Can I grow tomatoes in clay soil?

Q. Can I grow tomatoes in clay soil?

A. The short answer is yes. Here are a couple of ways you can do so.

  1. One hole at a time. While other garden soils are easier to till and amend garden-wide, clay soil is difficult to amend and will re-harden quickly if tilled -- unless you add significant amounts of compost and sand, in proportion to clay compaction. A more practical approach is to dig a hole a foot wide and a foot deep for each plant. To this hole, add a shovelful each of compost, manure, and wood ash (or a half shovelful of agricultural lime if wood ash is not available), mixing with the removed soil. Once thoroughly mixed, dig holes for each plant -- one per each of these prepared "holes." The outer ring of clay acts like a clay pot; the amended soil acts like potting soil. This way, growing tomatoes in clay soil is almost like growing container tomatoes! Fertilize and water as you would for new tomato plants in any kind of soil.
  2. In raised beds. Raised beds can make a nutrient-rich home for your tomatoes. Choose an area, build a raised bed (either with your own plans or from kits like Burpee raised garden systemsicon or Gardener's Supply raised bed componentsicon), and then work the soil. Tomatoes are deep drinkers. Roots of plants in a raised bed will need to penetrate the soil below. Most vegetables grow beautifully in 12-inch deep beds, but deeper is better with tomatoes. Prepare the site by removing sod. Use a tiller, spade, or pitchfork to turn and loosen the soil at least 12 inches deep. Add peat moss, sand, and compost to the raised bed. Fertilize and water accordingly.

    Happy gardening!
    Your friends at Tomato Dirt

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