Digging clay soils


Prepare your heavy clay soil in autumn.

  • Estimated time: 30 minutes
  • Location: Outdoors
  • School term: Late Autumn
  • Level of experience: No experience needed
  • Subject(s):

Learning objectives

  • Pupils will choose the correct tool for the job and learn how to dig safely
  • Pupils will understand the soil needs to be cultivated for plants to achieve good growth



Ensure you know your soil texture- is it sandy or clay?
Make sure pupils understand tool safety and that they are wearing the correct footwear and gloves.


  • Gloves, spades, forks
  • Hand trowels and hand forks, kneeler mats for raised beds for use with other children
  • Plank of wood
  • Buckets for weeds
  • Organic matter (from school compost bin or purchase bagged soil conditioner)
  • Tool cleaning brushes

Step by step

  1. Using the tools, push deep into the soil and carefully loosen, lift and turn the soil over. Large forks work best on heavy clay soil but these should be only used by older pupils. Other pupils may be better suited to use hand tools.
  2. Remove the roots of perennial weeds which would over-winter and grow again next spring. Do not compost these roots. Remove any old plant material and add to compost heap. Small seedlings and annual weeds are buried when the soil is turned over and will break down in the soil.
  3. Return fork/spade to a safe place, clean and now collect a trowel or spade.
  4. Fill buckets with organic matter (e.g. from compost bin). Spread this over the soil surface, approximately 2 buckets of organic matter to every square metre of soil. No need to dig in.
  5. Return spade or trowel to the tool shed and clean.

Hints & tips

  • Always work from the edge of the beds so as to not stand on the soil.
  • If the soil has to be stood upon, use a plank of wood as a path and standing on this, work in a line, digging in front and moving the plank backwards as you progress

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