We just had an addition put on our house and the soil in the surrounding area is now very compacted and full of debris. I want to plant there. What can I do to help the soil?
You are facing a common problem after construction. The movement of heavy equipment over soil, the constant walking back and forth over the same areas, and inadequate cleanup of construction materials create a recipe for infertile, compacted soil – the antithesis of what plants need.
Your first order of business is to remove any construction debris – down to the smallest bits you can collect and dispose of. Leaving bits of concrete or cement in your soil will actually change soil chemistry and artificially increase soil pH. Nails, screws, and metal objects will also impact soil chemistry. Pull out anything that doesn’t belong in the soil.
Normally you want to disturb your soil as little as possible to promote soil health and to discourage weed seeds. Having said that, if your soil has been severely compacted and is clearly infertile, you may want to loosen the top couple of inches with a garden fork to create some permeability and aeration.
Buy the best quality compost you can afford and apply 2 to 3 inches to the damaged soil. The organic matter within compost will help to loosen and feed the soil, but it will take time. I suggest that you apply 1” of compost twice a year and also consider doing monthly drenches of compost tea to the area during the growing season, to speed soil fertility along.
Bare soil is an easy target for soil erosion and fertility depletion, so, either plant the area quickly or use aged shredded bark mulch as a “place holder” until you plant. The mulch will help keep the soil moist, suppress weeds, and add some organic matter as it decays. The plants that you install in the area will also help to alleviate the soil compaction and infertility. Include some plants that are nitrogen-fixers, such as the sub-shrub New Jersey Tea, to help the process along.
Unfortunately, it can often take far longer to restore soil health than it does to destroy it. Be patient and know that your soil will improve over time.
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