How to Improve Drainage in Clay Soil? Here Are 10 Expert Tricks and Tips!

by Radost P.

If you are a gardener with skills and experience, you are most likely aware of the frustrations that heavy clay soil causes to someone who is devoted to this hobby. While clay soil does provide certain benefits for your garden, it is quite difficult to work due to its consistency. Do not get discouraged, though – there are simple methods that you can use to improve drainage in clay soil! In this article, we will reveal the right strategies for dealing with this issue. So, if you need some tips and tricks, keep on reading.

How to Improve Water Drainage in Clay Soil? Here is What The Experts Suggest!

what to add to clay soil to improve drainage

How to know if there is a clay soil in your garden? There are several ways to find out. For example, you could perform soil test – it is affordable and gives even more detailed information about the soil. On the other hand, you may look for signs of clay soil by observing what happens to it depending on the conditions. When it is dry, does the soil gets cracked and hard? Below, you will find the best strategies for improving clay soil.

Use Worms to Improve Clay Soil

Since worms are rich in microorganisms, they can improve the soil structure, yet you should not add them directly. The reason being is that worms cannot move easily through clay soil, so they will relocate to other areas of your garden. Introduce them after enriching the soil with organic matter. 

Clay-Busting Plants

sunflower root systems


These are plants that have roots which are able to break through clay soil. For example, mustard, sunflowers, or daikon radish. Sunflowers provide other benefit for your garden as well – they attract pollinators. At the end of the season, the only thing to do is chop the plants.

Read also: How to prepare garden soil for new plants?

How Do I Improve Drainage in Clay Soil? Aerate It Twice a Year!

It is best to do aeration two times per year – throughout the fall and spring. Those are the times right after cleaning the garden and before planting. Experts advise using a digging fork or aerator, while working backwards. This is a preventive measure that helps you to avoid re-compacting the soil. 

Use Specific Amendments

worms compost clay soil

Add amendments after aeration, since this is the time when it is easier for organic matter to be worked into the soil. Microorganisms and worms will be attracted, as a consequence of applying organic matter over the soil. Compost is better than manure since it improves the structure of soil, and you cannot really overdo it.

Contour Your Garden

Building contour beds can actually help improve the heavy clay soil. Incorporate raised beds into the landscape of your garden in order to enhance the growing conditions.

Peat Moss or Gypsum

how to improve heavy clay soil

You should only use these in specific circumstances, otherwise they could do more harm than good. For example, if you are living in a coastal region with soil that would benefit from additional calcium, you may consider using gypsum as a short-term solution. Use peat moss only if the soil gets regular tests.

Appropriate Mulching

If you have already aerated the soil and applied amendments, you could also add mulch. When the weather is hot – experts advise mulching heavily in order to protect the soil. On the other hand, if there are rains – mulch lightly in order to prevent fungal issues.

Read also: Enhancing your garden’s beauty with gypsum!

Do Not Walk In The Garden Beds

the right strategies to improve clay soil how to know if the soil contains clay

As you know, improving the heavy clay soil takes time and resources. It requires collecting organic material, purchasing soil amendments, and many other tasks. So, you definitely do not want to walk into the garden beds, since this will cause compaction.

Planting Cover Crops

The functions of cover crops are that they enrich the soil and decrease erosion. Depending on the climate in your region, you should choose the right cover crops for the soil and plant them either in summer or fall. They can also help soil amendments to be incorporated into the soil.

What About Adding Sand to Clay Soil?

should i use sand to improve clay soil

Is it good to add sand to heavy clay soil? No matter how tempting this option might sound to you, sand is not enough to improve the soil structure unless you add significant amount of it. Experts recommend avoiding applying sand in order to prevent the opposite effect.

In a nutshell, improving heavy clay soil does not have to be difficult when you implement the strategies listed above. We hope that this article was useful to you in dealing with this common gardening issue!

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