Urban Soil Problems that Affect Successful Tree Growth and Development

Good Planting and Placement prevents Problems

Above image by: Raina Sheridan, Southern Regional Extension Forestry

Many activities in an urban area can change a soil’s physical, chemical, or biological characteristics.   Construction and landscape maintenance are the most common of these.

Construction can cause soil problems in urban areas because these activities often alter the soil profile and change soil characteristics.

NRCS Urban Soil Profile

An urban soil profile showing that a fill was added near the surface of this soil. Credit: Natural Resources Conservation Service
  • Impervious surfaces, such as buildings and roads, interrupt the natural exchange of gases, increase soil temperature, and alter drainage patterns. The heat-holding capacity of these hard surfaces increases the soil temperature.
  • Heavy construction equipment and material storage areas compact the soil.
  • Moving soil, such as grading, clearing, and excavating, influences drainage and aeration and causes erosion.
  • Chemical spills, such as cement washout areas or painting sites, contaminate the soil.
  • Removal of topsoil diminishes soil fertility.
  • Use of fill dirt influences soil drainage, aeration, and fertility.
  • Dumping or burying waste materials, such as dry wall and garbage, may change drainage patterns and contaminate the soil.

Other practices impact the soil conditions at a site.

  • Poorly timed irrigation systems can cause soil moisture problems.
  • Removal of organic matter influences soil fertility and moisture.
  • Excessive herbicide or fertilizers contaminate the soil.
  • Foot traffic from pedestrians and road vibrations compact the soil.
  • Backyard chemical spills, such as gasoline and oil, contaminate the soil.

Common problems include:

To learn more or to volunteer hours and earn a certificate of completion enroll in eLearn Urban Forestry at campus.extension.org!

By:  Ed Macie, Regional Urban Forester, USFS Southern Region