CLAY SOIL

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    I am about to move to an area in the Dallas/Ft. Worth metroplex where the soil is a hard black clay. I have a neighbor that also recently moved out there and has a small tractor with a tiller/front end loader. Earlier today we made a few trips and brought in two trailer loads of top soil from a sand pit. We tilled it into the clay soil and it seemed to loosen the soil and make it more workable. They also have, "Padding" sand that is used by construction workers before pouring concrete slabs... the guy at the sand pit couldnt tell me which would make a better clay additive. He seemed to think that the top soil had more plant nutrients, but would be less likely to loosen the soil as well as the Padding Soil. We are both pretty new to gardening and I was hoping someone could give us some advice on making the clay soil more of a viable mix for growing a vegetable garden. I really need something that when mixed with the clay will prevent it from becoming so hard and compacted... I dont see anything growing in that soil - without some sort of improvement.
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Padding "sand" or "soil"? The use of sand to improve clay soil is controversial, whereas pumping in organic matter is well-accepted.
There are mixes out there (Web) that are designed specifically to improve clay soil.
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is
well-accepted.
to improve

Yes. Look for "Turface" or "TerraGreen" or "MuleMix." All are so-called, soil conditioners and consist of high-fired clay granules. They will NOT break down and serve to let air into the soil. They're essentially inorganic, so you sill will have to mix compost in, but compost doesn't really help heavy clays breathe. You can buy those soil conditioners at feed and fertilizer stores (Like Grayco in my area). They also are used as surfaces for tracks and baseball infields, so the groundskeeper at the local high school or college athletic department may be able to help you find a different source.
Wal-Mart sells something similar (Schult's Soil Conditioner, or something like that), but it comes in tiny -- VASTLY overpriced -- bags that would be useless for your purposes. The names listed above come in 40-60 pound bags (about $7.00 per bag, last time I bought some -- I use it as a component of bonsai soils).
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says... :)     I am about to move to an area in the Dallas/Ft. Worth :) metroplex where the soil is a hard black clay. I have a neighbor that :) also recently moved out there and has a small tractor with a :) tiller/front end loader. Earlier today we made a few trips and brought :) in two trailer loads of top soil from a sand pit. We tilled it into :) the clay soil and it seemed to loosen the soil and make it more :) workable. They also have, "Padding" sand that is used by construction :) workers before pouring concrete slabs... the guy at the sand pit :) couldnt tell me which would make a better clay additive. He seemed to :) think that the top soil had more plant nutrients, but would be less :) likely to loosen the soil as well as the Padding Soil. We are both :) pretty new to gardening and I was hoping someone could give us some :) advice on making the clay soil more of a viable mix for growing a :) vegetable garden. I really need something that when mixed with the :) clay will prevent it from becoming so hard and compacted... I dont see :) anything growing in that soil - without some sort of improvement. :) Actually vegetables will grow well in the gumbo, but it's a pain to work the soil. Work in lots and lots of organic matter into the soil and continue to add to it after each growing season. Depending on the size of the garden area, this may or may not be practical, but often I see where people create a raised bed then fill it with a soil to their liking.
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<snip>

I've heard that adding gypsum will help break up clay soil.
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snipped-for-privacy@notsogreenthumb.fake says...
:) :) :) <snip> :) > likely to loosen the soil as well as the Padding Soil. We are both :) > pretty new to gardening and I was hoping someone could give us some :) > advice on making the clay soil more of a viable mix for growing a :) > vegetable garden. I really need something that when mixed with the :) > clay will prevent it from becoming so hard and compacted... I dont see :) > anything growing in that soil - without some sort of improvement. :) :) I've heard that adding gypsum will help break up clay soil. :) Gypsum would be helpful in sodic soils, but our black gumbo is calcic in nature and adding gypsum (calcium sulfate) can cause more problems by increasing the calcium level.
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On Fri, 20 Feb 2004 05:43:49 +0000, Salty Thumb wrote:

This will alter the pH.
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Gypsum does not alter the pH of soil.
I lived in Dallas for 6 years and I gardened in the black gumbo clay every year of it. I amended my soil with tons of compost and I used lavasand, which is readily available everywhere up in the Dallas area. Stop into Northaven Garden Center or see them online first at www.nhg.com Also, Rohde's Garden Center in Garland is a great resource for information. Listen to J. Howard Garrett on 820 am on the weekends, Sat at 11a, Sun at 8a till noon. I can't stand him for personal reasons, but he does give good information about soil amendment.
Adding sand is okay, but it's a waste of money. Adding compost is superior to that, and making native and adapted plant selections is appropriate. The junk they call "sandy loam" in Texas is just that, junk. It's mined from dead lake beds and has no biota what so ever. It can ruin your soil worse than it already is. You need to double dig or at the very least till to a depth of 12 inches and raise the beds up. You don't need to build anything for raised beds. Just fluff the existing soil when it's not soaking wet, and you have pretty good soil.
Clay gets a bad wrap. Actually, clay soils are superior to sandy soils in that they have very high contents of nutrients. However, those nutrients are locked up in the elevated pH. If you use compost and more compost, the soil will slowly, over time, mellow and you will have a pH closer to 7.5 than the 8.5-9.0 which most black clay soils have.
If you do use gypsum as an amendment (which has worked for me) try to find the pellet form. I believe you can buy that at a garden center on 35 called, Strong's. They also have a nice selection of plant material, or they did when I lived up there.
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On Fri, 20 Feb 2004 14:10:22 +0000, escapee wrote:

http://www.awgypsum.com/why_use_gypsum.htm It does effect pH.

