How To Break Up Clay Soil In Garden

Clay soil can be quite hard to dig, but if it is what you have in your garden, you still need to do it. And so this means that you will need to spend many hours working on a small section and the worse thing is that if you do not do it well, it will compact again. Also, when the summer heat bakes it, the soil will always end up feeling as hard as a rock.

So what should you do about this? Should you just give up and invest a fortune on buying some topsoil for your garden? It is still very possible to work with clay soil as it is, and you can easily get a flourishing garden with it. All you need is to understand how to break up clay soil and also put in a little extra effort in maintaining it.

Is It Possible To Improve/Break Up Clay Soil?

It is possible to break up and improve the quality of your clay soil, but it will take some hard work. You will have to do a lot of digging to achieve this and also a lot of keenness to ensure that you maintain its excellent properties like moisture retention and the rich supply of essential nutrients. Also, improving the quality of the clay soil will require you to work on your entire garden because breaking up a small portion never works well.

What You Will Need

  • Compost.
  • Rake
  • Tiller/hoe
  • Spading fork
  • Gypsum/grit sand

How To Break Up Clay Soil

Step 1: Add Soil Amendments

How To Break Up Clay Soil

The first step in breaking up your clay soil entails adding the amending agents that will help to improve its quality and also in breaking it up. The most efficient one is organic compost, and you can use everything from lawn cuttings to rotted manure.

You should spread about 8-inches of the organic compound throughout the area that you intend to plant. But, you should take caution when using wood chipping or bark because the bacteria needed to break them down can deplete your soil of significant amount of nitrogen


How To Break Up Clay Soil

Although organic materials are the most important thing you need when breaking up and fixing clay soil, you might still need to use gypsum in some instances. Gypsum or calcium sulfate is a term that you are likely to come across when researching on how to improve your clay soil. Adding gypsum helps to break up the clay into small crumbly pieces so that it can be easy to dig and it will also improve the drainage.

​You should apply about 1kg of gypsum for every square foot but make sure that you do not use too much of it and do not use it every season like compost. Gypsum works best in areas where the clay soil is also very salty but using it a lot can acidify the ground.

​Grit sand

How To Break Up Clay Soil

​Grit sand is the another useful amendment that you can use as you break up and improve the quality of your clay soil. Applying an inch or two of grit sand on the clay soil before the organic matter can be very helpful because grit sand helps to break up even the heaviest clay soils. Grit sand has a large percentage of larger grain sizes which is what makes it ideal for improving the clay soil.

​It is also vital as a gardener to make sure that you do not use ordinary building sand because it can cause a clog up. Also, if the ground is baked or very compact, it will be better just to apply the grit sand and compost and let the worms do some of the work for you.

Step 2: Dig In The Amendments

​The second phase and also the hardest is to dig in the amendments into the clay soil. Depending on the garden size you might need to do the digging for several days to ensure that you do it thoroughly.

How To Break Up Clay Soil

​For the best outcome, you will need to dig in the organic matter into about 10 inches of the clay soil. Also, you should be very careful when doing this to prevent further compaction as you dig it. A sturdy spade is the best tool to use when digging the clay soil but a electric tiller can also work well if you know how to handle it well.

​The area that you are working on will become a few inches higher than the rest of the garden, but this should not be a problem since it will even out through the season. But, it is also an excellent idea to use a rake to even the soil a little and also to remove any large rocks or chunks of the clay that did not break up during the digging.

​Step 3: Maintain The Clay Soil With Organic Matter

How To Break Up Clay Soil

Clay soil will take several years to break up completely. And so even if it looks and feels fine after working on it, you will still need to maintain it every other season. But, this should not be difficult if you do a good job the first time and you apply a generous amount of the organic compound.

For the maintenance, you will only need to add an organic compound to the bed every year or planting season, and you can dig it in or leave it for the worms to take in. Also, another important aspect of maintaining the clay soil is to avoid working on it when it is wet because this causes compaction.


Once you know how to break up clay soil, you can plant almost any crop that you want to have in your garden. And with all the advantages that come with clay soil, you can always be confident of having some healthy and fast growing plants.

​By following the three easy steps above, you will never have to agonize about how sticky the soil in your garden is or how hard it gets in the summer. But, make sure that you do not skip any of them because they are all important when it comes to breaking up your clay soil. Also, remember to mulch the garden over the winter and plant some cover crops because they will also help to break up your clay soil and improve its quality.

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Once you know how to break up clay soil, you can plant almost any crop that you want to have in your garden. And with all the advantages that come with clay soil, you can always be confident of having some healthy and fast growing plants.

About the Author

With the endless passion for organic living, I - Ann Sanders has come up with the idea of creating A Green Hand. Being the founder and editor of A Green Hand, my goal is to provide everyone with a wide range of tips about healthy lifestyle with multiform categories including gardening, health & beauty, food recipe,...