Clay soil is great at water retention. The problem is when there’s too much water. The flip side is that clay soil is terrible at drainage. And most plant tags say “well-drained soil”. Well-drained soil can be pretty elusive in the Piedmont of NC, so we need to take measures to improve our soil’s drainage.
How do we improve soil drainage? The short answer is to add organic matter, such as Soil Conditioner or mulched leaves. The amount needed varies, though, and changes as the soil is cultivated over multiple growing seasons. For example, if you’ve mulched a garden bed for 5 years – think about where that mulch goes, why do you have to keep adding it each year? It decomposes at various rates depending on the source material and its age. Pine bark, pine needles, shredded hardwood – all have different properties and decompose differently, adding their unique contributions to the soil. There are other potential mulches, as well, but these are some of the most common choices. Many folks like the look of inorganic mulches such as pebbles or lava rock, but these do nothing to feed the soil (and eventually your plants).
Consider adding soil conditioner (pine bark fines) to the planting hole when planting new trees and shrubs in previously unamended soil, and preparing entire flower beds by adding soil conditioner and compost at root depth (at least – deeper is better). A 50/50 mix with the native soil is sufficient, and your native soil goes back in.
Another important consideration is the pH of the soil, and targeting an appropriate pH for the plants you’re growing. A soil test will reveal what you’re dealing with, and we can help you choose the right amendments to move the pH to the targeted zone.
For more detailed information, click on the “How to Improve Clay Soil” document below, or ask our experts at Guilford Garden Center.