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Saturday - October 20, 2012

From: The Woodlands, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Compost and Mulch, Soils, Groundcovers, Shade Tolerant, Trees
Title: Destructive landscape crews in The Woodlands TX
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

Hi. We need help. We recently moved to a house where landscape crews have been blowing away the leaf litter from the front yard for many years. The underbrush was also cleared long ago. The result is that the soil underneath the dozen mature trees has been eroded by about 4". It's badly compacted. And it's probably depleted of much of its nutrients. We'd like to dump some more soil on top, but we're afraid that it will choke oxygen from the tree roots. We tried adding mulch on multiple occasions, but the landscape crew blew away all of it at the first sign of falling leaves. We tried to plant a few seedlings and they all quickly died. Most every other yard in the neighborhood looks like ours. We're thinking that this can't be good for the trees. When will this vicious cycle end? When the last tree dies and the residents replace them with turf grass? Do we need to fire the landscaping crew and let unsightly leaves pile up for a couple years until the soil recovers? What would the neighbors say if we did that? It's like we can't see any strategy out of this.

ANSWER:

My first question is "Who is in charge?" This member of the Smarty Plants team has family living in The Woodlands, so we inquired if they found this a general problem in that planned community. The response was that while there was certainly a lot of blowing in the area, that they had finally found a landscaper who not only took instructions but made sure the onsite crew followed them. Some leaves and pine needles, which are in that particular neighborhood, are raked into flower beds where they gradually decompose and add nutrients to the soil while protecting roots from heat and (infrequent) cold. Leaves on the lawn are mowed with the grass, which chops the leaves into a good mulch for the grass. Blowing is permitted on the paved areas - porches, walks and driveway - only.

They are, in effect, blowing away the very vegetative material that your depleted soil needs. And certainly the mulch, which has obviously been purchased for that purpose, should not be blown away.

Repairig this damage is definitely possible, but it will be slow. First, of course, you must find a landscaper that will not only promise to adhere to your requirements, but give you that promise in writing. Then, while we realize people are often away during the day and cannot watch the workers, certainly the first time they come home and find the yard "blown," they can fire that contractor and find another one.

We do not recommend dirt be replaced by purchasing "top soil" which can be anything but frequently is dry, dead, even contaminated soil just dug up from anywhere and dumped on your property. And you are correct that suddenly adding to the depth of dirt coverage over tree roots will damage the gas exchanges by which air reaches the roots and, through photosynthesis, carbons are removed  and sequestered in the soil as oxygen is released back into the air. Instead, using the mulch of your fallen leaves and additional purchased mulch, which will continue to allow the soil to "breathe," will begin to build your soil up to a more desirable depth and consistency.

Next, please read this previous Mr. Smarty Plants question on a similar subject - rebuilding a lawn area - which came from Conroe, and we feel it reflects your situation and has some good suggestions. Please understand this is neither a "buy a packet of seeds and sprinkle it around" nor a "dump some dirt on it" solution. We wish we could offer that sort of information, but it wouldn't work. Nature spent millions of years creating the dirt, you will have to be patient about recreating it. And once you find a landscaper who will do what you tell him, recommend him to your neighbors.

 

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