If a person puts a shovel in the ground almost anywhere in the South, like as not, they will bring up red clay soil. In East Tennessee it is a bright, redish orange and it supports a thriving brick making industry in my hometown. Show it to a professional grower and you’ll get a strong negative reaction. Clay is no good, they’ll say. You’re better off digging it up and buying topsoil, whatever that might cost. Our soil is dense, easily compacted, often waterlogged and quite acidic. In the spring, it is cold and boggy. In the summer, it can bake so hard that roots have no chance to grow through it.
Transforming the native soil into something more friable takes a lot of patience, hard work and respect for natural processes. It is often worth the effort, as improved clay soil will hold nutrients and moisture far better than its sandy counterpart. I don’t mean for this blog post to be about the technical aspects of improving soil—I just want you to know more about the ground we are standing on here.