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A multi-year study of tillage and amendment effects on compacted soils

OPEN Journal of environmental management | 28 Aug 2017

F Mohammadshirazi, RA McLaughlin, JL Heitman and VK Brown
Constructing roads and buildings often involves removal of topsoil, grading, and traffic from heavy machinery. The result is exposed, compacted subsoil with low infiltration rate (IR), which hinders post-construction vegetation establishment and generates significant runoff, similar to impervious surfaces. Our goal was to assess tillage and adding amendments for improving density and maintaining perviousness of subsoils compacted during construction. The effects of tillage with and without amendments on (1) soil compaction, (2) IR, and (3) vegetative growth at five sites in North Carolina, USA were evaluated over a period of up to 32 months. The sites, representing a range of soil conditions, were located at three geographic regions; one in the Sandhills (located in Coastal Plain), one in the mountains, and three in the Piedmont. Amendments varied by site and included: (1) compost, (2) cross-linked polyacrylamide (xPAM), and (3) gypsum. Bulk density (BD) and soil penetration resistance (PR) tests were used to characterize soil physical condition. The IR was measured using a Cornell Sprinkle Infiltrometer. Vegetative growth was evaluated by measuring shoot mass and vegetative cover at all sites and root density at the Piedmont sites. Tillage decreased BD and PR compared to the compacted soil at four out of five sites for observations ranging from 24 to 32 months. Compost was applied to four sites prior to tillage and reduced BD in two of them compared to tillage alone. The IR in the tilled plots was maintained at about 3-10 times that of the compacted soil among the five sites over the monitoring periods. Adding amendments did not increase IR relative to tillage alone except at one Piedmont site, where compost and xPAM increased IR at 12 months and compost at 24 months after site establishment. Vegetative responses to tillage and amendments were inconsistent across sites. Results suggest that tillage is a viable option to reduce bulk density and increase infiltration for areas with compacted soils where vegetation is to be established, and that the effect is maintained for at least several years.
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Topsoil, Erosion, Density, Surface runoff, Subsoil, Bulk density, Soil compaction, Soil
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