Red Clay Correctors


PIEDMONT NORTH CAROLINA SOIL contains copious amounts of red clay. The sticky substance produces fine pottery, but it presents a challenge for landscapers and gardeners. With a few adjustments, though, it can become a good growing medium.

Any soil consists of clay, silt, and sand. When soil contains a large portion of clay, its particles are too close together, and the soil’s minimal pore space doesn’t allow for water, air, or root growth.

“The mineral content [of clay] provides good nutrients,” says Margaret Genkins, a North Carolina Extension Master Gardener volunteer. “What you want to do is loosen it up and create that pore space.”

Here are five suggestions on how to work with or around the red clay on your property.

The most accurate way to determine soil health is to conduct a soil test. Genkins recommends completing the test through the North Carolina Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services. Soil tests are free April 1-Nov. 26 and require a small fee the remainder of the year. Test kits and instructions are available at the Mecklenburg Extension Center at 1418 Armory Dr.

Incorporating organic matter improves soil structure, adjusts nutrient content, and assists with drainage. “In the best of all worlds, you would use something like finished compost, a vegetative material that has been aged and heated to kill off weed seeds or pathogens,” Genkins says. Most households don’t produce enough compost to fulfill their needs, but Mecklenburg County sells it. Leaves are another good amendment. Genkins shreds her leaves with the lawn mower and then works them into the soil.

“Mulch is placed on top of soil to protect plant roots from compaction, preserve moisture, regulate temperature, and eventually decompose and build soil organic matter,” Genkins says. Mulching is good practice for any soil. Shredded leaves make good mulch. Mecklenburg County also sells mulch made from yard waste.

If you prefer to start from scratch instead of amending the red clay, build a raised bed on top of your soil. Whichever soil you use to fill the bed, it’s still a good idea to perform a soil test and mulch around plants.

“Not only are they beautiful, but … once established, they tend to be hardy and thrive in our gardens,” Genkins says. Native plants are accustomed to local growing conditions and attract native pollinators. Native flowering perennials include butterfly milkweed and brown-eyed Susan; native grasses, such as bluestem and switchgrass, add movement and texture.

Additional Resources
For more information and hands-on classes: Mecklenburg Extension Master Gardener help desk: 704-336-4011. For compost and mulch:

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