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Gardening on clay

(40 Posts)
BigBertha1 Tue 30-Mar-21 07:27:31

Our new garden is very heavy Cheshire clay so its very wet. We are improving it with well rotted manure as we plant. Any tips or suggestions for plants would be much appreciated.

kittylester Tue 30-Mar-21 07:52:42

Our garden is/was heavy clay. There are lots of things that grow well but sedums, ferns and hellebores always look good for us.

seacliff Tue 30-Mar-21 08:00:28

Awful stuff, have lost so many plants over the years that just rot in it, however much mulch etc we add. Raised beds are a good idea with plenty of drainage in the bottom. Plants that thrive in our garden are all types of viburnum, roses, willows and crab apples. Primroses.

nanna8 Tue 30-Mar-21 08:13:44

Hydrangeas, geraniums grow in ours. Often I put sprouting potatoes in straight out of the cupboard and they seem to do well,too.

Katie59 Tue 30-Mar-21 08:15:08

It’s a very dry acid soil that usually restricts what you can grow, most plants will thrive in a clay soil, it’s the PH - acidity and how wet that will restrict the choice. Usually clay will be neutral or alkaline, you can buy a test kit to check that, if it is very wet or waterlogged don’t plant out until it has dried in spring.
If it’s a new house the topsoil could have come from anywhere a laid in very poor conditions, don’t despair, add manure give it time it will recover.

seacliff Tue 30-Mar-21 08:21:30

There are degrees of clay soil, it does improve with drainage. Ours is blue slip clay, so wet in winter it is up to our ankles and then in summer it sets like cement and there are big cracks where it has dried. Very inhospitable for most plants.

J52 Tue 30-Mar-21 08:24:58

Roses love clay soil, a variety of scented roses would be lovely. Day lilies and Hydrangeas also do well.

Chewbacca Tue 30-Mar-21 08:26:34

Another sufferer of heavy Cheshire clay here too and seacliff is right; it is awful stuff. It's like digging cheese and is damned hard work whether it's wet or dry. I've found that allium bulbs (being of the onion family), planted in the autumn, give a good display in the summer. Hydrangeas do well too because they like plenty of water. Clematis, planted as deep as possible, have also done well. Japanese anemone also seems to grow very well in my clay soil. Delphiniums, transplanted from my previous loam garden, have done really well and look set for another good display this summer. And several varieties of rudbekhia have flourished and spread too.

Good luck BigBertha, I know how physically hard work it is to try to cultivate on clay soil; my garden tool of choice is a pick axe.

Hetty58 Tue 30-Mar-21 08:41:22

I've been here (London clay) for 30 years and the raised beds are a real blessing. In the rest of the garden I've added grit, compost, manure - in fact anything/everything I could to lighten it. It's taken this long to change it, too!

Roses, viburnums, ferns, anemones, hebes, geraniums - anything slug proof, will do especially well. Look in local gardens, especially neglected ones, to see what thrives in your area.

On the plus side, it rarely needs watering and the grass is very lush and green.

merlotgran Tue 30-Mar-21 08:41:56

I'll be keeping an eye on this thread because I have temporarily moved in with my 'bubble' - DD and DSiL while I sell my house and look for somewhere to live.

They refuse to let me pay for my keep but as they both work long hours have asked me to sort out their garden!! They've only been in the house for 18 months and some of the borders were abandoned by the previous owner. The lawn, thank the Lord, is in good nick.

So...I've gone from a dry garden - well drained fen soil, to heavy, wet clay. I dug over a small border on Saturday which gave me a rough idea of what I'm dealing with.

I've already transported a car load of plants from home and there will be more to follow after Easter. There is also a small garden centre just ten minutes away.

Good job I love a challenge!! grin

Greyduster Tue 30-Mar-21 08:49:46

We had clay on one side of our allotment and used to apply lime after it was dug over in the autumn, but it’s not a good solution for gardens where you might want to grow lime hating plants. You can get a product called Clay Breaker which doesn’t affect the Ph balance and is supposed to be very effective.

foxie48 Tue 30-Mar-21 09:43:11

We are on heavy grey clay and it's not the easiest soil to work but don't lose heart it can be improved. Over the years we've added sand and grit, especially when planting anything. I have access to lots of horse manure rotted down with chopped straw, we've incorporated lots of that over the years too. It gets wet and boggy but dries out very quickly to a solid cement so we get going with any digging as soon as it is dry enough to work. We can lose plants in the winter because the roots get water logged if we don't add enough grit to aid drainage.
However, on the plus side, once plants are established, they thrive. Our roses are gorgeous and many shrubs will do very well eg ceanothus, solanum, hypericum clematis etc You'll find lists on the internet but the trick is to use plants that like your soil. I use dahlias to add late colour but always start them off in pots as the cold clay tends to slow them down. Good luck with your garden.

