25th Aug 2023 -

Every thriving garden or outdoor space is built upon a bed of fertile, healthy soil. But sometimes, despite the best efforts of professionals, the soil can pose challenges that affect the overall health and beauty of the landscape. From poor plant growth to soil erosion and compaction, these issues can hinder a project's progress and leave your clients unsatisfied.

We’re here to help you identify common soil issues and implement practical, efficient strategies to restore and maintain the health of your client's soil:


  • Understanding Soil Health
  • Soil Problems & How to Solve Them
    • Poor Plant Growth
    • Soil Erosion
    • Poor Water Retention
    • Weeds and Unwanted Plant Growth
    • Soil Compaction
  • When Soil Is Unsalvageable
  • How Building Materials Nationwide Can Help

What constitutes healthy soil?

Healthy soil is rich in organic matter and the nutrients necessary for plant growth. It should be loose enough to allow roots to penetrate easily but firm enough to support plant structures. Healthy soil is also well-aerated, promoting essential soil respiration and nutrient uptake. Lastly, it should have a balanced pH level suitable for the growth of your chosen plants.

In terms of moisture, healthy soil should be able to retain water well but also drain any excess to prevent waterlogging. It should also be teeming with beneficial microbes that aid in nutrient cycling and disease resistance.

The Biggest Soil Problems & How to Solve Them

Knowing the signs can help you spot potential soil problems early and take the necessary steps to address them, ensuring the success of your landscaping project. Here are the most common soil problems for UK landscapers:

Poor Plant Growth

One of the most noticeable signs of soil issues is poor plant growth. If the soil lacks the necessary nutrients or has an improper structure, it can significantly affect the health and vitality of your plants. There are several key signs of poor plant growth:

  • Stunted growth: If plants are not reaching their typical size or are growing slower than expected, this could point towards nutrient deficiency in the soil
  • Yellowing leaves: This could indicate a lack of essential nutrients like nitrogen
  • Weak or undeveloped root systems: If upon inspection, roots appear fragile or underdeveloped, this could be a sign of compacted soil or nutrient deficiency.

How to Boost Plant Growth

If your soil lacks essential nutrients, adding compost can significantly improve its fertility. Compost, particularly multi-purpose compost, enriches the soil with nutrients and enhances its water-holding capacity.

  • Incorporate compost into your soil by spreading a layer (2-4 inches thick) on the surface and then mixing it into the top 6-12 inches of soil.
  • For a more tailored approach, consider conducting a soil test to determine the specific nutrient deficiencies, enabling you to add the correct amendments.

We sell high-quality compost through our site.

Soil Erosion

Soil erosion is the process where the top layer of soil is carried away by water or wind. It can significantly impact garden landscapes by stripping away nutrient-rich topsoil, leading to poor plant growth. Here’s what to watch out for in a garden:

  • Bare patches: Areas where grass or plants aren’t growing could be experiencing erosion.
  • Exposed roots: If you see more and more plant roots exposed across a garden, this could indicate that soil erosion is occurring.
  • Accumulation of soil in certain areas: Soil might collect at the bottom of slopes or around drainages, indicating it has been washed away from elsewhere.

Reversing the Damage of Soil Erosion

Addressing soil erosion involves implementing practices that hold the soil in place and enhance its structure, such as:

  • Planting ground cover or plants with extensive root systems can help hold the soil together and reduce runoff.
  • Mulching exposed soil with organic material like straw or wood chips to protect it from the impact of rain and reduce water runoff.
  • If erosion is severe, it might be necessary to install physical barriers like retaining walls or terraces.

Poor Water Retention

Healthy soil should strike a balance between water retention and drainage. If the soil drains too quickly, plants may not get enough water. Conversely, if soil retains too much water, roots can become waterlogged and oxygen-starved. There are two crucial signs of poor water retention in soil:

  • Puddling: If water tends to stand in puddles long after rain or watering, your soil may be compacted or have high clay content.
  • Quick drying: Alternatively, if your soil dries out quickly after rain or watering, it may be sandy or low in organic matter.

Improving Water Retention

The key to improving water retention and drainage lies in adjusting your soil's structure:

  • For sandy soils that drain too quickly, incorporate organic matter like compost or well-rotted manure to enhance water retention.
  • For clay soils that retain too much water, add organic matter and coarse materials like sand or fine gravel to improve drainage.

