Dishing the Dirt on Good Soil
Not all of us are lucky enough to have great gardening soil.
There are many of us (me included) that have to work on our soil to make it workable. The Prince George area is large with different types of soil including clay. The Pineview area where we live is known for its Pineview clay soil. Clay soil is hard to work with, literally. Try getting a spade in it! Although gardening in clay soil is a challenge, it is not impossible, it just takes time and effort.
Clay soil is made up tiny particles, so tiny that you are unable to see them with the naked eye. It is these smaller particles that make the soil heavy, as it compacts easily and becomes tight, making it difficult for a plants roots to grow through. When it becomes wet, it gets slippery and sticks together. This is the opposite for sandy soil, which is made up of larger particles creating a loose airy soil. Sandy soil also has its challenges as it is unable to hold water and nutrients because it drains too quickly. Clay soil on the other hand does not drain as quickly and is able to hold nutrients and moisture for a longer length of time. Not draining quickly can also be a problem during wet weather, as the plants roots sit in water for a length of time causing them to become waterlogged.
To make clay soil easier for plants to grow in, it needs to be lightened up by changing its texture, which is done by amending the soil. Amending clay soil is done by adding lots of compost, which also adds nutrients to the soil. Manure, peat moss, leaves, grass clippings, broken down wood chips/sawdust and straw added every year will all help. So does mixing gypsum into the clay soil every year. The changes will not be immediate, but you will notice the change in a few years. Another to thing to remember is that clay soil compacts easily so you want to avoid working on it when it is wet, as well as walking on it too much.
If you can’t wait a few years and want quicker results, another option would be to create a raised garden bed. This is done by placing 45-50 cm of good quality, well-drained outdoor soil on top of the clay. This way you avoid working with the clay soil, as it becomes the bottom base.
When planting new trees and shrubs in clay soil we recommend not to dig a deep hole and place the tree/shrub in it like you would if your were planting in a sandy soil. This is because the clay does not drain quickly and the tree/shrub will be sitting in water for long periods of time during wet weather, which will eventually kill the tree. To plant a tree in clay soil, dig out the top 15-30 cm of clay soil and place the tree in the dug out area. Then get a good quality, well-drained soil and pour enough around the trees’ root ball to cover the roots, creating a mound or raised bed. After the tree has been planted create a small ridge along the outside perimeter of the mound to prevent the water from running away when watering the tree.
Clay may not be the ideal soil, but with work and time, you can have a very productive and beautiful garden!
Jos Van Hage owns and operates two Art Knapp Home and Garden Centres in Prince George
- Highway 16 West at Kimball Road
- Highway 97 north at Northwood Pulpmill Road ( closed for the season)