really really new to this

O Fallon, MO

Okay I'm really new to gardening but I have found that I do like it when something I plant grows. I live in a brand new subdivision and have a huge yard but it is mostly clay and I'm not sure what to do with the dirt to make it good for the plants. I've read a couple of books but really what do you all think is the best way to treat the yard, or do you have a resource to point me too. I have a few raised beds that the builder put in that I've been adding too but I'm ready to branch out. Thanks so much!

Menasha, WI(Zone 5a)

This is always such a hot topic, so I will be posting what I do.

To improve the soil to have better drainage and workability. I would:
work up the clay when it is dry and work in compost - several types including oraganic mixes,peat moss and composted manure. This will help to create air spaces in the clay. How much? a couple inches of each kind for every foot of clay I would say. I would try to work it up close to 2' deep if possible. For annual beds I would work it up in the spring and fall also. This will help to make it more workable over the years.

Ogden, UT

I have clay also. Last year I planted hardy plants such as Autumn Sedums, Spirea bushes, even some japenese forest grass (which I hesitated due to the soil). I dug a larger than usual hole and placed quite a bit of really good soil nurseries use to start seedlings. (A mixture of peat moss, the little sterafoam pieces...etc.)
All of my plants did great! Throughout the season I added good soil and worked around the plants.

My favorite informant at a nursery nearby also suggested Gypsum, and its not very expensive and easy, just throw the little pellots around.
Good luck

Mableton, GA(Zone 7a)

Hi. My two cents: Soil prep is key. I have Georgia Red Clay. And there really are lots of things that do well in clay. Unfortunately you can't really improve your entire yard at once, unless your loaded :) So concentrate on each area as you tackle it.

My #1 suggestion is to go to the library and look at as many plant book/photos as possible. This will help you find the look you like.
Start with foundation things like trees and large shrubs you like. (Get those in before summer and it's acompanying drought if you can) Then move to smaller shrubs like azalea size etc. Then move to your perrenials and annuals.
Work in small areas at a time so you can have the satisfaction of a completed garden. It will bring you down to try to do everything at once.
It really is a benefit to work in small area at first because your tastes are going to change as you discover new plants and shrubs. Your going to want to have space to put your new things. (I've used up most all of my suburban yard and now have no where for new shrubs :(
I really want to stress giving yourself a small plot to work with first so you can have some immediate satisfaction.

And keep reading, and reading, get magazines (Garden Gate is great, it's small, no adds and it's a quick and easy read) There are lots of monthly emails to receive, like the one's from Lowes and Home depot - they are catered to your particular area and very informative and again a quick read.)

I know of many other great sits to visit. If you're interested just d-mail me.

And keep reading things in the DG forums. Tons of practical info. from REAL gardeners. I love it here and visit it several times a day if I get a chance.

Have a great time with your new gardening and don't rush your self to do everything at once.

Happy Spring,

Gregory, MI

I have a new house where the yard is heavy clay soil as well. I have chosen plants that will do well in clay soils, mostly native trees, shrubs & flowers. I did add some composted manure to my flowerbeds to help the flowers along, but I've left the trees to fend for themselves and didn't amend thir soil. I just made sure to water very well during the dry summer months to keep them thriving and mulched around them to hold the moisture in.

Cypress, TX

Hi, I moved into a new home last year. It too had a heavy clay base. The thought of digging up all of that clay was too overwhelming to me, so I hired a landscaper to do it. As it turned out, he put in my new plants without amending the soil at all! This was the sole reason I had him plant! When I questioned him, he acted dumbfounded that I would question his method and insisted that he had given me what I paid for. Needless to say, I have been spending the year digging up the plants and amending the soil under each individual one. I have been using nursery packaged garden soil with organic fertilizer in holes that are twice as wide and deep as the root ball. The plants that I have replanted are all doing fine. Some that I didn't get to in time died.

Merritt Island, FL(Zone 9b)

Oh, tilliemarie, what a sad story! I hope you didn't lose too much - and I hope there is somewhere you can rate him or list him so others are warned before they spend their hard earned money!

Dublin, CA(Zone 9a)

Tillymarie--Did you have a written contract outlining what he was supposed to do? If so then you should try again to get your money back from him, and report him to the better business bureau if he doesn't cooperate. If you didn't have a written contract or if you did but it didn't specifically spell out how he was supposed to amend the soil then there's not much you can do unfortunately.

