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To avoid the common problem of compaction when sowing or planting vegetables, gardening guru PETER CUNDALL suggests working off planks or wide boards to distribute the weight
One of the main reasons for reduced fertility is heavily compacted soil. If the ground cannot breathe, micro-organisms and worms cannot flourish, water is unable to penetrate and roots cannot take up nutrients.
Compaction is a common problem. It’s the reason why we work off planks or wide boards to distribute the weight when sowing or planting in the vegetable garden.
Wet compacted soil becomes excessively sour over time, usually becoming so toxic many plants are unable to grow. We can tell, because when the surface is cultivated, foul-smelling gases are released. Planting trees and shrubs immediately after buildings have been constructed or similar work involving heavy machinery can be risky. Far better for wet compacted soil to be roughly cultivated so exposed clods are aerated, releasing trapped gases.
Where vegetable gardens or perennial borders are planned at new home sites, applying lime first usually hastens the sweetening process.
Vegetable garden soils are dug and worked more than other parts of the garden. Seeds or seedlings need moist, cultivated soil to get a good start but overwet soils are particularly vulnerable to compaction and are a common cause of failure.
Grassed areas which have been subject to heavy foot traffic during summer, always becomes hard and water-repellent. If on sloping ground, rainwater fails to penetrate and flows to waste.
I recall seeing a bank so badly compacted due to people taking short cuts, that even large trees which had been growing there for years were beginning to die. The local council solved the problem by planting a dense ground-cover of kurume azaleas as a deterrent. In the end, the entire bank became a triumph of outstanding landscaping as the trees recovered.
When areas of lawn become badly
When areas of lawn become badly compacted due to heavy foot traffic, grass stops growing leaving unsightly dead trails
compacted due to heavy foot traffic, grass stops growing leaving unsightly dead trails. If people persist on taking short cuts across lawn areas, it’s better to insert stepping stone paths to absorb the impact.
Where sloping lawns have become too dry – often because grass has been mown far too closely – use a strong garden fork to loosen the surface. Drive it deeply into the subsoil, without prising, every 25 centimetres, leaving dozens of small holes.
Then pour water over the area so it can soak down to where it is needed around and beneath the grass roots. As the subsoil absorbs the water is swells, closing the holes.
Fresh grass will soon begin to grow at this time of the year, but mower blades should be lifted to encourage deeper root penetration.
Some of the most serious problems of soil compaction occur beneath large trees where cars are regularly parked. The surface soil turns to dust and drifts away exposing and badly scarring tree roots.
This is a common reason why many old-established trees in heavily-frequented areas lose vigour and begin dying back. Cars should never be allowed to park beneath trees unless the surface over the roots has been protected by paving or asphalt.
Even where trees are surrounded by lawn areas or bare ground, soil compaction can occur and the trees
suffer. Forking is out of the question because tree roots are too much of a barrier.
I use the pointed end of a pick-axe which can be driven hard into the soil without damaging tree roots. It’s enough to create several extra-deep, wedgeshaped holes, to each square metre, preferably in a wide band beneath driplines of suffering trees. Large roots can be avoided.
A thick layer of coarse, dry river sand, mixed with blood and bone is then spread over the surface where it can be raked into the holes.
This method provides numerous enriched ‘cores’ among the feeding roots and enable water to flow down rather than run to waste. This is another simple way to bring new life to trees which have been losing vigour because of dry, compacted soil.