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  • Writer's pictureRussell Fey

Why Soil Health Matters

As you survey your home and property, you likely focus on what you can see above ground. Trees, flowering shrubs, and vegetation adorn your property and make your landscape more inviting and beautiful. Isn’t it wonderful that Mother Nature does much to support the development of healthy growth all around us?

The health of your soil has a significant impact on the health and beauty of your landscape. While most of us can survey trees and shrubs for significant damage, the root cause of all degeneration begins in the soil. Knowing how to assess your current conditions---and then correct them---will be an essential piece of keeping your landscape thriving season after season. Read on to see what to look for, how to diagnose, and how to treat soil for optimal growth.

Isn’t soil just dirt?

Soil is NOT mere dirt! It is a complex system of microorganisms vital to the health of all vegetation on this planet. Healthy, living soil results from much cultivation (and a bit of geographical luck), but even soil devoid of life can be infused with healthy components to bring it to a state of viability once more.

Composition of healthy soil

The composition of good, healthy soil contains vital minerals, vitamins, air and water molecules, and organic matter from previously living organisms. Soil can be as new as hundreds of years old, and other samples can be dated as far back as millions of years. Soil mixes with other patches of its kind thanks to movements of glaciers, continental plates, and bodies of water. All of this movement and mixing serves to bring life and depth to our soil supply; it is truly a wonder to contemplate its development.

Different types of soil

Soils are typically classified as silt, sand, or clay, although variations and blends of the three main compositions exist. Depending on your geographical location, the unique blend of soil composition may make growth for certain types of trees and shrubs more favorable than others. You may need to consult an arborist to assess soil composition and recommend which types of foliage would flourish on your property.

Can soil be “bad”?

While the texture of soil cannot be changed, its structure can, and this is not necessarily a good thing. You can check a soil’s structure through the process of compaction----tightly packing particles together until they are impervious to both air and water.

Soil structure can also be compromised by a process called puddling, where soil particles have all separated, with tiny clay particles infiltrating spaces that once used to hold both air and water. When puddling occurs, the soil is no longer considered “living” -- it is known as dirt. Dirt develops as a result of soil being overworked through

  • Excessive tilling or working of the soil

  • Digging up or tilling wet soil

  • Excessive compaction by heavy machinery or foot traffic

When combined with harsh chemicals and fertilizers designed to strip the soil of vital nutrients, the result is dead matter that is incapable of sustaining life.

City soil

If you live in a city or other urban area, you may be dealing with something known as “urban fill.” Urban fill is a cornucopia of decayed debris, artifacts, sand, and soil that has been combined and compressed over several years. Urban fill seldom has any viable soil for growth, as it is the result of years of toxic build-up.

What kind of soil do my trees need?

If your trees don’t seem to be thriving and there is no indication of injury or infestation, the culprit is likely your soil quality. Trees need an abundance of healthy soil for roots to anchor into. If you live in residential or urban areas, you have a responsibility to improve soil quality to ensure the health and the longevity of your landscape and vegetation. Fortunately, soil structure and quality can be improved if you take the proper steps to protect this vital ecosystem.

  • Try to limit tilling to preserve structural integrity

  • Leave natural soil peds in place

  • Do not till or disturb wet soils

  • Fortify existing soil with organic plant matter to improve its bioavailability

Fey and Sons: Experts in all aspects of tree care

If you have concerns about the health of your trees, Fey and Sons can help. We are knowledgeable in all aspects of tree care---planting, pruning, repair, and removal are just a few of the services we provide as we work to bring your trees and landscape to a state of optimal health and beauty. Call us today for a detailed assessment of your soil and trees and suggestions for how we can significantly improve the value of your property. Visit for more information.

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