Find sand and gravel here through our website.

Weeds and Unwanted Plant Growth

The condition of your soil can impact the type of plants that thrive in it. Unfortunately, this includes weeds. Certain types of weeds can be indicators of specific soil conditions. For example, dandelions may indicate compacted soil, while horsetail may suggest poorly drained soil.

The Essentials of Weed Management

Effective weed control involves a combination of preventive and reactive measures:

  • Mulch your garden to suppress weeds. Mulch blocks sunlight, preventing weed germination, and providing a physical barrier that hinders weed growth.
  • Regular weeding is crucial. Remove weeds before they have a chance to establish and reproduce.
  • Use compost instead of synthetic fertilisers. Compost promotes the growth of beneficial microorganisms that compete with weeds for nutrients.

Find mulch here through our website.

Soil Compaction

Compacted soil can hinder root growth and restrict the movement of water and air. It often results from heavy foot or equipment traffic. Spotting soil compaction is a simple process:

  • Hard surface: If the soil is hard to dig or till it may be compacted.
  • Pooled water: As mentioned, water pooling on the surface after rain or watering can also be a sign of soil compaction.

How to Tackle Soil Compaction

Improving compacted soil involves increasing its porosity to allow better air and water movement:

  • Add organic matter such as compost or well-rotted manure. This improves the soil structure and helps prevent future compaction.
  • Consider core aeration for lawns. This process involves removing small plugs of soil to alleviate compaction.
  • Reduce foot and equipment traffic in susceptible areas. Create designated pathways for walking and moving equipment.

Find quality manure here, with fast UK delivery.

When to Discard Unsalvageable Soil

In some cases, despite your best efforts to restore soil health, it may be better to completely replace the soil. Here are the key signs that your client's soil may be beyond salvation:

Excessive Salt Accumulation

In regions with high evaporation rates or if there's been overuse of chemical fertilisers and amendments, salts can accumulate to toxic levels in the soil. Symptoms of salt damage include stunted growth, leaf burn, or a white crust on the soil surface. A soil test can confirm excessive salt levels. If the salinity is too high, it may be more practical to replace the soil.

Persistent Disease or Pest Infestations

If the soil has a history of disease or pest infestations that haven’t responded to regular treatments, it might be best to discard the soil. Certain diseases and pests can survive in the soil for years, re-infesting plants and resisting typical eradication measures. In these cases, starting fresh with new, disease-free soil can prevent further damage and restore the garden's health.

High Levels of Contaminants

Urban soils in particular may have high levels of contaminants such as lead, arsenic, or other heavy metals. These contaminants are hazardous to human health and can be taken up by certain plants. If a soil test reveals unsafe levels of contaminants, the soil should be discarded and replaced. Always use caution when handling contaminated soil and consult with local environmental or health authorities for safe disposal methods.

Severe Soil Compaction

While minor soil compaction can often be remedied, severely compacted soil may be beyond restoration, especially if it's due to a high clay content. If, after multiple attempts at aeration and organic matter addition, the soil remains compacted and impervious to water, it may be time to replace it.

Poor Soil Structure and Nutrient Deficiency

If your soil has a persistently poor structure, drains poorly, and does not retain nutrients despite amendments and conditioning, it could be more beneficial to replace it. Over time, you may find that the cost and effort of constant treatment outweigh the benefits, and new soil can provide a fresh start for your client's garden.

We Can Solve Your Soil Woes

Don't hesitate to reach out to Building Materials Nationwide for expert advice on all your soil and compost needs. We offer a wide range of soil improvers and composting materials to assist you in maintaining the health and fertility of your client's garden soil. For any sales inquiries, please fill out our enquiry form.

Do you want to view our range?

  1. Bordermix Topsoil (900/001/97488)


    • Bulk/Small Bags Available
    • Screened to 14mm
    Price from: £110.35 £132.42
  2. £13.75 £16.50
  3. Vegegrow Topsoil (009/001/97489)


    • Bulk/Small Bags Available
    • 100% peat-free organic blend
    Price from: £110.35 £132.42

View All Soil Products