Great gardens start with great soils. Research shows that adding the proper mix to clay soil will improve drainage, and will reduce the need for watering and fertilizing the plants. Fall, or early spring is a good time to amend your soil.
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Earth Kind Soil

A new way we’re trying to deal with heavy clay soils is a process we’re adapting from Texas A&M called Earth Kind Soils. This involves making raise beds on clay soils with an amended mix, so that we can grow with less water and less fertilizer.

These plants that are in here today were planted in early June in the Wichita area. They’ve gone two months, and have been watered twice with drip irrigation. That’s it. Other than that, they’re on rainfall. We’ve got some nice Blue Salvia, Vista Bubble Gum Pink Petunia, and over here, some Anaheim peppers.

For the Earth Kind system, first we start out with just your heavy clay soil, or a compacted soil, and work it six inches deep. Then we’re going to get a product called expanded shale. This is available at your garden centers with a 3/8 inch diameter. It’s applied three inches deep to that, and then worked into the top six inches. This is approximately three inches deep, so we would apply that much, exactly, in that bed. It would not be spread out.

Once that’s worked in, then we get three inches of compost. This is a locally made compost. We apply that, and work it in. Then, we have a bed that’s six inches raised. Work that in, and then plant our plants, and add a wood chip mulch. This could be from a tree service that has some leaves ground up in it. Just put it on top.

What we’re finding on this is that the shale compost mix worked into the soil – with a six inch soil amendment – holds water very well, but is well-drained. As the compost breaks down, and as the wood chips go ahead and break down, that releases natural nutrients, and we shouldn’t need to be fertilizing these plants.

So, with little or no fertilizer, and very little watering, we can still have great success with our plants here in Kansas.

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

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