IDENTIFYING & CORRECTING SOIL PROBLEMS: Some soils have special challenges to face that go beyond texture, pH imbalances and nutrient deficiencies. Failure to address these issues will usually result in poor plant health even death.
HARDPAN: Hardpan is an impervious layer of soil at or near the soil surface. Roots, nutrients and water can barely (if at all) penetrate it. It is a difficult condition to overcome but with some hard work, patience and diligence you can greatly improve your soils structure. Hardpan differs from soil compaction in that hardpan consists of a thin compacted layer within looser soil. To correct soil compaction and hard pan start by incorporating a generous amount of organic matter into the soil. For your garden beds, double digging and planting a green manure crop can be helpful. If hard pan is present you will likely need a broad fork to first loosen the hard pan. If the area you are trying to improve is lawn, have it professionally aerated and sprinkle well screened compost on the lawn area yearly to increase the soils organic content. Most importantly do not walk on your soil when it is wet or operate any type of machinery on it including a lawn mower. Allowing the children to run through the water sprinkler on a hot summer’s day will only exasperate the problem.
POOR DRAINAGE: When drainage is slow water replaces air in the soil. Air is vital for root growth and overall plant health. To test your drainage, dig a hole about 1’ deep and 1’ wide. Fill it to the top with water and measure the amount of time it takes to drain. If the hole empties in an hour or less your drainage is good. If it takes longer you will need to take steps to improve the drainage. This is called the percolation test.
Adding organic matter and gypsum will greatly improve a soil’s drainage. If the condition is more serious you may need to install drain pipes or tile beneath the soil surface in order to carry excess water away from the area.
EXCESS SALTS: Excess salts can be the result of winter deicing efforts or excess chemical fertilizers. Salt dehydrates plants by pulling water out of the cells. Even though there may be plenty of water in the soil the plants will suffer drought. Excessive salts in the soil can stunt plant growth, burn foliage, even kill plants. Salt leaves a visible white deposit on the soil surface. If your problem area is covered in grass it is a little harder to spot but you will know by the symptoms. To correct the problem (or at least help) add gypsum to the soil and water the area with a deep slow watering in order to flush the salt out of the root zone.
Check out this link for more detailed information pertaining to soil nutrients.
Photo Credits: photo by the author.
Updated April, 30, 2021
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For photos: Kimberley Pacholko Identifying and Correcting Soil Problems – Horticulture For Home Gardeners
For content: Kimberley Pacholko 2021, Ornamental Garden Specialist, Identifying and Correcting Soil Problems – Horticulture For Home Gardeners