Cypress, TX

Hello, Thank y'all for your concern and advice. I did not have a written contract with the landscaper. We talked at the kitchen table about how important soil is and that even a great plant won't thrive in poor soil. I told him that the only reason that I had called him in was that I could not tackle taking out clay and bringing in new soil. When it was all over with and I had plants and no new soil, ( I was not home when he came----BIG MISTAKE) I confronted him. He acted as if we never had such a conversation and that all of the plants would do fine. I did call him and the company who recommended him and complained-- many times. This is one of those life lessons for me and , maybe for some of you that may be reading this. That might be the good that comes from this! Anyway, I now have the start of a beautiful yard--and a few new muscles to match! TM

Katy, TX(Zone 8b)

I, too, have clay soil as do my DD and DSIL who live in the same subdivision. I have found that the clay is quite nutritious. DSIL dug down 2-1/2 ', tossed out the clay and added good soil and other amendments but not manure, then put on mulch. It rained and his beds became waterlogged and started floating away. The clay could not absorb the quickly falling rain so the amended soil took all the rain. He ended up adding back some of the clay which he had stored in huge mounds in the back yard and finally came up w/a mix that was pleasing to him.
I on the other hand dug down just enough that the holes I planted various plants in were a bit deeper and wider than the plants, added compost and a bit of top soil, put in the plants raising them a couple of inches and filling in the sides w/the amendments and topped w/ mulch. The plants settled in and did great. His also settled in and drowned. Moral: don't amend too much when you have clay. That clay holds lots of nutrients, besides holding water once it is soaked. Our experience; not just theory.


Independence, MO(Zone 6a)

Oh ick you poor souls -- I moved into a new house a few years back -- new to me but fortunately not to the neighborhood. My friends and I will celebrate the 90th anniversary of the house next year. As you can imagine the soil is fantastic -- gardened in for 89 years, just imagine. I sowed lettuce in a 4x8' veggie bed this spring and it hit me on the chin because I didn't jump back fast enough. (Ok I exaggerate but it did sprout in 3 days.)

To get back to the topic, would adding builder's sand to the clay help with drainage? I've also read that one can run tile underground thru problem areas and that will carry off water that would drown the plants otherwise. But all very expensive.

But if it's any consolation you can dig your mulch in and dream of how wonderful the soil will be 5 years from now, and say "I did this, I made this horrible stuff a garden of Eden." You can imagine how grateful I am to the people who lived in my house the past 89 years and made the soil what it is today.

Dublin, CA(Zone 9a)

If you add sand to clay, make sure you add lots of organic material at the same time, otherwise you're going to make yourself some nice concrete...

Anne Arundel,, MD(Zone 7b)

yes, what ecrane said, I have read, do not just add sand ! My mom's yard is clay, and while it's really hard to dig, it does have good fertility and holds some water. Things do pretty well in spite of it.

Dublin, CA(Zone 9a)

I have clay and don't amend it because I'm a lazy gardener with a bad back! So I buy things that will do well in clay and I use things like mulch, compost tea, and John & Bob's soil optimizer and figure slowly over time the soil will improve a bit.

Taft, TX(Zone 9a)

I live down in south Texas blackland farming country where the soil has soooooooooo much clay. Because we didn't get a cotton crop last year to use gin trash, I just took an area in the garden about 60x120 ft. I tilled in lots of gypsum pellets, bone meal, blood meal and quick release fertilizer (mainly high first number which is nitrogen). My plants have been beautiful all winter. When I do have available free organic matter, I will slowly add to the soil......I also had access to some cow manure from the cattle. Good luck and it is more important to take a small area and amend the soil correctly than to not do it at will be happier in the long run.

Mchenry, IL(Zone 5a)

i too had new construction.. not even grass would grow!. hard packed clay. i did mostly raised beds and for all my borders. it has taken 10 years for decent soil. i did have to learn the hard way by loosing lots of plants. i started digging the hole 3 times as big and ammending when i planted anything new. i have used manure, peat, sand, composted leaves, mushroom compost you name it. i did find a way to prepare a bed in advance though that worked well. i cut out the sod( sooo much fun) ha ha.. then bought top soil for cheap from the guy up the road that excavates septics.( they sell of the top soil when they did a new septic) sometimes its good sometimes not. i use rocks from the farmers field to hold the dirt in. then all year i bury my kitchen scraps, (veggies peels,eggshells, bread, all fruit or veggie scraps not meat. i do it well into dec. untill i can no longer dig cuz its frozen. usually the following spring i have plenty of worms and good soil.i ammend it with organic blood, well rotted horse manure and composted leaves clay i think is the worst! it is soo labor intensive!.drive around and look for horse farms. ask for the manure. they usually have new and well rotted. beg for the well rotted! bring them some veggies in exchange. nothing beats a free supply of rotted manure. kathy

Fayetteville, NC(Zone 8a)

From listening to all of you, I'm glad I only have had sand to deal with. That has taken me years to amend, too. I bury my compost "stuff" because I can't take care of the pile any more and every year I have added more bags of manure and potting soil and I reuse every scrap of soil that comes with any plants I buy. I have had access to lots of leaves that I use to mulch with in the fall and then dig in when spring comes. I now have good soil rich in worms, with lots of good bugs, toads and lizards. The birds love the yard and I love the birds. I'm sure sorry for all of you that have such hard clay, but I guess any extreme is hard to work with.

