with a top drain for small pooling areas. You can purchase snap-together tube in 10-ft. lengths as we did or buy a 50-ft. roll, which is difficult to transport. You’ll find the tube is available in either perforated or unperforated.
Choose a perforated tube if you’d like it to drain as it carries water. However, if you only want the tube to deliver water from one spot to another, buy unperforated tubing and don’t use a sock. The sock is typically sold in 100-ft. lengths. You can also buy a wide assortment of fittings to connect lines, as well as a fitting to attach to your downspout. The materials for this system cost about $200. We spent another $200 for 2 cu. yds. of crushed rock delivered to our driveway.
Before going to the home center, make sure you’ve got a good shovel, a string line and level, and a solid wheelbarrow. If you don’t, buy them.
Part 3 Of 3:eliminating Widespread Moisture Problems
This Is The Way I Improved And Broke Up My Clay Soil
There are no short cuts
- Digging out and improving a small area or a planting hole doesn’t work. The plant will be OK for a while, but as it starts sending out roots, the new roots will hit the hard clay, and start circling around the planting hole. Just like in a flowerpot and become pot- bound.
- The other problem with just improving a small area, the surface water will drain from the clay into the area you have improved and subsequently water log the area.
How To Solve Drainage Issues If You Have Clay Soil
October 22, 2020
Clay soil is common in this area. It is dense and compact and can present some unique challenges in your yard. Rather than fighting the nature of clay soil, it is better to find a way to work around, or even with, the soil to solve your drainage issues. A drainage contractor who understands clay soil can be a big help.
Pots And Other Containers Must Have Drainage Holes
When planting directly in the dirt, say in a garden bed, waterhas plenty of ways of dealing with too much water. Water will seep into theearth or run away from it. This is clearly not the case with a potted plant.
In order for the soil in a potted plant to recover from excesswater, holes must be present in the bottom of the container that allows waterto run out of the saturated soil and away from the plant.
If water is not allowed to drain away from a potted plant, it can cause a number of problems for the plant including root rot and other issues with the roots not getting enough oxygen. Stagnant water is simply not good for the roots of a plant.
Troubleshooting Problems with Drainage Holes
If a gardener were to find that he or she has a container thatlacks an adequate hole for drainage, a couple of options can be practiced.
Clean the Drainage Holes
Before doing anything drastic like repotting the plant, check the drainage holes to see if they have become blocked by any sort of build-up. Even if they are only partially blocked, it is worth cleaning them out over repotting a plant that does not really need repotting.
When repotting plants and reusing a pot, be sure to clean it. According to the University of Arizona Cooperative Extension, the pot will need to be scrubbed with dish detergent and then sanitized in a 10% chlorine bleach solution before anything is planted in it.
Put the Plant on a Pedestal
A Pot in a Pot
Drill Holes in the bottom of the Pot or Container
Is It Possible To Use A Pot Without Drainage Holes
Yes, it is possible to use a pot or other container forplanting that does not have drainage holes for excess water to run out, but itis not recommended, especially for a container garden that is outside.
A small houseplant may do just fine in a pot that does nothave a drainage hole as long as its owner is careful about watering the plant,but outdoor plants do not have the benefit of a careful gardener. They are atthe mercy of rainstorms and uncontrollable humidity and temperatures.
Using a pot or container that does not have drainage holes is not for the faint of heart or those without a green thumb. Knowing how much water a plant requires in a particular climate takes a good deal of experience. Without that experience, it is very easy to kill a plant by overwatering it, and without drainage holes, the poor plant will drowning in that water.
Amend Your Soil For Better Drainage And Gardening
While a constructed drainage system is always a good start for a backyard, amending the soil can have many more benefits than just relying on a system to carry water away. By taking the time to repair the soil itself, you increase its usability and allow for those locked away clay soil nutrients to feed your plants.
Whether you are a gardener or not, clay soil doesn’t have to be one big mud pit that you have to put up with. Knowing the right steps to take to get your clay soil draining can allow you to use the space once again for entertaining, growing crops, or even landscaping ideas. Take back your backyard and get the green landscape you want today, minus all the puddles.
Root Rot And Why Good Pot Drainage Is Soimportant
What exactly is root rot? For a full answer, refer to the quote below from the University of Wisconsin’s Horticulture website. In short, it is a general term that describes any moisture born disease that can deteriorate a plant.
“Any disease where the pathogen causes the deterioration of a plant’s root system. Most plants are susceptible to root rots, including both woody and herbaceous ornamentals. Root rots can be chronic diseases or, more commonly, are acute and can lead to the death of the plant.”
