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Old 04-21-2009, 03:21 PM
Location: Grosse Ile Michigan
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OUr yard is solid dense clay. Nothing will grow in it. We are planning to put 4" of compst on top of the clay. Our landscaper says that we cna just lay it on top of the clay and it will stay put. There is no need to rotor till it in. Is tis correct, or will the compost just wash away in the first rain?
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Old 04-21-2009, 03:30 PM
Location: rain city
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If you have solid dense clay and dump four inches of compost on top......you'll continue to have clay with a top layer of compost. They will not magically mix. They will both just sit there.

One thing you can do (difficult on a large scale like a whole yard) is to catch the clay in a medium damp state--not too wet, not too dry. At that point the clay is almost workable. Then you can dig the compost and clay together and you should be able to get a mixture with a decent enough texture to grow something.

Clay is very difficult to amend.

(I know, I gardened in Texas black gumbo for years!)
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Old 04-21-2009, 03:31 PM
Location: Lemon Grove, CA USA
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Are you doing this for a garden or laying grass or what? I would think a soil mix tilled in would be best but if it is grass you can probably get away with layering it on top then throwing the sod down or seeding and letting the grass hold it in place.
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Old 04-21-2009, 03:49 PM
Location: Grosse Ile Michigan
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Mostly grass. we will plant some flower beds and a garden later, but I will till those areas and add some dirt from around the edges of my father's swam (everything grows great in that stuff).

It woudl be a lot of tilling becuase we are seeding about half an acre. We have a really good tiller (Troybuilt) that will probably work the clay without too much trouble, but I have back problems so I could only do a little bit at a time.

Our landscaper said that we cna just spread out the compost, seed it and cover it with straw or hay for a few weeks and it will be fine. However our landscaper has yet to see his 20th birthday so I am not confident in his experience.
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Old 04-21-2009, 05:22 PM
Location: Nebraska
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You should feel that way.

When I moved into my first house, the soil was hardpack clay. The first thing I did was drag the kids to a horse farm and clean out their stables for them. Then I brought it all home and rototilled it all in. Everyone thought I was nutz, especially from the smell! The next year I started my gardens. I had more worms than you can imagine, the soil wouldn't quit rotting underneath, composting itself. I grew everything from flowers and fruit trees and bushes to vegetables, and my yard was insanely lush. Folks used to say they could throw down a dead stick and it would root!

The reason you rototill it in is simple. Clay resists water. If you pile dirt on a ceramic plate, what happens? The dirt floats, and the water doesn't sink in; the clay underneath will 'float' anything you plant. It will form a saucer that holds water. This is not what you want for long-term plantings, not even grass - the roots have to go down, not sideways, to get their nutrients and water so that the plants become established. Otherwise they will starve to death over time, and you'll have to keep fertilizing that top layer indefinitely.

Spreading a layer on top is how developers do their landscaping in their brannew subdivisions - because by the time the pretty new green grasses and plants start starving to death, they are long gone, and new owners are left with a dying mess. It's cheaper and less labor intensive - and will cost you dearly in the long run.
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Old 04-21-2009, 06:21 PM
Location: new england
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Well I saw it on the tv show "gardening by the yard" and he explained the compost method takes several years to break down the clay. A bit too long for my tasted.
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Old 04-21-2009, 11:00 PM
Location: somewhere close to Tampa, but closer to the beach
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SCGranny is 100% correct..and a responsible..worth-their while builder takes the extra time to properly "ready" a home site's planting/lawn area(s) so that the new home owner will have a good start..its sad that, at least for now, many get away with not doing this...or often lack knowledged landscaping crews in their companies..but that discussion is for another time..

When you place good soil over heavy clay, or some other, overworked, and nutrient barren soil.. plants will often grow well in the good stuff untill they hit the bad stuff..at that point, the root zones of those plants will stay in the good soil and often closer to the surface thus requiring alot more maintainance to continue to thrive(that is if they aren't washed away in the event of an unexpected heavy rainfall which severely floods the area)..By mixing everything together, you encourage the roots (and moisture) to penetrate deeper and adjust to the poor-er soil below and with time, the overall soil will become better as worms and other
benificial things make new homes and bring even more good things along to help build the soil..

This is one good reason to allow a given %'age of last years' fallen leaves to remain on the ground in flower beds if possible..and to allow mulched grass clippings to remain on a lawn ..in fact, some plants/trees like oaks and Avocadoes must always have a certain amount of fallen leaves left below the tree for them to be happy..and a happy Avocado gives you lots of guacamole..
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Old 04-22-2009, 02:18 AM
Location: Naptowne, Alaska
15,596 posts, read 34,548,601 times
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Dump and spread a bunch of composted manure on the clay. Get yourself one of those self propelled roto-tillers and churn everything up real good. Spread the grass seed then run a small compacter/roller over everything to tamp the seeds and pack the soil. Water everything and watch it grow. I've got clay in my yard and this worked pretty darm good even for my veggie garden.
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Old 04-22-2009, 09:17 AM
110 posts, read 318,769 times
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Your landscaper is partially right, IMO.

For the lawn areas, you really do not need to add four inches of compost. I would slightly work in an inch or two(at most) of compost into the clay with a hard rake or tiller working just on the top inch or two of existing soil. Then rake it very, very smooth before seeding and adding straw. If you till all that area up deeply for a lawn, you just create a lot more work for yourself because that area will then need to be leveled and rolled so that you do not end of with a bumpy lawn. Grass roots only need two inches at best, so tilling up more than that is a waste of time and energy. Mow it with a mulching mower, and you'll be adding organic matter to the soil over the years to help sustain the lawn.

For garden beds, add the four inches of compost along with some soil conditioner and till, till, till.
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Old 04-22-2009, 10:27 AM
Location: Grosse Ile Michigan
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We need four inches in places becasue we are short of fill. Compost is cheap fill (we are getting it for free). We could do two inches in the areas that do not need fill.
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