7 Steps to Correct Soil Compaction in Your Garden

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Soil compaction isn’t something that can easily be seen with the naked eye, so most homeowners aren’t even aware they have it in their gardens until it starts to cause serious problems, such as poor plant growth and drought conditions. 

When this happens, there are many ways to correct soil compaction in your garden, some of which you can do yourself. Here are seven steps you can take to restore your garden to its full potential by correcting soil compaction issues.

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Step 1 – Identify signs of compaction

While it’s not always obvious, soil compaction has a number of signs. Stiff, hard dirt is a strong indicator you might be dealing with soil compaction. Plants might struggle to grow or be stunted and there could be standing water on your lawn or garden bed from poor drainage. 

You can also dig up your soil and run your fingers through it: If it feels like loose sand and sifts easily through your fingers, you don’t have compaction problems. If it holds together like wet clay or concrete, that’s an indication you need to address it ASAP before further damage occurs. Finally, if you use a shovel or tiller to break up compacted soil, sharp pains shoot up into your arms—another clear sign something is wrong!

Step 2 – Understand what causes compaction

Compaction occurs when soil particles get pressed together, making it harder for air and water to flow through. In hard-packed areas, plant roots are unable to penetrate and grow properly. The two main causes of compaction are foot traffic (especially lawnmowers) and improper irrigation techniques. 

Raking leaves is another common culprit of compacted soil – each time you rake up fallen leaves, you’re creating more compaction that will affect your garden adversely in a very short period of time.

Step 3 – Investigate your garden’s soil type

You’ll need to understand your soil type before you can troubleshoot compaction issues. If you’re lucky, your soil is loamy, which is ideal for plant growth. Loamy soils have a sandy texture and air pockets throughout—these air pockets are key because they make it easier for roots to grow and water penetrates deep into your garden bed.

 When you squeeze a handful of loamy soil together, only small clumps form; if you press loamy soil tightly together, it will break apart easily with little effort. In comparison, silty soils are made up of particles that bond tightly together—if you press them firmly together they won’t break apart easily.

Step 4 – Remove concrete, shoes, and hard surfaces

Soil compaction is most obvious when it occurs on a hard surface like concrete. But, even if you’re not familiar with your soil type, you can still perform a simple soil test at home using only common household items. Just follow these five easy steps and see for yourself. 

It won’t take long and it could reveal that there’s plenty of life left in your garden! Step 1 – Excavate small areas: Using a shovel or trowel, scrape away as much of the dirt on your garden area as possible.

Step 5 – Aerate the Compacted Soil

Using a digging fork, poke holes into compacted soil; each hole should be about 2 inches deep. Step 6 – Add Amendments: Once your holes are created, add some amendments such as compost or manure. Step 7 – Maintain pH Balance: 

Since most vegetables prefer a slightly acidic environment (pH of 6.5 to 7), lightly sprinkle wood ashes or wood chips over your garden area. If you’re growing fruit trees or berry bushes, do not add wood ashes, as they will raise your soil’s pH levels which is beneficial for these types of plants but not others.

6) Step 6 – Add Organic Matter

No matter what type of soil you have, you can improve it by adding organic matter—food scraps and coffee grounds are great. If you’re growing vegetables or anything else that needs good drainage, incorporate compost into your garden at least 3 weeks before planting. 

This will give it time to break down and won’t leave a mess on your newly-planted seeds. For areas that get a lot of foot traffic, spread mulch for better weed control; if you want to avoid chemicals, try mixing up used coffee grounds and sawdust for a natural deterrent. Be careful not to use too much: too much mulch will smother plants and can change how water flows through soil.

7) Step 7 – Improve Saturated Soils

If you have severely compacted soil, where air cannot flow through, it may be best to put your garden area on hold for a year and improve your subsoil. Soils that are saturated can become very difficult to amend without damaging existing plants.

 It’s better not to try and fix them at all than risk ruining your existing garden by adding amendments. However, if you want instant results or simply don’t have space to create new beds, consider improving an area on its own rather than taking on your entire garden at once. 

Dig out an area with a spade or shovel and dig up as much of the soil as possible before returning it back into place after adding organic material such as peat moss or compost.

The above post was first provided here.

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