How to Loosen Compacted Soil

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Compacted soil is pressed together to form a solid mass with little air space between the particles. Plants often have a hard time growing in compacted soil because there is little water and oxygen available, and it is difficult for the roots to press their way though the soil. Compacted soil often lacks the microorganisms that convert material into the chemicals that nourish plants. There are several ways to loosen compacted soil.

Things You'll Need

  • Shovel
  • Garden fork
  • Rototiller
  • Compost
  • Manure
  • Soil covering
  • Till the ground with a rototiller. Add several inches of compost or manure to the top of the soil before you begin. Move the tiller back and forth until the ground is smooth and finely grained. The size of the rototiller will determine how deep you can loosen the soil. A tiller that you hold in front of you and pull backward allows you to till without stepping on the freshly loosened soil.

  • Dig the soil with a shovel or fork and mix it up. Dig a 12-inch-deep trench, and put the soil to the side. Dig a matching trench next to the first one, and put the soil from the second into the first. Dig a third trench, and put the soil into the second trench. Continue until you reach the end of the soil, and then put the soil from the first trench into the empty space of the last trench. Mixing compost or manure into the soil as you move it from one trench to the other helps keep the soil loose.

  • Layer 6 to 8 inches of compost or manure over the soil in the spring through the autumn, and cover it with several layers of burlap, canvas, cardboard, or other water-permeable material. Leave the layers covered until the compost or manure completely disappears into the soil, which should take several weeks to several months. The increased activity of the microorganisms will allow the organic material to considerably loosen the soil.

  • Plant alfalfa, sweet clover, red clover, lupines, soybeans, reed canary grass, or burdock over several years. These plants have deep taproots that work their way through the most compacted soil. As the roots die, they leave behind organic material for microfauna to feed on, and pockets between the soil particles where water and air can reside.

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