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The effect quoted here is called buffering, which is the tendency to modify excesses of high or low pH towards a middle value. The value depends on the type of buffer, for gypsum I think it is around neutral. To have a significant effect will probably take a great deal of gypsum and the closer the pH gets to neutral the less change adding more gypsum will produce. I would expect as buffering substances go gypsum would be quite a poor one.
So while you are technically correct that gypsum _can_ alter soil pH but practically speaking if you wanted to modify soil pH you wouldn't choose gypsum to do it as there are much more effective ways. If you wanted to modify pH *away* from the buffer level, from neutral to either acid or alkali, you are completely wasting your time with gypsum.
I would like to see this vendor produce figures showing how much gypsum would be required to raise the pH of a variety of common soils from say 5 to 6, which would be a typical sort of thing you would want to do.
This is a complex issue. From the point of view of the practical gardener, if I had to choose between two simplified views of the world (1) "gypsum is useful to modify soil pH" and (2) "gypsum has no significant use in modifying soil pH" I would take the second every time.
You should keep in mind that these people are trying to sell gypsum!
David
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opined:

Correct. I mean, because it says so on the Internet doesn't always mean it's so. Gyp does not truly alter the pH in clay, rather, it helps the particulate with cation exchange capacity, rendering the soil easier for nutrients to become available. As you or someone said, buffer to neutral. Nothing will raise or lower pH, permanently. I've used pellet gyp in clay and it is very effective, along with compost, in making soils friable when they are basically scraped off sub-soil, aka, second horizon. In Dallas, they scrape all top soil off, bag it and sell it back.
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On Fri, 20 Feb 2004 14:10:22 +0000, escapee wrote:

A handy reference page:
http://www.awgypsum.com/why_use_gypsum.htm
Apparently gypsum does affect pH.
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If what the website says is true, gypsum is good buffer, pushing the pH level to a neutral 7 which is generally good (unless your plant has preferences for acidity or alkalinity). Of course that's a generalization, and may not apply if specifically your soil is already saturated in calcium or other interacting substances.
Personally, I would go with adding compost and other organic stuff. I would probably add enough gypsum to make the soil workable first, then allow the compost to balance things out. I wouldn't add sand unless there was a drainage problem.
From the website given: Amendment: Corrects soil alkalinity, lowers high pH conditions Counteracts acid soils, raises low pH conditions
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The reference to it, originally, was that it would raise the pH, which was not correct. It can neutralize it, but not raise it in already high pH soils. I suppose I should have been more specific. I have gardened in Dallas soils, so know the problems.
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Here in California between San Francisco and San Jose the challenge is adobe clay. I've mixed sand into it at a 1:3 ratio down to 18-24" deep to make the result friable even when wet. Next step when things dry out a bit (there's been a series of storms recently) is to mix in some well aged horse manure at a 1:1 ratio.
Here's what the Sunset Western Garden book says:
Loam, a gardener's term for soil intermediate between clay and sand, contains a mixture of clay, silt, and sand particles. In addition, loam is well supplied with organic matter. Thus loam - a compromise between the extremes of clay and sand - is the ideal gardening soil: draining well (but not too fast drying), leaching only moderately, and containing enough air for healthy root growth.

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Steer manure is much better, little or totaly no weeds at all, hourse tends to have more weed seeds in it.
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Clay + Sand = Cement, you need to till in lots and losts of compost into that clay soil.
-- "In this universe the night was falling,the shadows were lengthening towards an east that would not know another dawn. But elsewhere the stars were still young and the light of morning lingered: and along the path he once had followed, man would one day go again."
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I can say categorically that this is BS. First of all, cement doesn't have clay in it anywhere. Second, adding sand to clay, if done properly, doesn't yield a hard, unworkable soil. The secrets are:
1) Use coarse sand, like stuff sold for sandboxes, with lots of tiny pebbles in; 2) Use a lot of sand. Mass quantities.
The real problem is that adding sand to clay in small amounts doesn't really make much difference at all.

That much is correct. I find shredded leaves to be quite useful in this regard, although I don't generally till, since it tends to disturb the soil structure too much. I find that simply piling lots of organic matter in the spot where I want to plant veggies (or whatever), waiting a few months, then planting without tilling seems to work quite well. It's called "lasagna gardening," and a Google search on the subject will yield plenty of info.
Jason
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On Fri, 20 Feb 2004 04:56:32 +0000, Registered User wrote:

Sand is a poor soil amendment. Work organic material, i.e., compost, into the soil to give it better texture. Also, it will benefit you most to have a soil test done for nutrients and composition. The soil lab will give recommendations.
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wrote:

Clay soil is actually better than sandy soil. At least clay has some nutrients. Gypsum help break up clay soil. Working compost into the clay soil is much better than adding sand. The compost will invite earthworms and they too will help aerate the soil. Order a truckload of compost for your garden and till it in.
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