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Is heavy clay soil a bad thing?

(10 Posts)
Magtils Tue 18-Apr-17 12:48:23

I'm a complete novice to gardening, as you may have guessed. I have just moved to a house that has a large garden that hasn't been touched for 20 + years. I have trimmed and cut back a lot of hedging and trees to open it up whilst we decide what to do. However recently, I have dug out most of the very overgrown shrubs and plants in a sloped (away from the sun) bed in the front garden. The soil that we have is very heavy clay soil, and although I can find plants that will do well in the shade (this bed never gets any direct sun) I'm not sure what to do, if anything, about the clay soil. It's so heavy and sticky, I don't even know where to begin! Should I mix something into it? I'm thinking of maybe turning it into more of a rockery. It has a wall at the front which is not looking brilliant, and I would like to grow something down that. I'm so unsure of what to do and how to do it, it's stopping me from doing anything!

Chavelita Tue 18-Apr-17 12:54:40

I have that soil, which is omnipresent around here, and although I know in theory what I should be doing to improve it -- lots of organic matter, manure, anything to break up the heavy texture -- I'm not an enthusiastic enough gardener to work on it, so I've essentially left the garden as it was when we moved in (it's a nice, mature garden with good shrubs and trees) and done most of my 'gardening' the same way I did when we only had a London balcony, in pots.

Talk to neighbours who know about gardening, and who may also trade cuttings -- or just look at what they are growing in similar positions. Our local garden centre has also been helpful with ideas.

TheSpottedZebra Tue 18-Apr-17 15:06:13

Me too - I'm surrounded by old brickworks quarries.

In theory lots of organic matter to break up the soil is best I think. And you can get some 'claybreaker' stuff mostly made from gypsum that helps to loosen it up.

The main thing I think is to learn when to dig and not dig, and avoid standing on the soil. If you do need to stand on it, use a board to spread your weight. And learn what grows well in clay, in your aspect. On y that note, check out the shade thread in this topic - called Shady Characters or similar -loads of ideas for, er, shade!

There are positives to clay - it holds nutrients really well, and holds water too. But yes there are negatives - horrid to dig, and it's open either slop or concrete.

Have you access to manure and similar? Do you compost?

Magtils Tue 18-Apr-17 16:40:32

Ah thank you guys... yes I feel it's going to be a little learning project! I have just started composting, but nothing ready to use yet. I will have a look at the shady thread you mentioned too.

Titsywoo Tue 18-Apr-17 16:49:19

I have heavy clay soil. The lawn can be hard work but plants wise I'm doing OK. Each year I remove some of the clay in March when it's still wet enough to dig. I use a mattock to break it up a bit then chuck away the big clumps. Then I add lots of compost and fork it in a bit. Then I add bark on top. Over a year or so the ground is getting easier to work in as all of this breaks down. Plants wise lavender is doing well as are rhododendrons, Holly, ceanothus, camelia, viburnum, sweet pea and lots more! The RHS page tells you which plants work in clay, shade etc etc.

StopShoutingAtYourBrother Tue 18-Apr-17 17:02:53

We have this soil and my advice is spend time preparing it. So adding organic matter - compost, leaf mould, clay breaker etc etc at the right time makes soooo much difference, as does only planting plants that'll actually thrive in that soil. There's loads of good books out there - Monty Don, Titchmarsh etc and speak to local neighbours etc

Roses love a clay soil with sun. Get them bare rooted in the autumn. Dig a hole. Put lots of organic matter in the hole and then chuck loads more on the top and let he worms do the hard work of getting it into the soil. Simples.

Magtils Tue 18-Apr-17 18:32:43

Thank you so much everyone! Lots of reading and reasearch to do I think!

PerspicaciaTick Tue 18-Apr-17 18:41:47

We live on heavy clay (yes, there used to be brickworks in the area too) and we don't have too much trouble growing what we want now. However, we have been here for 20 years and have worked a lot of "stuff" into the beds over the years.
Our beds are quite narrow so we don't need to stand on them and we have lots of ground cover and shrubs so we need to do minimal walking and working on the beds. For the first few years we dug in everything from leftover turf (from relaying the lawn) and sand to the tired soil from containers. Then more organic material every time we planted something.
The soil is mostly pretty good to work now.

Chottie Tue 18-Apr-17 19:52:08

Another one with heavy clay soil. We worked it regularly and dug organic stuff in. It is hard work digging holes, but we have lots of plants and flowers. Roses, clematis, honeysuckle, hydrangea and climbing hydrangea, holly, all sorts of herbs, fatsia all grow really well.

I would suggest looking at your neighbours gardens and seeing what grows well, this will give you a good inkling of what will grow well in yours.

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