Soil compaction is usually one of several factors that can lead to the decline of woody plants. It is a physical factor, much like drought, freezing or mechanical damage. When combined with chemical factors such as salinity, nutrient imbalances, soil acidification, herbicides or pollution and biotic factors, such as disease or insect problems, the tree will often go into slow decline. Remove any one of these factors before the plant dies or is beyond help, and the decline can be arrested and the plant may recover. Symptoms of soil compaction vary with tree species and cause, but they can include: slow growth; small, distorted, sparse, chlorotic and nutrient-deficient leaves; scorch; premature autumn color; premature leaf drop; abnormally large "distress" crops of fruit; insufficient storage of food reserves for winter; and dieback of twigs or branches. The three factors that lead to soil compaction are gravity, rain and traffic.
Add organic material to soil to improve soil structure and provide aeration. Do not operate heavy equipment on wet soils, or overly heavy equipment that is beyond the soil's capacity to support it. Don't use heavy fill soils around newly planted woody plants. Don't overtill the soil because it will destroy all soil structure and lead to more compaction. Mulch around the bases of trees and shrubs, but keep 1-2" from the trunk, to deflect the compacting nature of rain on bare soils.
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