East Facing UK Garden + Clay

Page 1 of 2  
Hi, I have been 4 years in my current home, and the back garden pretty much each year needs some new plants and shrubs. Although I admit we have in the past bought what looks nice and arent necessarily suited for our east facing heavy clay moisture retaining soil.
Firstly, I have over the last 2 months or so being contemplating removing the soil/clay from our flower bed about a foot or so and replacing with new soil mixed in with sand but adding more depth - so allowing for a total of 15 inches of decent soil to replace the harsh stuff we have now. Lots of digging out and replacing.....good idea?
As an aside, we had our lawn put down 2 years ago, and only now over the last month or two with some sunshine and lots of rain has it come back to life as it were....was previously, quite thinned out especially when cut and not really great looking - although fine when it looks like it needs cutting, again due to the clay soil and poor drainage - but I do throw down aftercut lawn care every so often when I mow it.
In terms of going forward and planting, what types of shrubs, plants, flowers that are all year round, and keep coming back are best suited for the environment I describe?
Thanks for the advice and recommendations in advance!!
--
mdemetri2


Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload
mdemetri2 wrote:

It is a quick fix that will work as long as you don't create a pond. The area that you excavate must not go down into the clay or the plants (unless bog-adapted) will drown. Either cut away enough so that the whole area drains or build it up into a mound to get the same result. It may be more effective to make sides for a raised bed depending on the lie of the land. You have to take levels to work this out not guess.

Unless you need a soft playing surface consider a ground cover that requires less sun and attention. If keeping the grass try to amend the soil in situ by applying clay breaker, top dressing and using a mulching blade on your mower and leave the cuttings there.
D
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload
On 8/8/12 2:02 PM, mdemetri2 wrote:

What you propose will create an interface between top soil and subsoil. Many plant roots will not cross that interface.
Instead, start by applying a generous amount of gypsum (calcium sulfate) to the area. (I don't know about its availability in England, but I can buy a 50 pound sack for US$9.) Water it lightly. If you don't get any rain, water it again more heavily in about 3-5 days. Repeat rinsing the gypsum into the soil ever 3-5 days if there is no rain. Gypsum will dissolve and react with the clay to make it somewhat granular and porous.
After all the gypsum has disolved and rinsed into the soil, allow the soil to dry for about a week. It should be moist in the top foot but not wet. You might have to cover the area with a tarp while rain falls; remove the tarp as soon as the rain ends so that the soil can continue to dry.
When the soil is moist but not wet, apply your purchased top soil to a depth of not more than a foot. Also broadcast a modest amount bonemeal or superphosphate over the area. Using a motorized tiller, till to a depth of 2 feet; this should result in an area more than a foot higher than it had been (1 foot of top soil plus 1 foot of stirred natural soil plus some air). You might want to hire a service to do the tilling, in which case you will not hurt your back and you will not be liable if a tiller blade breaks.
You will now have a 2-foot depth of well-prepared soil for planting. Avoid walking across the area when it is really wet; otherwise, you will undo much of the tilling.
Dress the area with more gypsum annually, about a month before the most rainy part of the year. You will only have to wet down the gypsum and allow the rain to rinse it into the soil. Roots will not find an interface and will thus penetrate into the clay subsoil. With an annual application of gypsum, nutrients added to the area will eventually leach down into the clay, except for phosphorus. Phosphorus (bonemeal or superphosphate) does not dissolve easily and must be placed where roots will find it, which is why you apply that before tilling.

Since I am not familiar with your climate, I cannot comment on lawn care or recommend plants for you.
--
David E. Ross
Climate: California Mediterranean, see
  Click to see the full signature.
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload
David E. Ross wrote:

OK but it is a flower garden this may not be a problem.
D
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload
On 8/8/12 10:12 PM, David Hare-Scott wrote:

At the end of the original message, mdemetri2 mentioned planting shrubs and perennials. For those, this would indeed be a problem.
--
David E. Ross
Climate: California Mediterranean, see
  Click to see the full signature.
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload
David E. Ross wrote:

How are you going to remove the barrier 15in or more down, how deep does the clay have to be amended, how will you know when you have done it and how long will that take? Maybe the answer instead is not to use deep rooted plants or to build up mounds several feet high.
D
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload
On 8/9/12 4:34 PM, David Hare-Scott wrote:

If the clay is treated with gypsum to make it more porous and if the top foot of clay is tilled with new top soil, the interface between the top soil and the clay subsoil will be blurred. Clay is often rich in nutrients other than nitrogen. With careful use of fertilizer and with infrequent but deep watering, plant roots will grow down below that blurred interface into the clay.
My natural soil is heavy adobe clay. What I have suggested here is based on my experience, especially my use of gypsum. Every year, I use at least 50 pounds (23 kg) of gypsum in my garden; some years, I use 150 pounds (70 kg). Other than the obstructions caused by tree roots, I can dig the soil quite easily; and my plants -- all perennials, shrubs, and trees -- seem to thrive.
No, I do not have a large garden. My total lot is slightly less than 0.25 acre (0.1 hectare), including the footprint of my house and the extreme slope that I describe at <http://www.rossde.com/garden/garden_back.html#hill .
--
David E. Ross
Climate: California Mediterranean, see
  Click to see the full signature.
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload

