Gardening season is in full force with the threat of frost now behind us. It’s a good time to think about your soil. Soil compaction creates an unfriendly growing environment for plants and is a serious problem for many home gardeners. However, it is relatively easy to prevent.
Compaction transforms soil into a difficult environment for plant growth by making it harder for roots, water and soil to penetrate the ground. Major causes are working the soil when it is too wet, foot traffic and excessive rototiller use.
To reduce this problem, it is best to avoid working in the garden or walking in it when the soil is too wet. Squeeze a handful of soil and if it forms a muddy ball, rather than crumbling when you open your hand, stay out of the garden area.
Walk between plants and rows in the garden area to reduce compaction in primary plant growth areas.
Excessive rototiller use destroys soil structure and promotes compaction. When compaction takes place in a dense soil structure, it also makes root growth more difficult.
A little hand hoeing, rather than a rototiller, may be all you need to do to eliminate a few weeds. It usually causes less soil damage than repeated rototilling and is less harmful to the earthworms that help aerate the soil.
You also can use mulch to control weeds instead of tilling. A 2- to 3-inch layer of mulch relieves the pressure of walking on the soil, reducing the degree of compaction.
Source: John Strang, Extension Horticulture Specialist