Gardening In Red Clay
Welcome to the Piedmont! Everyone who lives in central North Carolina knows all about our good ole red clay soil. It is as hard as a rock when dry and a sticky mess when wet. It can make gardening a challenge for you and for your plants. However, red clay does have some redeeming qualities and will allow for the garden of your dreams. You see, the small clay particles retain water and nutrients. This keeps the nutrients in the soil, instead of allowing them to leech down and away from your plants. When clay is amended correctly, it will provide a great planting medium for your plants to absorb water and nutrients. So, instead of getting rid of your clay, let’s talk about how to improve your soil!
The first way to modify your soil is to adjust the soil at each hole you dig for every plant.
To do this you want to always dig the hole twice the size of the root ball. Sometimes you may have to dig a larger hole depending on how compact your clay soil is. Once you have dug the hole, you will want to use fifty percent of your native soil and blend it together with soil conditioner. Soil conditioner is a mixture of mulch, compost and other organic materials. Once you have the two blended together you will use that mix to back-fill the hole.
Due to the density of the clay, you may have poor drainage. For this problem, a product called Permatill can be very beneficial. Permatill is slate that has been crushed into a pea-sized product. Permatill will help loosen that hard, compacted soil and provide drainage and aeration for your plants. When using Permatill, you will dig down about two inches deeper than you normally would and line the bottom of the hole with two inches of Permatill. Once you have placed the plant in the hole, you will add another 3-4 inches of Permatill around the root ball. Then back fill the rest of the hole with the mixture of native soil and soil conditioner.
The second way to amend your soil is to prepare an entire plant bed or area at one time. Using a tiller will save you time and backaches and will break up and loosen your soil. Once you have tilled the area, you will want to add soil conditioner and if necessary, a layer of Permatill. Finally, till this mixture together to create a well mixed soil that will encourage plant growth. Once you have the area prepared you are ready to plant! Digging the hole will be easier as the area has been prepared and will not need additional steps.
So, if you have a yard that is hard, red clay and you want to have a beautiful landscape with gardens to remember, you still can! It will just take a few extra (and simple!) steps… doing so will enhance your garden’s success and beauty. By providing your plants with a rich, well drained planting medium, they will not only grow, they will thrive!