Managing clay soil

Hi All,

Can any one of the forum members guide me as to how I can organically turn the clay content of the soil to be more friable. The soil of the farm land I picked up is black with a lot of hard clay. When it rains there is a huge amount of water logging. Locals suggest to mix with red soil, but cost wise its expensive.

The method suggested by Agri dept and field officers is to apply lots and lots of Gypsum, costing 100 per bag of 50kg. Suggested @ 500 kg per acre. Are there any other methods ? In any case I am planning to grow and plough back Diancha and sunhemp. 



could you give some more details?
Some questions for you.
You mention water logging during rain. How are the conditions when it’s  sunny? Does the soil dry up quickly too? Does the soil give up water quickly too, like it absorbs the water. Does the soil heat up quickly? Does it have fair amount of sand too, apart from the clay? Also, would like to hear about the vegetation/weed pattern and the temperatures of the area.



Well here are the conditions of the soil. When it rains the soil becomes very sticky, sort of paste type. The typical nature of a paddy field. and when it is dry, one can see lots and lots of cracks on the soil.

I picked up this land for doing horticulture. Guys have advised that due to clay content, the roots may have difficulty in penetrating down. As regards to climatic conditions , near perfect, not too hot. Max some 35 deg during summers. Not having any sand. As regards to vegetation, lots and lots of Bellary Jalli (Acacia Nelitocia) grows without a concern for any of these things.



[font=courier]Dear Murali,

¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† Your post reminds me of my stint with similar soils. Testing, interesting ,character-building exercise, it was!¬† These terrains can break the back and spirit of the most enthusiastic farmers. No reason to be discouraged, still. The vigorous, head ‚Äďon approach may fail to work here, the soil with its complex behavior will wear down your energy and resources. Prepare yourself for a¬† long-drawn game of say chess, and devise strategies, it will slowly start working.

Your soil is suffering a tremendous handicap. It is highly deficient in one it’s key components, so much that it has stopped exhibiting the true characteristics of soil. Retrace the basics of the soil building process; this will tell you that soil compositions happens when weathered rock (Sand), clay and vegetable/plant matter (humus) bind together. Here  the soil is devoid of one component, humus, that  has escaped from the composition. Only once this component is restored, the soil becomes fit for cultivation. Plunging big-time into cultivation, without rectifying the soil will result in waste of money, resources, effort and time.

One rarely comes across casualties over 10% wile planting long term crops, under normal circumstances. The normal average of replacement would be 2.5%-5 %. These clayey soils were the exceptions. Saplings are exposed to an extended critical-danger time of nearly 6 months because of the extremes conditions these soils create. About 3 months of water-logging, where saplings yellow, choke and die; another 3 months of soil contraction, compaction and choking, due to which roots get strangulated during summer. Casualty rate planting 1 yr old saplings was as high as 50%. One an average it takes the effort 3 rounds of planting to complete a single round! Interestingly, 2 year old saplings which had established root zones that extended to 12-24 inches under the soil could survive.

The strategy I adopted was 3 pronged.

1)Provide water channels so that excess water drains off. This is to be done with extreme care and caution; or else whatever remains of the top-soil will also be lost. The channels have to be sloped along/across the fields so that the water flows out from the logged areas. Creating depressions/bunds near the growing areas also helps as the water moved out from these areas to the depressions nearby. Make sure that these channels or water ways are filtered at regular intervals; typically a filter can be made of broken bricks, tiles etc that would let the water through and stop the soil.

  1. Saplings should be grown in sacks/ big containers till they attain a height of 3 feet. Ideally they should be transplanted into the field at that time of the season so the root system gets another 6 months to establish itself deeper,before the next water logging.

