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How to Loosen Compacted Soil

compacted soil

In Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW), grass and soil are always "under pressure." Texas lawns have to deal with intense heat, dry weather, lack of moisture, foot traffic, disease, pests, and weeds. These conditions stress, strain, and weigh down on the soil in our lawns. All of that weight leads directly to compact soil.

So why is compact soil such a harmful problem for your grass? And what is the solution? We've got the answer to these questions and more, so follow along to learn how you can loosen the compacted soil in your yard.

The Problem

What is compacted soil, and how does it occur?

Healthy soil is full of pores or small voids between soil particles. The purpose of pore space is so the soil can retain water, oxygen, and nutrients. Pore space allows roots easy access to these necessary nutrients, so they can adequately absorb them. In fact, about 50% of healthy soil's make up is solid soil particles, and the other half is air pockets (or pores).

Over time, the soil in lawns can become "compacted" due to the pressure of heavy foot traffic, outdoor activities, heavy lawn items, and harsh weather. When your yard's grass has been continuously pushed down upon, all of that pressure can compress the pore space in your soil.

As your soil continuously loses its air pockets, the ground becomes hardened, compressed, and nonporous. Once your soil has become dense and nonporous, it is considered compact.

Why is the DFW more prone to compacted soil issues?

Unfortunately, some soil types are more prone to soil compaction than others – why is that so unfortunate, you're wondering? DFW's soils are predominantly clay, and clay-heavy soil is much more prone to being compacted. The individual solid particles that make clay soil are so tiny that they are much more susceptible to being pushed tightly together.

Not sure if your soil is clay? You can always consult with a professional lawn care company near you to find out your soil type. However, there are also some common indicators that you can look for on your own.

You may have clay soil if:

  • After a heavy rain, your lawn stays wet or flooded for days.
  • In drought conditions, the ground in your yard cracks.
  • You find common clay weeds in your yard like Creeping Buttercup, Chicory, Canada Thistle, Dandelion, Crabgrass, Plantain, Nettle, Goosegrass, and Chickweed.

Why is compacted soil terrible for your lawn?

Frequent foot traffic, driving on your lawn, or a season of harsh weather can cause your yard to become compacted. And although soil compaction is fairly common (especially for the clay soils of DFW), it can cause severe damage to your lawn if left untreated.

Remember that healthy soil is meant to be porous, so water, air, and nutrients can make their way through the underground root systems.

When soil becomes compacted, water and nutrients can't effectively make it through the dense soil to the plant roots. New roots won't be able to break through the dense soil either. Basically, when the ground is dense and nonporous, new roots can't penetrate the soil, and existing roots can't access water, oxygen, or nutrients.

All of this boils down to suboptimal, unhealthy grass conditions in your yard. As roots can't easily move through compact soil or access water, root growth is shallow, plant growth is limited, and your grass can begin to die off.

Alternatively, in loose soil, roots grow deeper, new shoots sprout easily, water is absorbed into the soil, and grass can access deeper moisture. In compacted lawns, the shallow, underdeveloped roots can more easily be overtaken by weeds and disease.

The Solution


Pro Tip: If your grass is looking thin and dying off, there is a simple way to confirm that compact soil is your problem. Take a spade or shovel and try to stick it in the ground. If you are unable to push the spade into the ground, then your soil is most likely compacted.


Prevention

The most effective way to prevent your lawn soil from becoming compacted is to regularly aerate your lawn. Aerator machines and tools open small holes throughout a yard, creating space and loosening the soil. Aeration should be part of every homeowner's lawn maintenance plan, but it is particularly important for residents of DFW.

Aerating twice a year will keep the easily compacted clay soils of DFW loose and porous for optimal plant growth. Ideally, DFW lawns should be aerated once in the spring and a second time in the fall.

Lawns are often compacted due to heavy amounts of activity. However, our outdoor spaces are meant to be enjoyed, so there is no need to cancel this weekend's barbeque. That being said, limiting lawn activity (when you can) is a highly effective way to help prevent compact soil.

Try to avoid driving on your lawn with golf carts, bicycles, or cars. We don't want you to feel you can't walk on your grass at all, but try to limit the foot traffic if possible and stay off the lawn when it's wet.

Everyone loves a shortcut, so some properties experience frequent foot traffic in one particular spot repeatedly. If that's the case for your yard, consider paving that path or planting trees or shrubs to redirect traffic elsewhere.

Help take some of the pressure off your lawn dethatching and mowing higher. Thatch is the layer of grass clippings, leaves, and debris that build up, blanketing your soil. Thatch weighs heavily on your ground, especially when it's wet. Aerate or use a rake to break up the thatch so that it's no thicker than ½ inch.

Mowing your lawn too short also puts undue pressure on your yard, so be sure to cut no more than ⅓ of the grass blade’s length at a time.

Treatment

Suppose your lawn is already yellowing, thinning, and dying due to compact soil. In that case, aeration is an excellent solution for your compacted yard.

Core aeration is considered the best and most effective way of loosening your compact soil. Other methods of aeration, such as spiking, don't remove any soil from your lawn, so they can actually make your compaction issue worse.

During core aeration, tiny plugs or cores are pulled up throughout your yard. This process relieves built-up pressure, creates space, and softens your soil. Once your soil is looser, roots will have room to grow deeper, and water will be able to penetrate the ground again.

Some homeowners rent aerator machines and learn how to aerate their lawn themselves. However, aeration is often most successful when completed by a professional lawn care company.

When it comes to aeration, timing is everything. Aerating at the wrong time of year can actually put more strain on your grass.

In DFW, you should be aerating once in the spring and once in the fall. Aeration can be very challenging, time-consuming, and labor-intensive for the average homeowner. So, we recommend hiring a local lawn care company to aerate your lawn twice yearly for you.

Lawn Care with Gecko Green

In Texas, lawns have to deal with intense heat, dry weather, lack of moisture, foot traffic, disease, pests, and weeds. All of these different factors keep our yards "under pressure."

The good news is that with Gecko Green’s help, you can alleviate your grass from stress and prepare it for thicker, healthier growth with our lawn aeration service! Let us give your lawn the relief it needs and prepare it for ideal growth year after year.

Help your lawn today with lawn aeration!

Lawn Aeration Service