How to Improve Drainage in Clay Soil


Providing adequate drainage for plants in clay soil requires improving the soil's texture. Lighten clay soil texture with the help of organic materials. With appropriate amendments, clay soil can become a fit environment for healthy plant growth.

Things You'll Need

  • Measuring tape
  • Coarse sand
  • Coarse compost or aged manure
  • Tiller

Improving Drainage in Clay Soil

  • Select a large area of clay soil to amend. According to Bachman's, "In the Garden," simply adding a couple of bags of sand to a small patch of ground will not benefit the soil nor the plants. Plants need to be in sufficiently-amended soil to avoid contact with neighboring clay soil. A larger amended area allows plants sufficient extension area.

  • Measure the area you want to amend to determine how much material you need to add. Measure square footage by multiplying length by width. Add into your calculations how deep the layers of additives need to be. Bachman's recommends adding three to four inches each of sand and organic matter.

  • Buy materials in bulk form. Since you need to amend a large area, it is impractical to purchase bags of sand and compost or manure. According to Bachman's, an average bag of sand covers about a couple of square feet. Bulk material is measured in cubic yards. A cubic yard covers about a 10-by10-foot area. Account for the distance plant roots spread over time. For example, roots of a fully grown tree can extend beyond a 100-square-foot area.

  • Amend clay soil with coarse materials for adequate drainage. Bachman's recommends using builder's sand, which is coarser grade than sandbox sand, with coarse organic material, such as compost or aged manure. Coarse compost is made from leaves. Contact your local agricultural extension for sites with compost made from leaves.

  • Cover the area with coarse compost or aged manure. Till the material to a 6-inch depth. Spread coarse sand over the top of the organic material. Till again. According to Bachman's, as the compost or manure decays, it acidifies the alkaline clay soil. Regularly check pH levels and soil texture. Maintain levels appropriate for what you plant.

Tips & Warnings

  • Amend clay soil when it is dry.

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