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Michael Wheeler: Tips for combatting soil compaction in garden
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If you call the office to discuss a problem with your landscape, one of the first things I am going to ask you about is soil testing.

You get a wealth of information from the $8 test. And the results are eye-opening since it tells you pretty much all you need to know about the “chemical” side of the problem.

But that is just half of the clues you need before receiving a diagnosis.

The remaining half deals with the “physical” side.

The major physical problems gardeners, farmers and landscapers face in the next growing season is compacted soil because of the ridiculous amounts of rain we have seen this fall and early winter.

Compacted soil can create many problems for plant growth, and it needs to be monitored and addressed. When soils are hard and compact, roots cannot develop, water does not pass through and overall soil health is reduced.

I see so many failures with new plantings because the soil was not properly prepared and compaction was not reduced.

One reason plants do not blossom in hard soil is because plants are somewhat lazy. If they can find water and nutrients without spending a lot of energy, then that is what they will do.

Locating plants in loose soil allows them to root down deeply in the soil. And it is one of the best things you can do in order to get your plants established. A loose soil also means any water given will go straight down to the root zone and not run off the surface, which it would if the soil were compacted. Nutrients also are more available and easily accessible to the plant because of the extensive root system.

If you have a large area with compacted soils such as turf, one of the easiest ways to fix the problem is to core aerate. A core aerator pulls out a plug of soil and creates little finger-sized holes throughout the turf. Core aerate only when the turf is actively growing. Do not aerate when it is dormant or even in transition in the spring.

If you have a small area such as a raised or annual bed, battle compaction is easy. Simply change the physical characteristics of the soil entirely by adding compost.

Compost is the “black gold” every gardener wants and it is easy to do. Compost happens; no matter if you pile leaves and let them sit for a year or if you create a bin and actively manage the pile by turning and monitoring the progress. Compost can be created in as little as three or four months or as long as a year.

If you have a flower bed or a vegetable garden, add 3 inches of compost to the soil and mix well. The compost will change the way the soil feels in your hands. It will make it nice and crumbly and easily worked.

In other words, plants will love it and thrive.

Michael Wheeler is county extension coordinator for the UGA Cooperative Extension office in Hall County. You can contact him at 770-535-8293, His column appears weekly and on