Squishy Ground Causes

drippy(7bAL)June 3, 2010

Hello - I know it might be hard to determine this without pictures, but I wondered if this is a common condition. I have recently moved to a new house in the Huntsville area, and much of the ground in the back yard is kind of squishy - spongey - under my feet. There is no standing water, and water isn't appearing where I walk. The soil is definitely clay-ey, though, and the former owners didn't rake grass clippings, so that could account for some of it. I know they had a previous mouse infestation in the house (lovely); I'm wondering if voles - or moles - would cause this. The property backs up to a wooded creek, so there's plenty of wildlife around. There is a septic tank, but the total property area is 1.4 acres, and the amount of territory that is squishy is significantly more than the area occupied by the septic tank.

I know that's not much to go on, but any ideas? I may have to call in some landscape professionals to get a better read, but the house has other "issues" I have to deal with first.

Thanks in advance,

Kim, a transplanted northerner whose former soil was largely rock & sand.

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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

Not much to go by, you're right.

Does this 'squishy' situation involve excess water (poor drainage) or is it something entirely different? You've mentioned mice, etc. so I'm guessing that you're more concerned with those. Voles and moles can cause underground tunnels that are weird to walk on.

If the spongy areas are in grassed locations, it could certainly be a build-up of thatch. You don't need to collect the grass clippings to avoid thatch, but lawns have to be mowed in a frequent, regular basis. A common mindset regarding mowing is that if you set the blades low, you won't have to mow as often. This causes so many problems for the grass that I won't go into here, but THATCH is on that list. The goal of mowing is to cut frequently enough that you are taking very little off the top at a time. Set the blades as high as possible for the species of grass.

A little bit of hard raking can determine if there is a heavy thatch layer on top of the soil.

    Bookmark   June 4, 2010 at 7:10AM
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Rhizo_1, that's actually very helpful. I've never been too much of a lawn girl; if it were up to me, I'd turn every square inch into garden. But I think you may be on to something with either the critters or the thatch. I haven't been able to work with it enough yet, we are just moving in. The spongy areas ARE in grassed locations, and the previous owner was very erratic about mowing.

In my northern yard, there were areas with drainage issues, but there was always presence of water, so it was pretty easy to diagnose. This yard is level, but there is a creek lower than the rest of the property at the back, a drainage ditch the full length of the house out front and along the sides connecting to the creek - one of the previous owner's kids described the house as being surrounded by a moat - so I'm thinking that drainage is not the issue here. But as I explore more, I'll keep you posted!

    Bookmark   June 4, 2010 at 8:09AM
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catbird(z7 AL)

Have you tried pushing a shovel into the grass in one of the squishy parts and just pushing it back enough to see a profile of the grass and what's under it? That might give you some idea of whether there's a thatch buildup or something else to deal with.

You might want to get a soil test done to see just what your soil is and what, if anything, you need to do to it. You can find out how to do that at your local extension office at:
Charles Stone Agricultural Center
819 Cook Avenue
Huntsville, AL 35801
Phone: (256) 532-1578
Fax: (256) 532-1581

Let us know what you find out.

    Bookmark   June 4, 2010 at 9:28AM
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Thanks, Catbird - we really are literally just moving in, and I think my shovel is still in MA, so it might be awhile - or I might just go get another one, LOL.

I will check out the Agricultural Center, too.

    Bookmark   June 4, 2010 at 7:54PM
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To me squishy means wet. When you walk it is soft, spongy and makes a squish, squish, squish noise. Spongy feeling could me dry with a cushion like feel, sort of like walking across a field of cut hay. If there is no water involved, it is probably thatch. Push you shovel straight down and make a circular shovel cut. Lift it out as on piece and set aside to replace it in the hole. Look at the cross section of soil you reveal. Is there a heavy layer of thatch? Is the soil wet? Does water collect in the bottom of your hole? Most importantly, if water is involved, where are you water lines and where are your field (septic tank)lines?

    Bookmark   June 4, 2010 at 9:25PM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

Sometimes, it's difficult to come up with the right descriptive word, lol! Squishy and spongy bring 'bogginess' to my mind, too. I'll be curious about what Kim discovers!

    Bookmark   June 5, 2010 at 5:39AM
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love_the_yard(z9A Jax FL)

Voles. I have them too. They tunnel just below the ground surface. When you walk around, you can feel the ground give just a little bit. A good snake will take care of them.

    Bookmark   June 6, 2010 at 10:01PM
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Welcome to Alabama from MA! We are still trekking back and forth between MA and AL, but AL is my home and where we will consolidate our lives by next spring. Hopefully, anyway.

What occurs to me, since you mention having a creek at the back of the property, is where does the creek get its water? And when the PO's son said the house was "surrounded by a moat", does that mean the street is lower or higher than your property?

Where we live now is surprisingly clay more than the usual loam of my previous yards. And water does run off the slight slope of my back yard to reach the ever so slightly lower swale in the neighbor's yard. From there, it goes quickly downhill and seeks out Dog River about a mile away. We are at an elevation of 22 feet, according to Google Earth, which is really high for our area south of I-10. We cut our grass as high as possible, bag it but do not rake. We do not have any septic system past or present.

My DH thinks I am strange for coveting the large rocks so present in his MA yard. If I could, I'd bring a truck load of his BOULDERS home with us. In total, when he was digging his garden in Mobile here, he found ONE SMALL GRAVEL. He enjoys working in our soil here without rocks!

    Bookmark   June 12, 2010 at 5:34PM
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Howdy - I still haven't gotten around to testing much yet, but I think it's all three - drainage, thatch, & voles/moles/both. We did buy one of those prongy-thing soil testers, and it says all my clay is WET. Seems odd to me, because the "moat" is lower than the yard - although on the street side, not by much, but it's the back yard I was noticing the spongy-ness, and the creek is a good bit lower than the yard. But the clay is wet - there are many places that look like thatch buildup - and some of the sponginess seems to fall into lines - like underground tunnels, ugh. It will be a challenge when I get around to it - movers are coming from MA Monday though, and we've been scurrying to get the apt vacated - first things first!

    Bookmark   June 12, 2010 at 6:29PM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

Good luck with all of the moving madness.

    Bookmark   June 13, 2010 at 1:14PM
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