Garden Soil Problems and Solutions

Read about different garden soil problems and how to fix them, from aerating compacted soil to dealing with waterlogged ground.

| May 2012 Web

Every gardener faces a range of common garden soil problems. Depending on your region, you may face stubborn, compacted soil or a spot in your yard with waterlogged soil. You may have been overzealous and tilled too much, or prepared your soil incorrectly. The Anxious Gardener’s Book of Answers (Timber Press, 2012) identifies the 100 most common gardening mistakes and gives gardeners the techniques to prevent them. This gardening guide tackles every kind of gardening disaster, whether it has to do with plants, tools and techniques, or general care and maintenance. Learn solutions for a variety of garden soil problems in this excerpt taken from the chapter “Soil: Respect and Work With Your Garden’s Foundation, and Avoid Many Heartaches.” 

Trying to Garden in Compacted Garden Soil

You might have suspected something was amiss when you dug to install new plants, and the shovel or trowel had a hard time penetrating. Or you might suspect compacted soil if water runs right off or sinks in slowly, indicating there are few available air spaces, either because of parched ground or extremely saturated soil. Neither environment is good for most plants. Their roots will struggle for moisture, oxygen, and nutrients, and will show their distress aboveground by slumping, failing to produce new growth or flowers or fruit, browning and drying, and eventually keeling over.

The Right Way to Do It
Some parts of your yard are inevitably going to have compacted soil, unless you are willing and able to make necessary changes to improve or shield them. Trafficked areas, such as paths, always get beaten down as people and pets repeatedly walk over them, but frequent passages by a garden cart, a wheelbarrow, bicycles, and small tractors will also contribute to the problem. A location where heavy objects, such as cars and trash bins, are kept is bound to have dense, compacted, unfriendly soil.

The answer is easy: designate some areas for traffic, and others for plants. And the obvious corollary? Don’t plant in compacted soil. If you’d like to plant an area later but need to use it or walk over it for a while, lay down and travel over boards, which will redistribute your weight more evenly and tend to mitigate soil compaction.

If I Goofed, Can I Fix It?
Plant rescue may be possible. Remove the struggling plants, replant them in a more hospitable location, and hope they recover and begin to thrive in their new home.

Alternatively, remove the beleaguered plants temporarily, loosen the soil and mix in some good decomposed organic matter to improve soil structure and fertility, and return them to these improved growing conditions. Rope, fence off, or define the area with edging, route traffic around or away from the area, or otherwise prevent future compaction.

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