Introduction to Soil Compaction in the Landscape

January 20th, 2012  |  Published in General

Think of the word “soil” and what image first pops into your head?  If you’re like most people, you visualize a dark, fluffy, rich, nutrient-dense, compost-laden material.  But the reality landscapers and gardeners face is often a much different picture.  Arguably the most significant limiting factor in the success of a garden, soil compaction is a concept that few  understand.

What is Soil Compaction?

Simply put, soil compaction refers to the deterioration of structure through the loss of open voids, also known as pore space, between soil particles.  These pores are critical to the health of a plant because they store and transport water and air to plant roots and other soil microorganisms.  Without proper pore space, water and air movement through the soil is restricted.  As a result, you have plants with a reduced capacity to thrive and increased quantities of stormwater run-off.

soil compaction 001 Introduction to Soil Compaction in the Landscape

What Causes Soil Compaction?

As one might suspect, soil compaction often occurs under the weight of heavy equipment, intense foot traffic, over-saturation of soils, and light foot traffic on moist soils. In addition, soil may compact because of improper landscape maintenance.  Two common places this occurs is on lawns and planter beds.  Lawns will easily compact when mowed when still moist, are not cored/aerated at regular intervals, or if organic material isn’t allowed to decompose naturally over the lawn.  Similarly, if planter beds are left un-mulched for long, chemical and natural processes will slowly harden and compact the soil (especially when watered with overhead spray irrigation) to the point of compaction.

soil compaction 003 Introduction to Soil Compaction in the Landscape

Do I have Compacted Soils?

For you to ask this question, you likely have some plants that look like they are struggling but you can’t seem to nail down the problem.  Here are a few easy tests to help you identify if soil compaction is the issue:

-Visual Test:  Do you dread digging holes in the garden?  Do you require an adze and way too much sweat?  Do you see lingering puddles or water run-off from the bare soil surface?  Do your plants look down-trodden and no amount of water (little to lots) solves the problem?  If so, odds are good that you have a compacted soil.  If you aren’t convinced or want to know how serious of a problem it is, conduct the following Dig Test.

-Dig Test:  Excavate a 12” x 12” x 12” hole and fill soil compaction 002 Introduction to Soil Compaction in the Landscapewith water.  Wait for water to infiltrate through the soil.  Wait 1-2 hours, then fill again.  Take note of the time at filling and record how long it takes the water to infiltrate.  Results:  If your second infiltration takes over 45 minutes (and you don’t have a very clayey soil to begin with), you likely have a soil compaction problem.

-Contact a Landscaper:  Most experienced landscapers carry around a soil compaction tester in their trucks.  These probes measure soil compaction quite easily and really only require your body weight.

Turns out I have Compacted Soils!  Now What?

Article:  Soil Compaction Remedies.


Landscape Tips and Ideas: Sheet Mulching, Cultivating Soil Health, and Homemade Salves

June 8th, 2011  |  Published in Contributors Blog, Jeff Robbins

by Jeff Robbins, Revolution Landscape

Preparing Soil for Mulching around Plants & Weed Prevention

In California, most weeds only grow when water is available. They are usually most troublesome in the winter and after rain.
Here are the steps to remove weeds and prevent them from coming up again:

1. Use a garden hoe to uproot all visible weeds.
2. Remove especially invasive weeds like Crab Grass and Bermuda Grass from the site. It is OK to leave other weed material.
3. Place one layer of wet cardboard over space. The cardboard acts as a weed barrier and is a sustainable alternative to manufactured products.
4. Put 3-4 inches of wood chip or compost mulch on top of the cardboard before the cardboard has had a chance to dry.
5. Be careful not to smother your plants with mulch and you’re done!

Re-mulching should occur every couple years as new weed seeds are deposited and the mulch and cardboard biodegrade.

sheet mulching Landscape Tips and Ideas:  Sheet Mulching, Cultivating Soil Health, and Homemade Salves

Sheet mulching


Cultivating Healthy Soil Ecology

There is more than meets the eye in your garden soil. The relationships between minerals, organic matter, plant roots, bacteria, fungi, and other organisms make life possible. Attention to your garden soil can cultivate healthy plants that are more resistant to diseases and pests and that bear higher yields of delicious fruits and vegetables. Some simple tips to improve your soil ecology are eliminate use of pesticides and herbicides, replace synthetic fertilizers with organic fertilizers, and fertilize less.

soil health Landscape Tips and Ideas:  Sheet Mulching, Cultivating Soil Health, and Homemade Salves

Jeff Robbins taking in the aroma of healthy soil.

How to make Moisturizing Salves from the Herbs You Grow

Cooking from the garden is fantastic but what about alternative uses for the plants you grow? One different way you can use many culinary herbs is to create fragrant moisturizing salves. I like to use salves on dry skin and chapped lips and my favorite flavors are Rosemary, Lavender, and Mint. Here is a simple step to step guide on making salves. For more detailed instructions visit

1. Select a olive, almond, or coconut oil.

2. Select fresh, dry herbs. Get enough plant material to completely fill the jar you are using.

3. Coarsely chop the herbs and pack them into a clean and dry jar.

4. Pour oil slowly over the herbs all the way to the top of the jar. Poke the herbs with a stick to eliminate air pockets. Screw on lid tight.

5. Let sit for 6-8 weeks.

6. Pour liquid into a different clean and dry jar. Strain the herbs out through a piece of cloth.

7. Your herbs have been infused into the oil.

8. Warm 2 ounces of infused oil on low heat until warm.

9. Add 2 TBS of grated beeswax and stir until incorporated with the oil.

10. Pour mixture into a small, shallow, glass jar and let it cool until solid.

11. If it is too soft reheat and add more beeswax. If it is too hard reheat and add more oil.

12. Once completely cool screw the lid on tight and label!

salve Landscape Tips and Ideas:  Sheet Mulching, Cultivating Soil Health, and Homemade Salves