  2. Replenish the soil with plenty of plant matter. This is the only permanent solution to the problem. But where do you source the plant matter from? It has to be generated from the field itself.Having green cover or weeds in the soil would be the first step. From your description it appears that soil is so unfriendly that there’s only one major weed that grows there. No grass? You need to get in more weeds and grass there. Cow dung is a wonderful source of green cover. Ideally the dung from a native Indian breed cow that’s let out to graze. Application of this dung in any form gives you a variety of weeds. An even more effective method would be to find any land that’s been neglected and not weeded. Weeds usually operate in cycles of 3 months; they grow, mature and die, before giving way to the next generation. Select an area of mature weeds, where there are flowering, fruiting or seeding. Let the Cow graze on these or cut these and feed the Cow. When the weeds along with the seeds pass through the Cow’s intestine, they become for sure-shot candidates for germination. A round of Jeevamrutha prepared using this dung should induce some weeds to the soil. It is these weeds, once fully grown, that are to be utilised for plant matter. They will serve the soil well, first by protecting the soil from the Sun and elements, the when they grow excessively, they can be slashed and put back to the soil as plant matter.

Composting is a must for revival of soil humus. If you can propagate cuttings of glyrecidia, dadups, mulberry etc, the supply green leaves for composting. Besides these there are some trees that are suited to water logged areas, like the Kadamb for e.g. As the humus content in the soil increases, there will be change in the behavior of the soil. Water logging and quick drying diminish gradually.

            The other methods that you have mentioned, like adding red soil, are expensive as well as unreliable. When red soil is added it will just physically fill out the land. Red soil is mineral. So assign mineral to clay will not bind the soil together. Humus is again required here to bind the elements together.

      I do not have any idea about the extent of your holdings, budget etc. I suggest that you try these out in a small sample plot and take things from there only if you are convinced about these methods.

      Finally, I pray not to hear there’s a major wind problem in your area. If there is, wind-barriers need to created before proceeding with other operations.

All the best.


Dear Cowherd,

Thanks for your suggestions. Well the desperation to procure land for agriculture in absence of inheritance made me pick this parcel of 6 Acres. Searching for land that too when you are very much interested to plunge into agriculture is a cruelty in india. You are left to the mercy of these brokers, made to run around and they show all sorts of land of which only 1% is up for sale. That is the sad part in real estate. Hope this sector matures like second hand vehicle market.

Well as mentioned by you, adding organic matter is the only method left logical to me. Though adding red soil does loosen the clay, but cost wise its not economical. Location wise if your land is near any govt revenue land, left barren then with a JCB and a few tractors, you can work it out.

My method initially would be to plough the land with a disc plough.  as it has not been done so for the past 10 to 15 years. May be this will loosen the soil for more aeration. Mix to this loads and loads of  cattle manure and a few bags of N P & K to start with. Broadcast sunhemp, diancha, thuhar and cowpea and visually see how these germinates and grows. Atleast this will be an indicator as to how the plants respond. Secondly once these have established Plough it back to soil, the remains.

Till such time scout around for Banana plantations which has been cultivated and its OM discarded. Bring those OM and allow them to rot in the field.  In addition continuously spray Jeevanamrutha to the soil to increase the microbe population along with trenches for drainage.

I arrived at this this after visually examining the soil texture under the Jalli trees, which has been growing without any care to the soil and its drawbacks. The soil beneath these trees is having the texture of a flower, crumbles very easily. On closer observation noticed that this is due the the constant shedding of the small leaves of this tree. Underneath these trees the soil is rich in tilth & any OM gets very quickly consumed by termites etc making the soil much more loose except for the thorns of this jalli tree.

Initially I thought of adding the biomass of these trees back to soil. but labor wise its very huge as you need to sort the large qty of thorns from the leaves. Like other OM, I have noticed that the twigs with thorns have never got decomposed over many years. May be lack of microbes & termites OR microbes do not like this twigs and thorns !! Even underneath the trees the thorns have not decomposed over many years.

I will post the pics shortly. Let me know based on your experience am I missing any thing here. Well the initial crop planned is G9 banana @ half an acre per month. (High density, triangular method 5 x 6 Ft @ 700 plants per half acre ). The recommendations from field officers is to add lime to soil as the pH indicated is 6.13. They have mentioned agriculture lime. Now how is this lime different from the other. As far as I know the lime when mixed with water makes it to boil, how to add this to soil. Confused. I am planning to let the  microbes to work it out for me.



I have about 50 acres of such land. I invested some amount and got about 15 trips (per acres) of sand from the local stream. The sand has to be spread around to decrease the clay content. If you dump it in heaps, you’ll not achieve the desired result.

