Many new homes are built on a raised platform of compacted fill dirt brought in by construction companies. Alternatively, areas of frequent use, either by people or our pets, are also at risk of compacted, nutrient-poor soils. Such compacted soils don’t provide a healthy environment for plant roots and may limit healthy growth if the plant roots are unable to adequately penetrate through the soil. Before you begin incorporating your warm-season plants, save yourself time as the weather gets hotter by identifying areas with compaction in your yard sooner rather than later. Loosen the soil to a depth of at least 8″ and incorporate generous amounts of organic matter, such as compost or partially decayed plant materials, before installing the plants.
Soft Soil also helps with drainage as it is more permeable. This helps in replenishing groundwater and reducing run off.
How can I soft my soil?
There are several things to be done. Resist the urge to routinely roto-till or cultivate the garden.
Over-tilling breaks up the small soil aggregates into single particles. The soil should have little clumps of particles that are bound together in small, pea-sized lumps. When tilling an area multiple times, those little aggregates are broken down. When the soil later gets wet, it does not allow the water to pass through. A mini-pond is created and when the soil finally dries, it resembles an alligator’s skin. This linear pattern of cracked soil does not let air or water in.
Instead, consider adding organic matter by using mulch or compost over the top of a flower bed or simply hand-spade it into the top 3 to 6 inches of soil. For a vegetable garden, put 2 inches of compost on the soil surface and till in and repeat for a total of 4 inches in a season. A goal of 5 to 15 percent of organic matter would be advantageous.