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Understanding Soil Compaction

compacted soil

Soil compaction is the hardening of soil due to continuous wheel or foot traffic which squeezes the air from between the soil particles. Compacted soil has its density increased and its pore spaces reduced. This has the result of decreasing the ability of water to infiltrate through the soil into the ground. This creates surface runoff that can carry pollution, creates standing water for mosquitoes, and increases flooding.

puddle on a lawn

Compaction is a major problem that inhibits the growth of plant roots which affects the health of crops, pastures, and landscape vegetation.

Plant roots are unable to penetrate the soil as it becomes denser and little root growth occurs, except if there are cracks in the soil that can be followed by plant roots. The plant roots are unable to develop enough force as they grow to penetrate the compacted soil.

tree roots

The organisms that live in soil can also find that compaction affects their environment. Compaction makes it more difficult to dig through the soil to create burrows and homes. Animals, like earthworms, can’t dig to find food to survive. This has the affect of impacting other organisms higher up the food chain.

Possible Signs of Soil Compaction
What to Look For:

There are some outward signs that you can observe to identify where soil compaction may be occurring in your yard or property:

tree roots
puddle on a lawn

Areas where water ponds on the ground can indicate where water can’t infiltrate due to compaction. These could also indicate areas where clay soils are creating a barrier to water.

These signs may also be related to other issues with your soil, so make sure you look into what types of soils are present or conduct a soil test.

Dealing with Soil Compaction
What to Do:

Reducing or eliminating compaction can be accomplished in many ways at home. Use any or all of the following methods to manage compaction in your yards:


For more information, contact Steve Yergeau, County Agent III, at or 732-505-3671.