Soil & Roots

What’s Wrong with My Soil?

Soil quality, or lack thereof, can drastically impact the health of your landscape. Healthy soil efficiently regulates water, filters pollutions, and produces vital nutrients for your trees.

But how can you tell if there’s something wrong with your soil? Unhealthy plants are the most obvious indicator; however, it is best to correct soil problems before this happens.

To do this, you first need to know what healthy soil looks like:

  • Your soil should be free of crusts, compaction, pesticides and other toxins, salt buildup and excessive erosion.
  • Your soil should also contain sufficient organic matter and nutrients, in proper balance, to meet your tree’s nutritional needs.
  • Generally, healthy soil will be darker, as this means it is dense in organic matter.
  • Healthy soil contains earth worms, fungi, and other animal and plant activity.

Check your soil’s health by digging up a sample and examining it. Does your sample match the guidelines above? If so, great! But remember, an untrained eye may not catch all soil defects. Fortunately, there are several fool-proof ways to evaluate the quality of your soil at home.

Common soil defects and how to test for them:

  • Nutrient deficiencies. Poor soil nutrition can be caused by acidic or alkaline soil. Consult with a professional tree care company or take a soil sample and send it to your local university cooperative extension service for analysis. Click here to learn how to prepare a soil sample.
  • Poor drainage. Too much compaction can result in either surface runoff or waterlogged roots. To evaluate soil drainage, dig a hole 12 inches deep and fill it with water. If the water fails to drain in 30 minutes, the soil has a drainage problem.
  • Lack of organic matter. Sparse soil life, failing plants, and poor water retention or drainage indicate a lack of organic matter.

Ideally, you should treat your soil prior to planting, and regularly monitor it for defects.

Use these prevention and maintenance tips for best results:

  • Prior to planting, break up compact soil by tilling, adding organic matter, or encouraging earthworms and soil organisms.
  • If possible, plant your trees on a downward grade, so that the soil runoff flows downhill and prevents the roots from becoming waterlogged.
  • Address nutrition and pH issues before planting, and follow up with periodic tests.

There are many other ways to evaluate soil health, but they require professional equipment, laboratory tests, and a trained eye. A professional arborist can thoroughly evaluate your soil health and develop a customized plan for your landscape.

4 thoughts on “What’s Wrong with My Soil?

  • I would be intersted in a discussion on the detrimental affects of landscape fabric on soil condition and long term plant health. Landscape fabric seems to reduce sol health by allowing leaves, debris and detrius to acccumulate on top of the fabric. Soil builds on top of the fabric as this matter slowly decays without contributing nutrients into soil below. could you touch on this issue? Most planting beds in our area are topdressed with stone mulches as high winds prevent the use of bark mulches.

  • Josephine Trevathan

    My soil killed my trees


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