How To Permanently Improve Drainage In Your Yard
When it comes to tackling waterlogging in a yard, a permanent fix may be the best solution. The options include installing an underground drainage pipe or installing a French drain. Before you decide which solution to try, draw a drainage plan of your yard. Use a line and a builder’s level to discover the lowest and highest spots, and mark the places where the water flows and where puddles and pools appear.
An underground drainage pipe effectively transfers water from the lowest point of your yard to an outlet. Check with your local government office about relevant regulations before building a drainage pipe that discharges into a storm drain or the street. Dig a trench from the lowest point in your yard to the outlet, so the trench will slope at a rate of about 1/8 inch per foot. Install an inlet catch basin at the center of the lowest point and attach it to a smooth drainpipe that runs all the way to the outlet before filling in the trench with soil.
Understanding Soil Aggregates And Water Drainage
If you take two jars and fill one of them with sand and the other with large rocks, you can pour water into them and quickly see how water moves more efficiently through the rocks. This is due to the air spaces that are created as the rocks butt against each other.
Now, take those same two jars and instead of rocks, fill one jar with clay soil. As it gets wet, water will literally sit on top of the clay. Why? Because unlike those rocks, clay soil can pack so tightly that it is very difficult for water to get through.
The point is this: heavily compacted soil doesn’t allow for water to leach through effectively. This results in standing water.
Part 1 Of 3:finding The Cause Of Moisture Damage
How To Keep Improving The Usability Of Clay Soil
Each year as the clay soil improves, digging will become easier and the variety of plants you can plant will become greater. Read my article listing plants that will tolerate clay. Some root crops like Turnips, Radishes, Potatoes and Beets actually help break up heavy clay soils. But, what the clay soils will need to keep the improvement going to stay loose and workable is organic matter. As the clay soil improves, just after harvest time add more organic matter to the top of the garden bed each year. This can be left on the surface for the worms to take down into the clay for you. Or you can dig it in.
Heavy Clay Soilsa Landscape Drainage Challenge
If you are here, it is likely that you have been blessed with heavy clay soils!
These dense, compact soil types present some unique challenges when it comes to creating a solid, healthy foundation for your garden design.
One of these unique challenges is ensuring that the site has good landscape drainage.
Nature usually presents us with mixed blessings, and heavy clay soil is one of those!
Clay soils are among the most nutrient rich soils that there are, but those nutrients are often locked in an iron grip!
Coaxing heavy clay soils to give up those nutrients so that they can be devoured by your plants can be a demanding process.
Not only are these soils reluctant to share their nutrients with your prized plantings, they also are the most water retentive soils found in nature.
This is great for plants, as long as there is enough sand, silt and humus in the soil mix to mitigate the selfish nature of those clay soil particles, but often our soils have such heavy clay content that plants are drowned by the water retained by those soils.
Landscaping Solutions For Soggy Portland Lawns
1. Locate the Water Source. Evaluate where the water is coming from and how to mitigate it. Observation is an important step in solving lawn drainage problems. Once you understand the water’s flow, you can move on to redirecting it. Sometimes it is very difficult to determine the source of the water. A geotechnical engineer can be very helpful in identifying the water source that is impacting your property.
2. Create a Path for Drainage. This step will depend on where the water is pooling. If it is pooling in the middle, you will need some method of pushing water to the lawn’s periphery. For instance, you could add soil to the center. On the other hand, if the water pools only on one side of the property, a long French drain leading to a rain garden would likely work well.
Scan your yard during a rainstorm and ask yourself, where can the water go? Does the water require a retained bed where it can collect and drain? Or will a French drain best draw away water to a good drainage area? For large stretches of lawn, it is often best to install a multi-flow system, essentially multiple French drains dug deeper into the earth. Or you may choose to add a dry creek bed to gather and drain water.
One thing to keep in mind is that French drains are not permanent. Eventually, they become clogged with sediment and will need to be redone.
How To Check If Your Garden Has A H2o Problem
Most drainage projects are not cheap. Before looking into any garden drainage ideas, we highly encourage you to confirm that your green space indeed has trouble draining water. Here is how:
- Dig a hole into the soil that is approximately 60cm deep;
- Fill the hole with water and leave it be for about four hours;
- If the hole isn’t empty upon your return, then drainage is needed.
Note that, sometimes, especially after a heavy rain, accumulated surface water may also not drain as fast as usual. This, however, could mean that your soil simply needs to be aerated.