How to Fix Compacted Soil

Compacted soil reduces the rate of water distribution through the soil to plant roots. In addition, compacted soil reduces air space available for plant roots and will therefore stunt root growth. And if poor drainage from an excess of water being held in the soil and poor aeration aren't enough to convince you of the undesirability of compacted soil, increased erosion will make you think again, as the water landing on the surface runs off elsewhere because the hard surface on the soil prevents penetration of the water. This article is a basic primer in getting started on ridding your garden or land of compacted soil.


  1. Image titled Fix Compacted Soil Step 1
    Understand what causes compacted soil. The main reason for compacted soil is heavy traffic. This can be the constant movement of vehicles, people, stock, hoofed animals or farm machinery. Poor cultivation practices can also bring about compacted soil, from a lack of crop rotation or over-fertilizing etc.
  2. Image titled Fix Compacted Soil Step 2
    Reroute the traffic. Shift the stock, machinery, vehicle or human traffic away from the compacted area. Do this by providing alternative routes and blocking off the compacted area with signs, fences, ropes or some other form of barrier. Do this long enough to give the area a rest. If you do wish to use this area as a thoroughfare again, consider a path, road or stock run to direct the traffic in one small area only and use pavers, boardwalks, stock fences etc. to delimit the area that can be used.
  3. Image titled Fix Compacted Soil Step 3
    Reduce the cultivation. Change the cultivated area of your garden or land. Give the compacted area a rest and move the cultivation elsewhere for a few seasons. In addition, avoid cultivating soils that are too moist as this causes the soil structure to break down too quickly and does not allow it time to repair healthily.
  4. Image titled Fix Compacted Soil Step 4
    Break up the hard layers. You can manually break up the top hard layer using tools or machinery. This isn't work for the faint of heart but it does help to give the soil a chance to breathe again. Try using a fork, spade or rotary hoe to break up the layer. It is also possible to use plants that have strong roots but if these have a potential to be a new source of problems in themselves (such as taking over etc.), this is not a good method.
  5. Image titled Fix Compacted Soil Step 5
    Amend the soil. There are numerous commercial products available on the market that you can use to improve the soil. It is best to discuss these with your local nursery or horticultural specialist so that you can get the right type of soil improver suitable for your region and personal needs. The main aim of a soil improver is to bind the soil particles back together again so that it can hold a good structure that won't compact.


  • Seek professional advice if you are not certain about what to do with a compacted soil. If you find that the solutions are too labour-intensive or costly for your needs, it may be easier and cheaper in the long-run to have a professional fix the soil for you.

Things You'll Need

  • Soil improvers
  • New paths etc.
  • Fork, spade or rotary hoe
  • Professional advice

Article Info

Categories: Compost Mulch and Soil Preparation | Soil Chemistry