How to Identify and Fix Compacted Soil

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How to Identify and Fix Compacted Soil

There are any number of reasons why your plants might not be thriving as well as they should be. Planting too densely, inappropriate environmental conditions and clay or sandy soil content could all be valid culprits, and gardeners should explore every option if they want to enhance their garden. Compacted soil is one of the more subtle afflictions plants may be suffering from, so it’s worth learning why it happens and how it can be prevented.

Compacted soil essentially makes it more difficult for roots to grow. Less roots will thrive, and those that do will likely be stunted in growth, reducing the nutritional uptake of the plant. There are also less empty spaces for air and water to pass through, so the plant stands a better chance of actually being smothered by the soil itself.

Before you begin taking steps to decompress the soil, it’s best to identify just why it’s becoming that way in the first place. If you have a clay soil, which comes with a whole host of accompanying problems anyway, then the soil will simply be clone to compacting tightly.

If you walk around a lot near the affected area, or even have it located next to a driveway, then the pressure exerted on it will compress it considerably over time. You’ll have to work it regularly or change your movement patterns if you want to fix the problem.

Tilling the soil during inappropriate conditions is one of the main mistakes which reward gardeners with compacted soil. If the ground is too moist or too dry there’s a risk of breaking down the structure of separate soil particles. When the ground settles they’ll sink in with the usual airspace, resulting in a highly compact soil.

Decompressing soil is difficult, so try and avoid these missteps in the first place. Try and till only annually, and if the soil is prone to compacting there’s always the option of adopting a ‘no dig’ gardening policy, they’re fairly popular. Otherwise, consider adding organic material to the planting area, both living and dead. A plant-based compost will break down, leaving gaps in the soil where it was worked in. Introducing a good number of earthworms will see the soil being digested and displaced, allowing it to expand further.

All this works well for smaller areas, but for an entire lawn you may wish to invest in an aerator. Powered ones are heavy and expensive, so we’ll go with manual. They resemble normal tilling machines, with pipes, spikes or wedges located along the axle. Push them along a small way and drive the aerator into the ground, and it will leave a number of small holes in the earth for the soil to expand into. It’s a time consuming activity, but is generally unparalleled in terms of decompressing soil without displacing it.

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