BigBertha1 Tue 30-Mar-21 10:29:25

Thank you for tips. We have had two good sized raised beds made and planted a few trees and shrubs including hydrangea... the mahonia is doing well and its nice and spiky to keep the cats off the front lawn I hope. I say lawn its a bit boggy. Lots of people here having astroturf for their children and pets to play on but I really dont like it. i think we will go the rockery and shrubs way, lots of pots too.

Chewbacca Tue 30-Mar-21 10:42:56

Potatoes are good in clay soil. They need loads of water and you break the clay up when you lift them.

Happysexagenarian Tue 30-Mar-21 11:31:25

We live on the south coast and have heavy claggy clay. Each autumn we buy a lorry load of recycled compost, grit and rotted manure (and sometimes bark) from the local recycling centre and spread it over the borders and beds. We used to dig it in but now we just leave it and the worms take it down into the clay through the winter. Our soil is much more friable now and we can grow pretty much anything, roses, fuchsias and clematis absolutely flourish. I think most recycling centres offer this service, either in builders bags or smaller bags, and it's much cheaper than garden centres.

Lulu16 Tue 30-Mar-21 13:22:57

Moved two years ago to Cheshire too.
Have spent a long time adding manure, leaf mould and compost. Made some raised beds for vegetables which have worked well.
Bottom of the lawn gets soggy in winter, so we are going to make the lawn smaller and put a gravel path between lawn and flower beds.
Have had success with hydrangeas, astilbes, clematis, roses, Japanese anemones, salvias and various kinds of geraniums. I have noticed that pittosporum grow well in other gardens and ceanothus too.

BelindaB Tue 30-Mar-21 13:30:05

Unfortunately, slugs and snails grow faster than the plants!

I have the same problem with my allotment and also dug in quite a quantity of course builders sand and grit. I broke the clay up beautifully.

The upside is that this soil holds nutrients better than any other and that means bumper harvets of flowers, fruit or veg.

Good lick!

effalump Tue 30-Mar-21 16:50:55

Try growing potatoes for the first few years. I wished I had done that to my garden. 36 years later its an absolute nightmare. Apparently, growing potatoes breaks down the clay.

Justanotherwannabe Tue 30-Mar-21 18:57:30

Roses are said to thrive on heavy soil.

If you manage to get it manured and broken down a bit it'll hold the goodness' and be better than lighter, more easily worked, sandy soils. You could try putting a mulch on in summer to stop it becoming rock hard.

Effalump, I always feel that growing potatoes to break up the soil works partly because you have to dig it so much!

Trisha57 Tue 30-Mar-21 19:06:24

Heucheras like clay soil in part shade - the original plants were not called London Pride for nothing!!! Also perennial wallflowers (erysimum) seem to do very well in my garden (very stony clay) and self seed, which is good as they get a bit leggy after two or three years but are easy to replace. Ribes sanguineum have also thrived, and are easy to keep to a reasonable size if needed. I just make sure I mulch each spring with home-made compost which seems to keep the soil manageable, but the stones always come through to the top as soon as it rains!

Amberone Tue 30-Mar-21 19:14:35

My garden is heavy clay and it used to be a rose nursery so roses should be fine. We've got Nandina, camellia, mahonia and virburnum which are all doing fine. Our rhodos always seem to die off, although an azalea out the front has been there for twenty years - that may be because it's slightly higher and dryer. We've just planted a photinia hedge out the front too, and that's really taken off. Few perennials last long out the back where it's wet.

Callistemon Tue 30-Mar-21 19:56:36

If it’s a new house the topsoil could have come from anywhere
That is if you are lucky enough to have any topsoil! We seemed to have just builders' rubbish.

Our soil is clay on limestone and we have lost a lot of plants over the years so it is important to find out exactly what your soil is and perhaps test the pH value.

We've enriched with rotted compost and manure and made raised beds for vegetables.

Roses, sedums, hellebores, a bay tree, the common or 'garden' clematis, have survived.

You could put large pots amongst other shrubs and plants in the borders filled with those plants that don't like clay.

janeyjane Tue 30-Mar-21 19:58:34

You may want to have a look at this site

Callistemon Tue 30-Mar-21 20:01:56

Is he the No Dig Man janeyjane?

I was trying to persuade DH that it was a good idea smile

MaizieD Tue 30-Mar-21 20:15:06


Is he the No Dig Man janeyjane?

I was trying to persuade DH that it was a good idea smile

I'm very taken with his method and intend to try it for a new vegetable bed this year. I have the cardboard, I have the well rotted horse manure, I just need to do it now grin

I'm gardening on clay and I was heartbroken when we first moved here and plants like lavender and rosemary didn't survive. Then I converted one part of the garden to a 'gravel garden'. All I did was spread a couple of inches of gravel over the clay soil. Rosemary loves it. And so does everything else. It is the best seeding medium ever. Anything that sets seed seeds like crazy in my gravel... It always makes me smile when people suggest gravel gardens. I get huge amounts of unwanted seedlings out of mine every spring... They are a lot of work.