Recent compacted soil by workers building a raised bed wall

Baltimore, MD

The priority for workers building a wall for a raised bed is, of course, the wall, not the garden soil structure itself unfortunately. While working, they repeatedly tromped all over the garden bed whose soil WAS in good shape. In addition to walking on the garden bed, they threw piles of stones on it as they worked. I will be adding new soil on top of the old but first, I need to restore the old soil to its previous good condition. How do I do this??

Ultimately I suppose I need to mix some of the old and the new together but that will be after I restore the old soil. I regard this situation as a crisis...any suggestions or advice will be much appreciated.

Midland City, AL

Hello, V. I just found a strong, durable pick up tool that might help with getting the rocks out if bending or kneeeling is a problem. It is called the Nifty Nabber produced by Unger. It's a little more expensive than the pick up tools I've purchased in the past, but still under $20 at the big box stores. (Jim)

This message was edited Oct 10, 2011 11:52 AM

SE/Gulf Coast Plains, AL(Zone 8b)

Hi, Violet. Compacted soil is a tough problem! Keeping my loose, sandy soil from ending up on my neighborís property downhill is a daily battle, but the one corner of the property that is rock-hard, red clay is a much tougher challenge. You already appear to know the options available.
1) Remove and replace with good soil. A drastic and labor intensive undertaking.
2) Topping off.
3) Amending the existing soil.

I wouldnít advise listening to the suggestions you might hear about incorporating sand to make the compacted soil more porous. It will work, but to make any real difference with sand, you have to incorporate huge amounts. Using organic material is easier. You donít need nearly so much. (25% of the volume of soil you want to change, as opposed to 75% with sand.
The amending method I prefer is to wet down the area first. Even heavily compacted soil can be temporarily softened if you use a very slow trickle of water over a long period of time. Step the shovel in at as upright an angle as your spade allows. Going as deep as you can. Your arenít trying to dig a hole, just open a crack, You can usually add a cup or two of compost by opening up the crack and dumping it in the hole on the backside of the shovel. Itís a tedious process, but still the easiest method Iíve found so far.
Commercial hard-scapers will often bring in a few inches of top soil when they are finished working to clean up the look of things. Those few inches are good for re-establishing grass, but donít do much for trees, shrubs or deep rooted garden crops. It is enough for some green manure crops though. Green manure crops are recommended to keep soil compaction from happening, but Iíve found they also help to alleviate the problem once the soil has started to hard pan. I donít know exactly which green manure crops would be best in Maryland, but you can find a general list and more info on green manure crops at:
Using green manure crops to improve soil quality is usually associated with farming operations, but Iíve noticed more and more urban gardeners using the technique. The biggest problem for urban gardeners using the method is finding the seeds in smaller amounts since they are sold in large volume to farmers. Some common green manure crops are readily available in small packages and more seed sellers are becoming aware of the urban market and you can almost always find a source of the seeds you want on DG.
Compacted soil is a problem so many of us have to deal with, please share the specifics of the solution you come up with. k*

mulege, Mexico

Get worms. add compost. Put fresh grass clippings and other compostable material under the new soil. Let the worms do their thing over the winter.

There is a four-pronged fork that you can use to losen the soil but worms are easier on your muscles.


Milton, MA(Zone 6a)

Just been reading about the Dust Bowl -- I go with the deep rooted cover crops.

Baltimore, MD

Thank you all for your valuable advice which I just noticed. I have been busy loosening the soil, trying to find buried bulbs, etc. An arborist did something call "vertical mulching" which loosens and improves the soil. This process involves drilling holes in the garden soil about 8-10 inches deep and filling them with compost, thus aerating and improving the soil. I have replanted my older plants and some new ones too. Next spring will be the exciting part.

Milton, MA(Zone 6a)

I never heard it called "vertical mulching" but it makes a lot of sense.

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