It’s an all too common problem observed in fields: caked soil forms on the surface, creating a distinctive cracked appearance. Poor water infiltration and seed growth restriction as a result of caked soil can spell trouble in the form of substantially lower crop yields. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to prevent cracked soil from forming, such as evenly distributing water, minimizing surface runoff, and limiting foot traffic around the affected areas. To learn how to best implement these practices to protect your yard, read on.
How Does Caked Soil Impact My Lawn or Garden?
Caked soil is defined as a hard, dry crust that forms on the surface of worked soils. This layer of compacted soil material can be caused by any number of factors, including:
- Excessive traffic from vehicles or people
- Improper irrigation practices
- Lack of soil organic matter
- Excessive tillage
- Clay composition
- Surface runoff
All of these factors work together to create an impenetrable layer on the surface of the soil that water and air have difficulty penetrating. As a result, seed germination and establishment are significantly hindered.
Routine Maintenance Is Key
The best way to prevent caked soil is to routinely inspect and clean your irrigation system for any physical or technical damages. Over time, dirt and debris can begin to build up within your sprinkler heads. This can restrict water flow and lead to poor distribution, which will in turn create patches of caked soil. By establishing a cleaning and maintenance routine, you can avoid this issue and keep your system in good working order. If you notice any broken pipes, leaks, or clogged nozzles, make sure to fix them as soon as possible. You should also regularly check the soil moisture content and adjust your irrigation schedule accordingly.
Even Water Distribution Matters
Although cracked soil gives the impression of parched land, overwatering is actually a frequent culprit. For this reason, an even and light water distribution can be especially important. Caking often occurs when a field is watered too heavily at once, causing water to pool. This allows some soil particles to float up onto the surface of the water, leaving behind a harder, caked layer once the remaining water absorbs or evaporates. To achieve a more even distribution, low-pressure sprinklers or drip irrigation applies water slowly and evenly to minimize surface runoff and ensure that the water has time to penetrate the soil.
Watch Out for Clay Composition
Clay often acts like a sponge, absorbing water when it is plentiful, then shrinking as it dries. The drying process can result in those distinctive, hard cracks that can completely prevent plants from pushing up to the surface, undermining crop yield. It’s important to remember that soil exists in gradient layers. Topsoil is the dark, nutrient-rich layer that sits at the top. Topsoil’s rich composition and low clay density make it ideal for water absorption with minimal shrinkage. Aerating and top-dressing this layer with additional microorganism-rich humus soil, such as compost, can help improve your soil’s texture and minimize the risk of clay composition shrinkage.
Minimize Surface Runoff
When soil becomes completely saturated, water–whether irrigated or stormwater–will turn into surface runoff. Soil can then be carried away from your field, stripping it down to the subsoil, which will crack and cake more easily. To prevent this, consider installing a drainage system that will direct water away from the field. Alternatively, you can create berms or swales–shallow ditches–that will guide water around your field. Another way to minimize surface runoff is by installing a boom irrigation system. These machines help to decentralize water application, creating an even spray of small water droplets rather than high-pressure sprays, improving the water’s infiltration rate.
Limit Foot Traffic Around Affected Area
If caked soil has already begun to form, it’s important to take measures to prevent further damage. One way to do this is by limiting foot traffic around the affected areas. Caked soil can be very fragile, and even light footsteps can cause cracks to form and worsen. If you must walk on caked soil, we recommend using a board or piece of plywood to distribute your weight evenly.
Contact Berardi Irrigation for Lawn Maintenance and Irrigation Installation in Canton, MA
If you’re looking for more information about caked soil or irrigation systems, don’t hesitate to contact Berardi Irrigation. We provide lawn maintenance and irrigation installation services in Canton, MA and the surrounding area. With over 25 years of experience, we have the knowledge and expertise necessary to help you keep your lawn healthy and prevent compacted soil. Give us a call today at (781) 828-2029, or visit our website to schedule a free consultation.