So, you’ve just bought a property with plenty of space for a new garden? Well, if you haven’t been lucky enough to secure a weed-free plot of land with fine, loamy soil, rich with organic material, have no fear!
Clay soil is great – if you plan on making your own bricks or pottery…but not for gardening!
It is possible to improve the condition of your clay soil. Within just a couple of growing seasons, you could be watching your vegetables sprout and enjoying the vibrant colours in your flowerbeds. You just need a the right approach – and the right tiller – to make your gardening dreams come true.
And there is definitely a tiller out there for you – one that fits your budget, and is powerful and robust enough to handle clay soil. But you’ll need to consider a few things if you want to choose the right tiller for your property.
For such an important investment, it’s crucial to determine exactly what you want, and what you’ll need from your tiller before shopping.
For many buyers, this is the most important consideration. Tillers can range in price from just under $200 to over $1000.
First we need to work out what type of tiller is best suited to tilling clay soil. Then we can compare the prices of relevant models and work out which is best for you.
There is no logic behind buying the lowest priced tiller if it is not capable of doing the job.
Usually the larger the plot, the larger the tiller you should be looking to buy, as larger tillers have wider working widths.
A small garden with loose soil is easy to handle with a small electric cultivator, but for your heavy clay soil, even a small garden will still require a more powerful machine.
Clay based soil
Just as a homeowner with rocky or heavily-compacted soil needs a more robust tiller, so will you. Clay-based soil is notoriously difficult to dig up and till, when clay soil gets wet it is like glue, it is sticky, heavy and hard to move anything through it.
This means a large, gas-powered tiller will be a necessity to get the job done.
Will you need a tiller that can handle multiple tasks? Some tillers come with attachments for specific jobs such as edge trimming or furrowing. If you’re planning to do many jobs with one tiller, be sure to choose a model that offers the versatility you want without sacrificing the quality you need.
What features should the tiller have to work in clay soils
The tiller will need to be powerful to drive its tines through the stiff, sticky soil – one with a high torque (turning force) engine will be best, so that the engine doesn’t die and lose revs the minute the tines hit the clay.
The tiller should have driven wheels with good grips on the tyres to pull the tiller through the claggy sticky soil. Non driven tillers are a definite no go in clay soil – they don’t dig into the soil fully and end up bouncing all over the top of the plot.
What type of tiller is best for clay soil
As i have said in previous articles, the three types of tillers are: cultivators, front tine tillers and rear tine tillers.
For tilling clay soil we know we need a tiller with a high torque engine with driven wheels. This eliminates cultivators and front tine tillers from our list. We can now focus on which rear tine tiller suits your needs best for tilling clay soil.
How should i till my clay soil
Before you begin tilling your clay soil, the most import thing to remember is not to overwork the soil. This causes the soil to go into hard balls which are very hard to break up.
- Whether you’re breaking new ground or re- tilling existing areas, you should work clay soil a little at a time.
- Starting at a shallow angle and taking several, progressively deeper passes will prevent dirt clods.
- It is a good idea to scatter organic material on top of the area you intend to till. This will become incorporated into the soil a little at a time until you are happy with your soil.
- Each consecutive pass should be perpendicular to the one before it; varying the pattern prevents the tiller from creating a hard “soil pan” under the cultivated area.
- By preventing a hard pan under your soil you will have better yields as the roots will be able to get right down into the lower levels of the soil.
Before you begin tilling
Clay soil retains water and becomes lumpy. If you plan on tilling your clay soil, you should first allow it to dry out.
Test soil moisture quickly by scooping up a small handful and forming a ball; if it sticks together, the soil is too wet for tilling. Wait until a few dry days have passed and test again.
If the ball crumbles, the ground is ready to till.
Improving clay soil
One of the most important amendments you can make to clay soil is to introduce organic matter.
You could add finished compost, farm yard manure, partially rotted leaves, or even pine needles to the soil.
Once the clay bed has been broken up sufficiently, spread 3”-4” of the organic matter on top of it. Then, till it in to a depth of 7”-8”.
Adding a sufficient amount of organic matter to your soil will introduce the rich nutrients that will begin to transform it.
You should also promote the presence and growth of earthworms in your soil. They will convert the useless materials in your clay soil to valuable nutrients.
If you don’t see soil improvements soon enough, you could add a 1”-2” layer of coarse sand and till it into the soil and organic matter.
Maintaining your soil structure
Though these improvements will make the soil easier to till and work over time, you’ll need to maintain your plots regularly.
By tilling in soil amendments every autumn, you’ll allow the soil microbes to work over the winter and to improve the soil structure.
Tilling the soil again in the spring will further incorporate the organic matter, and help prepare the soil for planting.
Lightly tilling between rows during the summer will also keep the soil aerated for better drainage.
Best tiller for clay soil
Choosing the right tiller can be a chore if you are not aware of what to look out for, luckily you now know the best type of tiller to look for – a rear tine tiller with a powerful engine and driven wheels.
Depending on your budget, the two tillers for tilling clay soil which i would recommend are:
- Yardmax YT4565 The Yardmax is one of the best rear tine tillers for working in clay soils and is without doubt the tiller offering the best value for money – take a look at its specifications and the great reviews it gets on Amazon
- Husquvarna CRT900 The Husqvarna is for those with a less restricted budget and is about as good as it gets in this price range. It is very well made and is a pleasure to use, It is loaded with extra features and will outlast just about everything else. Have a look for yourself at the great features and benefits this beautiful machine has to offer.
Both of these tillers are very good, in terms of build quality, ease of use and performance – you just need to choose your favourite! – Remember there are lots of tools to make difficult gardening tasks a pleasure – you just have to find the right one for you.