How Soil Compaction Affects Trees

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Trees are negatively impacted by soil compaction, and it is not just detrimental to young trees. Older, more established trees are just as susceptible to its effects. To protect your landscape trees, it’s important to understand soil compaction and how it can be corrected for continued sustainability of your trees.

Compaction of soil creates density. Within this density, there is a containment of carbon dioxide. Since it is oxygen that is necessary for the overall health and sustainability of the tree, the carbon monoxide is in direct contrast to what is required for vitality.

Compacted soil also causes runoff. When water runs off the soil rather than soaking into it, sustainability may be compromised. Certainly, lack of water is a stressor for a tree.

Another complication a tree faces when the surrounding soil is compacted is the ability to grow its roots. Soil compaction generally affects the first several inches of soil. Consequently, this is the area where trees typically root. Soil that is compacted, however, prevents the tree’s roots from expanding. Tree roots not steadfastly put into the ground are at greater risk of damage from lack of nutrition or becoming uprooted as a result of high winds.

Whereas non-compacted soil is porous and allows for the cooling flow of oxygen within it, compacted soil causes pockets of heat. Excessive heat can cause damage to the tree’s base, including its roots. As roots are essentially the lifeline of the tree, any damage done to them, including heat damage, can have significant effects on the rest of the tree.

Additionally, although runoff is frequently a problem of compacted soil, it is not uncommon for pockets of existing pores, minimal as they may be, to fill with water instead of oxygen. The combination of these pockets of water and the heat that becomes trapped within are a breeding ground for fungi. In Austin, Texas, oak wilt is a source of destruction to many oaks. Since oak wilt can spread from tree to tree through intertwined roots, taking steps to correct compacted soil not only deals with the problem of the soil itself, but also with any secondary effects, such as oak wilt. If compacted soil affects your oaks, contact an Austin tree trimming specialist, who can assist you with safely securing the roots of a healthy tree from those of an oak tree affected by oak wilt.

There are steps that can be taken to correct the problem of compacted soil. For instance, foot traffic in and around trees, especially their roots, should be lessened. Remember that roots may expand up to several times that of the dripline. Therefore, just because one may not be near the visible roots at the base of a tree doesn’t mean that there aren’t roots beneath the ground which still may be affected by foot traffic. Foot traffic may be caused by the landowners or their children or pets. It may be caused by contractors completing home projects or their machinery. It may even be caused by wild animals, such as deer, feeding from the tree or just below it. Foot traffic in high risk zones can be minimized by boundaries, such as stakes and mesh.

Aeration is helpful to compacted soil, as it allows for better flow of oxygen, better absorption and less runoff of water, and better penetration of life-sustaining nutrients, such as oxygen, and sunlight. Up to five aerations annually is recommended for landscapes affected by soil compaction.

If you have any questions or concerns regarding soil compaction and how to correct it, seek the assistance of an Austin tree care professional.

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