Clay is one of the three principal types of soil, the other two being sand and loam. A certain amount of clay is a desirable constituent of soil, since it binds other kinds of particles together and makes the whole retentive of water. Excessively clayey soils, however, are exceedingly difficult to cultivate. Their stiffness presents resistance to implements, impedes the growth of the plants, and prevents free circulation of air around the roots. They are cold and sticky in wet weather, while in dry weather they bake hard and crack. Clods form very often in clayey soils. Clays can be improved by the addition of lime, chalk, or organic matter; sodium nitrate, however, intensifies the injurious effects. In spite of their disadvantages, the richness of clay soils makes them favorable to the growth of crops that have been started in other soil.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.