Schriever, LA(Zone 9a)

All good advice on amending the clay soil. I have it too and it was not fun starting new beds in this 12 years ago. Each year I work organic material into my established beds and slowly over time, my soil has become much improved. I too notice many earthworms when I dig and that's a good thing! For new plantings outside of the established beds, I dig a hole MUCH deeper and wider. I mix "soil conditioner" aka compost (what I buy at my local nursery is bagged as soil conditioner) with the soil that I just dug out until it is very friable. This is guaranteed to give you a serious workout! I place a layer of this material into the hole, then my plant, and pack the remaining improved soil about the roots. It's like tucking a baby into a nice comfy bed :) Gradually, over the years, my raised beds have shrunk to ground level, but the soil is very fertile. It's a slow process, but like another poster said, just tackle a little section at a time each season and you will be well rewarded.

Columbia, MO(Zone 5b)

I live on old strip mine ground and have that wonderful blue clay under the regular clay....what fun! I just decide where I want to plant something and put in a nice raised bed. I have not bothered to border it with rock or anything and it does not wash even though most of it is on a gentle slope. The parks and rec department here sells compost very cheaply. We have an old grain truck and on certain days of the year they will fill it for us, otherwise you can go at any time and fill it yourself. As it breaks down I add more compost. Do not just dig a hole in our kind of soil and plant something with good soil, you will just make an expensive bathtub that will drown your plants.

I agree with 3gardeners. Plant the "bones" of your gardens first (the woody plants) and move on from there. Complete one bed to your satisfaction and then move on to another. Don't forget things like paths, seating and art. Another suggestion I would make is to visit local public gardens in your area to see what they have planted. That will give you a good indication of what will do well in your area without a lot of fussing over them. And don't forget the joys of having a water garden! They are very easy to maintain and wonderful to watch as your fish and water plants grow. You do not need expensive equipment and after it is established for a few months really only need to feed your fish if you want to. My two small ponds are both just under two feet deep and the fish did just fine over the winter with no care at all. They also attract desirable wildlife such as dragonflies and songbirds.

How far is O'Fallon from Columbia?

Brimfield, MA(Zone 5a)


What are you trying to grow? Anything specific? Some things are easier to grow than others and.... there are certain veggies you can grow before your last frost date. It helps to know what you are wanting to grow in your yard, so please let us know once you get a chance. Thank you!!!!

Mchenry, IL(Zone 5a)

for my clay soil i have had great luck with minimal ammendments with; tall phlox, coneflowers, brown eyed suzzies, rose of sharon, lilacs (for sun)old fashion hydrangias& hostas (in the shade). my cones are like weeds, they grow no matter what and the little chickadees love them, in the winter. best of luck clay bees... kathy

Mchenry, IL(Zone 5a)

this a picture of my purple/ black ( they were so dark they looked black!) hollyhocks from last july. i bought them from walmart for $5.00. well worth every penny! yippee!! i finally posted a pic thanks to noobie! cant wait to post more!

Thumbnail by kathy1955
Fayetteville, NC(Zone 8a)

This is a picture of my Nigra hollyhock and I think it's the same thing you have, in case you care about names.

Thumbnail by 1gardengram
Ogden, UT

I have been told from 2 different nurserys and a great gardener to use Utelite - E-Soil and some compost. I'm gonna give it a try and let you know how it worked. I really didn't notice much difference with the gypsum.

Adrian, MO(Zone 6a)

i think gypsum only works if you have a lot of fertilizer salts not allowing the clay to drain. nobody actually has pure clay soil. But any organic material you can add would
make it more loamy and workable. clay is very nutrient rich and it holds moisture well.
unless of couse you have hardpan clay which doesn't drain well and gets like concrete when dry. You said new subdivision. if they dug a basement they usually deposited the deeper soil and clay onto the top when they backfilled the house which makes things alittle more challenging. i'd just till in leaves, cotton burr compost, cow manure etc. in it little by little to where you want to plant something.
I think you'd be better off than with raised beds. raised beds are subject to dry out more quickly. hope this helps

Mchenry, IL(Zone 5a)

1 garden, i do believe your right! thanks for the name. i am terrible about keeping the names of things. i plant all these specimen plants and think i should remember the names years later. not so! did yours come back this year? mine dont look so good. i have plenty of seeds and they germinated well, i am hoping they ( the seedlings)come true to the original plant. thanks for the pic & name. kathy

Garner, NC(Zone 7b)

We have lots of good old NC clay-bricks anyone? We always use just plain old cheap compost and cow manure to ammend the soil before we plant. It's less than $2 a bag at Lowe's. We dig the entire garden area down about 2 feet or more, mixing and busting up those clods as we go. I use compost during the following years as I have it, and always use a shredded hardwood mulch that breaks down eventually. I've had really good luck with all kinds of perennials, annuals, and vegetables using this method.

Fayetteville, NC(Zone 8a)

Kathy, None of my hollyhocks came back this year. I was in the hospital most of last summer and family members kept things watered for me, but by the time I came home things were dying back. I didn't think to look for them at that point. I had those Nigra for at least five years and some fancier ones for about three years. I am going to try to replace them a little at a time. I don't know anything about starting them from seeds as a general rule, although that's where my fancier ones came from if I remember correctly. Here's a picture of my favorite Peaches and Dreams.

Thumbnail by 1gardengram

Post a Reply to this Thread

Please or sign up to post.