The tractor should move very slowly while labourers (4) should pull the sand walking beside the tractor . Once you put the sand, you should get it tilled so that the sand mixes well with the claysoil.

per trip cost :  Tractor rent: rs200.
                        Labour : rs100 ( for filling the tractor) + rs50 for spreading the sand.


Dear Murali,

Except banana with lot of risk, efforts, u cant cultivate any other horti crop in your black clayey soils.  Even banana also requires good aeration.  In heavy clayey soils,  soil is packed and it restricts aeration of roots resulting stunted growth and mortality.  A

If you want choice and want to cultivate more horti crops it is better to sell and go for a another piece of land.  Amending the soil will cost you sky & earth with lots of time.  But you have to regret at the end of the day, as your efforts and money wont give you fruitful results.

Personally, I advice you sell this land and go for a anothr piece of land.

Raghu Ram

Hi All,

How I wish, if Masanaba Fukuoka was alive or he had to deal with clay soil.  :frowning: . I could have copied his methods. Yes I know that life is too short to learn from one’s one experiences !!

Selling the land, yes it is the last resort, but thinking of all the hard ships I encountered in buying it, I wonder if I ever would do it, unless the area around it gets commercialized and the price zooms 1000 %  ;D

Some how now I have fallen in love with this land. I am hell bent on changing it or making it friendly to me. Was just going thru some write ups on Team-Bhp, and seeing the pics there gave me some hope, its sticky clay soil all thru the track cut midst those heavy forests. The soil much worse than mine.  The sight of this has shown me that nature has a way around it. Just i have to find out what it is. :-[

So guys on with my experiments. Do suggest any methods if you can think of.



Dear Murali,

Take one Agronomist and one Soil Scientist who love their profession.  You should take them at one go. Let them visit, inspect and feel the place.  There you will get correct solution.  Do soil analysis.  Sit with them and do as per their suggestions.  Instead of amending the soil, accept the profile of it and accordingly plan your crops.

Love always makes the things clear & better.  U love your land.  So, every thing will be fine.

Wish you good luck in your efforts.

Raghu Ram

How has been your effort going, Murali?


Hi Chandra,

Saw the pics you have posted. Mine looks similar.

On some fact finding, was told that earlier they used to grow paddy at my place. Well after a lot of research on the net, clay soil (Not heavy clay) is infact good as it can hold moisture for a long time along with the organic matter, and NPK.

As I have posted earlier, under the acaica nelitoca tree due the constant shedding of its leaves, the soil is more friable. Now at my place all my neighbors are into  Maize. Waiting for that harvest to be over so that I can buy the residue (Straw etc) of that maize and mix it with my soil.

Will keep you posted. One good thing about clay or rather black soil is you can do a hard bargain and get the land for real cheap !!. Most of guys have the mindset that red soil is best. But only if you have enough of water.



Dear Chandra,

The explanations are so  confusing. I did my  research in saline soils  and  biochemical mechanism

related  to  problematic soil condition. Plse suggest  Mr. Murali to the following  steps

1.Spray  10-20%  solution of sulphuric acid- 100 lits  in  500 kg  gypsum.  Then broadcast  100-150 kg

treated gypsum/acre  and  waterlog  the plot  for  overnight- next day you can’t find water in soil (I

will let you know the  reaction behind the mechanism later)-- chemical leaching

  1. Add  20 kg  sulphur -85% WDG/ acre

  2. Broadcast  sorghum ,Maize , Cowpea  mix - 10-15 kg /acre(1:1:1) ratio -Biological leaching metod.

4.  Irrigate

  1. After 10 days  add  Urea -10 kg  + SSP  -20 Kg + MOP -5 kg + Zinc sulphate -5 kg/  acres

  2. Follow Bye Bye Phorate/Furadan System

No doubt  by this method  i am quite sure that  can reclamize  such type of soil, later you can

change  the soil 100 % organic

Thank you
Good luck

During  my research in saline soils  i referred all of the above  reports. but of no use. Later I  worked on 

Plant  Nutrition and  Biochemical Mechanism of  Plants Under  Wellknown Plant Biotechnologist Late.

