Dealing with Compacted Soils

20160309_134005Last week I shared how to determine the make-up of your soil. This knowledge is helpful, but it doesn’t solve the problem of soil so hard, you can’t get a shovel into it. That’s what we’ll cover today.

Most often, soil that is rock-hard is mostly clay. Sand can get hard, too, but it’s much more forgiving. They don’t make pottery out of sand. So what do you do with your compacted clay? Here are some do’s and don’ts.

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Dealing with Compacted Soil

Rocks_Hwy50-BlueMesaReservoir-CO_LAH_8224-001My soil is rock hard! That’s a common complaint along Colorado’s Front Range. Our soils tend to extremes—we find that we’re either dealing with sand and decomposed gravel (the remains of glacial moraines), or clay. Then, to make things worse, soil becomes compacted over time. Roots can’t force their way through compacted soils, plus there’s no place for air or water. How do we turn compacted dirt into soil that nurtures life?

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Dirt

Dirt is fascinating. Oh, I know, you’re thinking of the dirt you wash out of your clothes, or off your car. I don’t find that kind of dirt very exciting at all. But the dirt in a garden is a whole ’nother story!

life-in-soil-exhibit-desertmuseumtucsonaz-2009-03-23-991rsActually, dirt is just one component of what gardeners prefer to call “soil.” Rocks weather and break down into smaller rocks, pebbles, gravel, and finally sand and silt. These tiny particles mix with organic matter—decomposing plants and animals—called “humus.” Then there’s air, and water. Add in weed seeds, worms, bugs, and a huge variety of microorganisms, and you have the living stuff in which we plant our gardens.

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