The addition of organic material improves looseness and workability of soil. Heavy, tight clay soils benefit from the loosening effects of organic materials. And, compost also contains nutrients that help plants grow.

Produced by the Department of Communications at Kansas State University. For more information, visit our website at:

Organic Matter Improves Soil

One of the problems with Kansas soils is that they tend to be very heavy in clay. But, we don’t always talk about the benefits of our Kansas soils. And that is they’re very nutritious. So, all we need to do is to provide a little organic matter. Then we can turn those hard, yucky soils into lush soils that will grow a great bounty in the garden.

This soil has been improved recently with organic matter. And you can see how easy it is to fluff and turn to plant in. As opposed to this area here which I haven’t done anything to. You can see how hard and sticky, and how it just comes up.

One of the best ways to improve our hard Kansas soils is to add organic matter. That can be compost or peat moss. It can be purchased, or it can be a product you make in your own backyard. Ideally, you’ll want to work the soil to a depth of about six to eight inches. The reason for that is that is the depth that most root systems need to grow at for a healthy plant.

We can start then by chopping up that hard clay, and we’re just going to continue to work up that area. You also want to avoid working up soils that are overly wet, because they’ll just turn into clods, and will be harder to work later on.

Now, I’m going to use prepared cotton burr compost here. And, what I recommend is a good four inches. I know that sounds like a lot, but we’re going to work those four inches into the soil. We’re almost going to make it 50/50 of heavy Kansas clay soils and organic matter. We’re going to turn, and chop, and get that worked into the soil.

Many of add organic matter by sprinkling a light layer – maybe an inch or so. And there really isn’t enough organic content then to change the structure of that soil. So, you need that four to six layer.

So, if you’ve had problems growing healthy plants in the garden, try improving the soil before planting. A little bit of organic matter does wonders.

This feature story prepared with Dennis Patton, Kansas State University Research and Extension Horticulture Agent, Johnson County. For more information, visit your local county extension office or visit our website at


Horticulture Newsletter

KSU Horticulture Newsletter

Get more information from our weekly newsletter.

Find Your Local Office

Have questions or need help?

Local Extension Office Map

Click the map to find your Local Extension Office.

YouTube Videos

YouTube Videos

Watch K-State Research and Extension Videos.

Kansas Healthy Yards Tagline