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.