Given the amount of rain the UK has had over the past summer, watering is probably not really needed. In fact it's possible that this area could end up as I suggested - like a bog garden.
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload

Is that 15 inches "just spread", or after watering?
--
Welcome to the New America.
<
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hA736oK9FPg

  Click to see the full signature.
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload

Yes, it can still be a problem. For instance, all the fertilizers and all the minerals in your water that you dump on the flower bed over the years -- the remains -- may become more concentrated because they can't move past that X inches of "good soil", and then you get plants in a saline soil, which collapsse and die.
What you're proposing makes a sort of giant flower pot. With a real flower pot, you can tip it over at the end of a season, dump out the old and replace the soil fairly readily. That's a whole lot more work with a bed in the garden -- as much or more than you started the project with.
http://septictankinfo.com/Gayman_Clay.JPG is a micrograph of clay particles; they are flat plates that tend to want to stack or shingle over each other, forming water-impenetrable layers, particularly if there's enough sodium in the soil or in what you add.
Treat clay soils with respect... they're difficult to grow on.
Kay
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload
Kay Lancaster wrote:

That is another reason that any made bed on top of clay has to have drainage, whcih I had mentioned. It is a somewhat different issue to the root barrier.

yes indeed.
D
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload
On 10/08/2012 00:27, David Hare-Scott wrote:

A commonly held and vastly mistaken view, IMHO. Difficult to work maybe. But they are not difficult to grow on at all, if you keep to a couple of simple rules. Firstly, never try to plant anything when they are soaking wet. Secondly, never try to plant anything when they are bone dry. Clay is far more suited to growing many plants than sandy soil; even those naturally found in sandy environments will often more than just tolerate clay. I have grown heathers without problem, and grown and fruited blueberries on clay (pH 6 - 6.5). I have even been able to move plants which are said to really dislike being moved because a great lump of clay sticks to the roots, and, to all intents and purposes, the roots really haven't been disturbed at all. Try that with sandy or even "highly desirable" loamy soil. The one plant I have given up with on clay soil is grass. Where it is constantly wet, a lawn simply ends up a mess, often with more moss than grass. The previous owner of the house I moved in to had so much trouble he installed land drains, but even those couldn't make a meaningful difference and in the end I had the lawn removed (no great loss as I can't stand lawns anyway).
I live in the Sussex weald, and have been gardening on clay for over 25 years. And, believe me, Sussex clay is real clay. I have about 10 inches of claggy "soil" over a solid clay subsoil (solid with ironstone lumps, that is. Even a pickaxe fails to penetrate some parts. and I have to resort to a hammer drill if I want a deep hole). The most difficult thing about gardening on clay is digging the damn stuff; it is /very/ hard work. It even sticks to stainless steel spades with a vengeance. And when dry, don't even bother with a hammer drill - it's not worth the effort. Wait until it's workable again.
But when it grows stuff, it is brilliant. It holds moisture; it holds nutrients; it anchors. It tends to help withstand frosts much better than lighter soils.
--

Jeff

Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload

I, too, have been growing on clay for about 40 years now... first the clay subsoil that was all the builders left when they stripped the top soil and sold it at my childhood home in Iowa, and now out here in Oregon -- both yellow clays, though the Oregon clay is calcium poor, rocky and nearly free of worms (there are no native worms out here), so it compacts easily and often requires mechanical aeration-- the Iowa soil did not require much mechanical aeration and was calcium rich.
I still say it's a difficult soil to learn to grow on. It's hard to work, and as one who was late to learn about shovel polishing of holes, it can be unsuccessful just due to hole-digging technique. In fact, the experience of trying to garden in my childhood home had really pushed me away from the idea of ever trying to garden. It wasn't until I moved to an area with a lovely, deep prairie topsoil that gardening became fun. There, I could stand barefoot on bare soil and wiggle my feet a bit and dig myself in ankle deep, the soil was that friable and loose. Stick a plant in the ground and it grew.
But clay presents difficulties to most gardeners that a more balanced soil does not... especially in the absence of good soil aeration. It can be particularly tricky because of its cationic exchange properties... it serves as an excellent buffer until it buffers no more.
Though clay holds soil moisture well, it's often not as available to the plants as water in sandy soils, e.g.: http://ag.arizona.edu/turf/tips1095.html which is a special problem in drought. And in comparing plant hardiness in the soils in Iowa (USDA zone 5), I saw no real difference in frost protection in clay vs. an organic loam: slope had a much larger effect.
David is, I believe, gardening on arid land clay in S. California; a friend put her lawn in the front of the house in with (literally) pick and shovel. When I lived there, my veggies were grown in raised beds to avoid the salinized clay my house was built on (a failed orange grove).
Kay
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload
On 10/08/2012 22:42, Kay Lancaster wrote:

