Controlling Soil Compaction in Landscape Design: An Expert's Guide

Soil compaction is a major issue for ground keeping purposes, as it can make it difficult to grow plants in a vegetable or flower garden. The two most common methods for relieving compaction are soil tearing (also called subsoil or tillage) and adding organic matter. There are several ways to reduce the area compacted by machine traffic, such as increasing the bandwidth of spreaders and other similar equipment. Having more space between the wheels, to keep individual wheel tracks further apart, can also help prevent soil compaction.

Experts advocate the use of permanent lanes, so that heavy traffic always travels on the same lanes and the area between those lanes is never subject to compaction. It has some logistical drawbacks, but it has proven to be a promising approach. Improving soil structure is the best defense against soil compaction. Well-structured soil retains and conducts the water, nutrients and air needed for healthy plant root activity. The best option is a central aerator, a machine that inserts the spikes into the ground and removes the plugs from the grass.

Prevention is key, as experts agree that soil compaction is one of the eight main causes of soil degradation around the world. Mixing sand into wet soils is a controversial measure, since adding too little will only exacerbate the problem, and adding a large amount can be very expensive. You can examine the soil for compaction by digging a small well to examine the soil profile, using your eyes and a small knife to check and understand the layers that form the soil at different depths. This is of particular concern because spring planting is often done before the soil is dry enough to support heavy planting equipment. Tire pressure can make a big difference in the pressure applied to the ground, as it can significantly increase or decrease the area over which the weight of the equipment is distributed. In spring, before tilling the garden or lawn area, grab a handful of soil and compress it into a ball shape.

If this is a problem for you and you think that your soil is rarely dry enough to work on, then you should start thinking about adding drainage systems to your fields. A parked crawler tractor exerts a pressure on the ground of approximately 4 to 8 psi, depending on the width, length, and weight of the tractor. Soils with a higher percentage of clay and silt, which naturally have more porous space, have a lower apparent density than sandlier soils. The main cause of soil compaction is the weight it exerts on the soil, and this happens very often on farmland, either because of foot traffic, the trampling of livestock or because of the enormous weight of agricultural machinery. This unauthorized route can become a bare-dirt road thanks to additional tension and compaction, which is called the “path of desire”.

Compaction is more likely with heavier soils, such as clay and loam, but when using heavy equipment, sandy soils can become compacted. A fork stuck in the ground and pushed back and forth may be sufficient for a single small area of light compaction. To prevent soil compaction in landscape design projects, experts recommend increasing wheel bandwidths on equipment used in gardens or lawns; creating permanent lanes for heavy traffic; improving soil structure with aerators; examining soil profiles; controlling tire pressure; adding drainage systems; mixing sand into wet soils; and using forks for light compaction. Soil compaction can be an issue for gardeners and landscapers alike. By following these expert tips on controlling soil compaction in landscape design projects, you can ensure that your garden or lawn remains healthy and vibrant for years to come.