Designing Beautiful Borders

March - The problem with sticky soil

March is generally thought of as the beginning of the gardening year. Daylight hours are increasing, temperatures are rising and Gardeners World has returned to BBC2! 

Chomping at the bit to get out there we may be, but what currently greets our feet is wet, cold, sticky, clay soil and this needs to drain and warm up before we can start planting, sowing and clearing the weeds.

A quick synopsis on soil science

In this area we garden on clay soil. Characteristically clay soils are:

  • Poor draining, so prone to water logging,
  • Prone to drying and cracking in summer, making them impossible to weed.
  • Slow to warm up in spring.

However, on the plus side, clay soils are packed full of nutrients and retain their warmth well into autumn. 

Cold, damp soil creates certain problems for new plants. This is because both oxygen and warmth are needed for the roots to respire and grow. Wet clay soil is lacking in oxygen, as the air spaces between the tiny clay particals are full of water, not air. At best, the plant will look miserable for a little while, but cheer up as conditions improve and eventually establish itself. At worst, the roots may rot and the plant die.

Seeds also have an optimum temperature in which they will germinate and they too require oxygen for germination. This is why seeds sown when the soil is still cold and wet, will be slow to germinate, if at all. 

So, for the moment, be patient and wait for conditions to improve before you plant or sow directly into the ground. There are however other jobs which can be done that don't involve disapointing outcomes!