Plants for Clay Soil

Clay soil can be challenging to grow vegetables in.

It wasn’t until my 8th year of gardening that I found out firsthand the challenges of growing in clay soil. My first garden was also clay soil, but being a newbie gardener I didn’t know what I was doing in general. I still remember trying to grow and harvest carrots in clay soil and they snapped in half as the soil compacted them down!

Gardening with Clay Soil + Best Vegetables for Clay Soil

Best Plants for Clay Soil

Despite the challenges of clay soil certain crops actually do well.

Shallow rooted crops like lettuce, spinach, swiss chard and snap beans grow well in clay soil.

The brassicas like cabbages and Brussel sprouts apparently appreciate the root support. I’ve been told by neighbors that beets and corn do well in clay soil.

Any of the crops that have a deep root system you can dig a hole, add lots of compost or good topsoil under each seedling to help them grow. Pumpkins and squash do well with this method, and so far our tomatoes have done well because we gave them good soil under each transplant. This is a great way to grow healthier crops without spending the money to amend a whole garden bed.

Because nutrients are hard for your crops to absorb using an organic fertilizer the first couple of years might be necessary.

Although compost and organic matter are better for your garden, it tends to be more expensive than using an organic fertilizer.

I’ve become a fan of ‘The Perfect Blend’ 4-4-4- fertilizer as it feeds the plants and the soil. It also helps to re-mineralize the soil and support your soil at the molecular level. This year gardening with clay soil I noticed a huge difference in yield on the beds that I didn’t add the perfect blend to!

Root veggies like long carrots or parsnips might have a hard time growing downwards.

Add some topsoil for better drainage for these crops. Also be mindful of harvesting, you might need to loosen up the soil around deep root crops otherwise they will snap off instead of coming out of the soil. Varieties like the small rounded ‘Paris’ carrots can work better than deeper ones.

Another harvesting trick is that if it just rained or you watered the garden the clay soil will stick heavily to the roots and be harder to clean.

Try harvesting before you water unless you want to deal with the extra clean up!

Best Vegetables For Clay Soil

Conclusion

Although clay soil can be challenging so can many gardening locations or soil types. In general not matter what type of soil you have focusing on building up the organic matter and microorganisms in your garden will give you long term gardening success.

Do you grow in clay soil? Any tips to add?

4 thoughts on “Plants for Clay Soil”

  1. good story …been in clays for years…root veggies never do too well….onions , never had good lluck…my sunflowers sre volunteers still from 15 years ago…

    Reply
    • Hi George! We’re in our second year of building up our clay soil, so that’s why you haven’t seen it yet. Some of our garden beds where we added topsoil, compost, decomposed manure are doing ok, but still so much clay content. It often takes years to build up soil. I have a few beds where I’m growing fava beans and cover crops to help break up the soil. We’re mulching to add organic matter. It takes time. I share a lot of ‘current’ gardening photos on instagram.

      Reply
  2. If you are ‘in it’ for the long hall, I recommend growing grass. The roots live fast and die young which means a constant supply of organic matter and worm tunnels. The effort and money I have spend for the last 10 years on incorporating cardboard, kitchen waste, leaves, wood, store bought compost etc. into my beds (in order to grow our food), is roughly equal over the same period of time as just growing grass then after a number of years, being able to plant where the grass was.
    We have (or had) coraline lime stone red clay and live off the coast of North Africa (southern California / Floridian climate). The soil down to 1 ft. is is now completely black and we are fortunate to be able to grow tropical, sub tropical and temperate crops (in the winter).
    If I had known what I know now, I would have tilled the top 2 feet, added a lot of wood and cardboard, then sowed Bermuda (golf course) grass and done nothing else (except add human urine 3 x per week and mowed the lawn ‘back’ into the lawn), for a few years.
    We are moving to Cypress (similar climate, similar soil) to a much larger plot of land, so that is what I’ll do. For me, the pleasure comes from growing food that is VERY expensive / unavailable locally (like Banana, Pineapple, Mango etc.). Stuff that is grown in the local soil by farmers is so cheap, it doesn’t seem worth the effort (apart from being able to avoid pesticides etc.).

    Reply

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