Dr.R.R.Shah, Gujarat Agri university,  The conclusion was wonderful, and developed the technology

to reclamize any type of problematic soil in 24 hours. That I  introduced in  Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

The steps i mentioned is simple and any farmer can follow. farmers need simple, answers to rectify

their problems
Thank you
Good Luck

Thanks biofarms.

I am interested in this as much as Murali, since I am evaluating a similar piece of land as you would have seen in my blog mentioned above.

However I have one question - what is the reclamation technique you mentioned for - for acidity correction or to make the soil less heavy? Since the PH Murali mentions is already on the acidic side, won’t adding sulphuric acid, sulphur, gypsum make it more acidic?


Dear Mr.Chandra,

Plse suggest murali to add Calcium chloride /Potassium chloride in  the place of sulphuric  acid. Plse

let me know the details of soil test too. Find wheather Babool plants are there in his area, if so it is

saline soil.

Thank you
Good Luck

Dear Mr.Chandra,

I am  staying  at Idukki,- Complications of Cardamom- Under Acidic condition

The soil type  clearly acidic soil pH ranging from 4- 5.5. In this pH  solubility of

aluminium ions and combined with phosphates  to form its phosphates. Ultimately leads to poor

tillering, decrese in size of panicles etc,  then  go for replanting. See  Earlier Pictures of  cardamom

Followed all steps to control acidity. Using "READY MIX/ ACI -LOCK Technique (Both are

commercialized), Use Phosphoric acid, Boric acid, Humic acid, Fulvic acid, Sea weed Extract etc…,

Bye Bye Phorate/Furadan technique, Bio Boosting etc…

Thank you
Good Luck

Thank you. I will let Murali respond to your advice.


Dear Biofarms,

Thanks for your suggestions. Since the pH of the soil is 6.13, how does adding acid helps. The EC ie the Electrical Conductivity of the soil tested is 0.65 . The field officer suggested that this should be less that 1 which gives an indication of the absence of salinity or the dissolved salts.

Yes I have abundance of Jalli trees (Acacia Nelitoica) I presume this is grown deliberately  by my previous owner for firewood and fencing. So as usual in absence of any activity this tree has multiplied as I can see its pods spread every where.

Moreover for the benefit of me and Chandra can you highlight what are the parameters that get tested in the soil apart from pH and NPK and what are their significance.¬† One more thing, ‚ÄúIS BLACK SOIL (With some % of CLAY) that EVIL‚ÄĚ for plants ???. Reason being I have come¬† across some forests during my Treks that has abundance of Clay yet could see good vegetation there .



Dear Mr.Murali,

First¬† do one thing¬† ‚Äď cultivate the soil¬† , then broadcast¬† mixture of¬† seeds (¬† Sorghuma(fodder)

,Maize, Cow pea )-- mix all in 1:1 :1 ratio. - 15  kg /acre-  add NPK fertilizer mix

urea-10 kg + Potash 5 kg + Super phosphate 20 kg + Sulphur 2 kg + Microntrients -2 kg/acre

along with  seeds.


35-45 days after  sowing    see  the height of plants.

after attaining 2 feet    plough the plot  leave it for 15 days.

So  that  the fodder will decompose  organic matter content will increase . use bye bye phorate

furadan. so that can improve soil physical condition

Thank you
Good Luck

Hi all farm scientist,
                                    clay soil is the best soil in the earth as far as plant growth is concerned.May all crops may not come up well but yet there are few important and valuable medicinal and fruit crops are destined to grow luxuriously in clay type soil. Why fight with clay. better make clay your friend.Experimenting with sulphur, chemicals,cattles’ urine and dungs, sand, weeds, green cover etc and etc will not only bend and break your back but empty your pocket also. Think cleverly. You will find some miracle to be played in the clay soil which support growth of high value unique medicinal crop both seasonal and perennial crop. Just go with the course of soil and nature ie, prevailing climate and plan your cropping pattern. In this way you save and earn huge amount of money .Just squeeze your brain.Unless otherwise if you follow all these advises  , then you will sure become a soil scientist of none the better

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