Is that normal? I don't know anything about Oregon Clay, but would have though that if there are almost no worms, more-or-less nothing could grow as recycling of plant material couldn't take place, and aeration would be non-existent. What happens with the native plants out there? Or is the area basically a clay desert?
so it

But that's too easy. Don't you want a challenge? ;-)

Interesting article. Grass, though...
--

Jeff

Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload

Here, 70 miles north of San Francisco, we have heavy clay. We scratched at it for years before getting serious. The final solution was tilling in sand (probably < %5), and organic material. On this was planted rye grass, and buckwheat, which break-up, and fills the soil with an amazing amount of roots. Lastly, we keep the beds mulched, which allow the worms to do most of the heavy work of turning, aerating (good soil is 50% air spaces), and draining the soil.
For sure, plants like sequoias, oak, bay, and manzanita can punch through the clay, but east of here in the town of Sonoma, there is impenetrable hardpan (clay) a few feet below the top soil, which can prevent perennials from finding the water they need.
Gotta work with wha'cha got.

--
Welcome to the New America.
<
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hA736oK9FPg

  Click to see the full signature.
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload
Jeff Layman wrote:

My situation is similar to yours, a layer of topsoil over plastic clay, though I suspect my topsoil is naturally better. I agree that clay soil holds water and nutrients well and can produce great crops. Every time the region goes into drought I thank my stars for the clay underneath that acts like a big sponge and keeps my pasture growing for months without rain. Having had very sandy soil (that I was always trying to build up) and very clayey soil that I have to break down I will take the clay.
BUT You have to have (or to make) actual soil. Clay by itself ( I mean the plastic stuff you can mould into complex shapes) is hopeless. The process of amending it takes years of effort and some skill. The choice of plants has to be considered carefully as many will die in a wet spell due to lack of drainage and it is impractical (for me anyway) to landscape the whole garden for drainage and to amend all its soil to prevent the problem. As it is all my fruit trees grow in mounds and my vege garden has raised beds with drain paths running down-slope: at considerable effort and cost.
Clay is not for people who just want to plop something in the ground and see it grow. I thought it interesting that in response to "Treat clay soils with respect... they're difficult to grow on." you first deny that it is so and then go on to explain all the difficulties that have. :-)
David
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload
David Hare-Scott wrote: ...

if you have a properly planted pasture with some alfalfas and red clovers the tap roots from those go down quite deep. even for more sandier soils they can make the difference between a nice top and barren brown scraggly yuck.
then again, also important is to not overgraze.

lasagna gardening isn't too bad, pile it on and let time/worms/critters do most of the work. i just wish i had enough space to do here that wasn't surrounded by gravel pathways and prone to flooding once in a while.

without the raised beds here many of the gardens out back would be too soggy for too much of the spring to get the soil warm enough. that is one of the problems with clay that hasn't been mentioned yet (that it stays cold longer). for some crops this is good, for others not so good (tomatoes, peppers).

i keep working more organic material in when i have a chance to do it and the garden is in between crops/covercropping. still i'm not down very far in some gardens because we keep rotating the heavier feeders and i don't have a huge amount of extra time and energy to dig in more stuff or hunt it down. so far mixing in partially decayed wood chips along with some sand if i have it has been the best results for working, if i could convince myself to get a breathing rig set up so i could fire more charcoal in clay lined pits i think that was even a better result for workability.
i agree with the points about proper drainage being very important (or a good landscape design) for clay. until i got the drainage situation improved here it didn't make much sense to plant certain gardens early.
for root vegetable beds out back (and the tulips) i put in raised beds with french drains and drain tiles to keep the water moving downwards or away instead of perking the clay back up to the surface. i put landscape fabric down too before i put the topsoil/sandy topsoil mix in. i didn't want to make it easy for the worms to channel into the clay and mix it with the topsoil either. today these were the only gardens that didn't get flooded much.
songbird
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload

I seem to recall an old gardener's saying of "Sand, heartache, Clay, backache".
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload
On 11/08/2012 07:02, Farm1 wrote:

LoL! I'll have to remember that one.
--

Jeff

Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload
On 11/08/2012 00:12, David Hare-Scott wrote:

Did I? Read my post again.
You are confusing "growing" with the act of digging or cultivating. For the latter, good loam or even sandy soil wins every time, as the job is easy. But once in, plants grow much better in clay without a lot of additional help such as watering and use of fertilisers.
--

Jeff

Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload

Related Threads

    HomeOwnersHub.com is a website for homeowners and building and maintenance pros. It is not affiliated with any of the manufacturers or service providers discussed here. All logos and trade names are the property of their respective owners.