My soil has been turned to soup!

Asked January 13, 2016, 8:33 PM EST

I had my sewer line replaced and two major areas of my yard, where I have been carefully developing soil for the past 15 years, were dug up and then refilled during all the downpours of rain. The soil looks horrible and I fear the structure has been totally ruined and my micro organisms have been destroyed. It looks like whipped milk chocolate. What should I do? Put down a layer of straw, sand and compost and let it sit, and then add the layers again? Wait till Spring? Plant a spring cover crop of legumes? Help!

Multnomah County Oregon

1 Response

It’s difficult to respond to your question because of the unique conditions. Even so, I suggest you use a combination of techniques to repair and or/salvage what you can.

Yes, you can add compost and straw now but I suggest you not dig it in until the soil dries considerably. In fact, you could employ the so-called lasagna technique where a deep layer of organic material is applied to the surface, and then topped with compost. Come spring, you will need to decide if you can plant a garden in some of that area or if you should rely on a cover crop for the most seriously affected areas. One resource is “Lasagna, Anyone?”

Don’t add sand. Contrary to popular wisdom, sand doesn’t improve drainage unless you add at least 60 percent, perhaps more, by volume. “The myth of soil amendments – sand”

If you have an area you consider beyond repair, consider using raised beds which you’ve filled with a commercial planting mix commonly available where soil and bark dust is sold. See “Raised Beds” and “Raised beds to try”

Please let me know if you have additional questions.