Ground cracks could be sign of root, house problems

Q. Should I be worrying about the cracks in the ground throughout my yard and landscape?

Dan from Youngstown

A. Yes, no, maybe … it depends! These cracks can be a sign of root problems for plants and potentially foundation problems around your home.

This summer went from one of the wettest on record for the entire Mahoning Valley in June and July, to one of the driest for the southern half of the Valley as we pass the midpoint of August.

When the rain stopped toward the end of July, the ground finally began to lose the excessive moisture to plant roots and to the air through evaporation. As moisture levels plummeted, cracks began to appear in many areas in the lawn and garden. Most of them are in areas with little to no plant cover and little to no mulch.

Most of the soils in the Mahoning Valley are primarily clay. Think of it like a deck of cards in the case. These clay particles are tightly packed with nothing between them. When water is added, they shift wildly. When it dries out, they go back to a tight pack, but they crack and curl.

Methods to reduce soil cracking

Amend the soil: Add lots of organic matter to your soil. In most landscape beds, this happens each year as mulch is refreshed. Mulch is a great way to add additional organic matter. Compost and other materials can be used as well. As for the lawn, it takes a lot of organic matter to make a difference. Do what you can to add small amounts over time. You’ll notice improvement little by little. Mulch will hold in moisture and reduce soil temperatures.

Avoid compaction: Avoid walking on the lawn and landscape when the soil is saturated. Lots of foot traffic (human and pets) will push the air out of the soil, eliminating room for moisture and air. Cracks may be a sign of compaction, which significantly affects root growth.

Raise your mower height: When the weather turns dry, raise the mower to 3-3.5 inches to keep the grass as green as naturally possible. This will reduce the amount of sunlight getting to the soil to dry it out and reduce the weed pressure in your lawn.

Water: Although not always necessary, watering is a way to reduce stress on wlting plants. Watering plants around foundations will reduce additional soil cracks, which can affect building foundations.

Eric Barrett is OSU Extension educator for agriculture and natural resources in Mahoning County. Call the office hot line at 330-533-5538 to submit your questions. Clinic hours are Mondays and Thursday from 9 a.m. to noon, through October.

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