United States
   Environmental Protection
EPA Publication No. 905R1103
Evaluation of Urban Soils:
Suitability for Green Infrastructure
or Urban Agriculture
                                  December 2011

     This report was prepared for the United States Environmental Protection Agency, Region 5 by Tetra Tech,
     Inc. Significant contributions were made to this report by Richard S. Poruban under subcontract to Tetra
     Tech, Inc. U.S. EPA also wishes to acknowledge and extend appreciation to the Bellaire-Puritas Development
     Corporation, Park Works, Inc., and Neighborhood Progress, Inc., in Cleveland, Ohio, the organizations that
     planned and managed the green infrastructure retrofit project described as a case study in this report.
                                                                           EPA Publication No. 905R11003
Evaluation of Urban Soils




                     Acronyms and Units of Measure

                     Executive Summary

                     1.0   Introduction

                     2.0   Characteristics of Urban Soils

                     3.0   Site Suitability Evaluation

                     3.1   Characterization of the Site and Soils

                     3.1.1  Historical Uses

                     3.1.2  Field Assessment

                     3.2   Strategies to Address Unsuitable Soil

                     4.0   Reconditioning Urban Soils

                     4.1   Types of Reconditioning

                     5.0   Bioremediation

                     6.0   Case Study

                     6.1   Project Overview

                     6.2   Challenges and Lessons Learned


                           Appendix A - Evaluating Soil Suitability















Evaluation of Urban Soils

Figure 1.  Detroit community garden
Figure 2.  Vacant residential lot, Cleveland, Ohio
Figure 3.  Example of raised planting beds being used to support urban agriculture
Figure 4.  Compost amendment used for green infrastructure project
Figure 5.  The case study location
Figure 6.  Planting  plan for the case study site
Figure A-1. USDA Soil Triangle
Figure A-2. Comparison of natural soil to a compacted urban soil by weight
Figure A-3. pH Scale
Table 1.  Reconditioning Methods
Table 2.  Recommended reconditioning measures (after USDA 2006
Table 3.  Reconditioning considerations for compacted urban soils with low organic matter
     Acronyms and Units of Measure
     ASTM      American Society for Testing and Materials
     CEC        cation exchange capacity
     EPA        Environmental Protection Agency
     NCSS      National Cooperative Soil Survey
     NRCS      Natural Resources Conservation Service (U.S. Department of Agriculture)
     PAH        polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon
     PCB        polychlorinated biphenyl
     ppm        parts per million
     SVOC      semi-volatile organic compound
     SWCS      Soil and Water Conservation Society
     USDA      U.S. Department of Agriculture
     VOC        volatile organic compound

    Executive Summary

    Many urban areas are experiencing a significant increase in the number of vacant properties and a
    corresponding underutilization of substantial tracts of land. As part of efforts to revitalize these areas,
    communities are looking at green reuses of vacant properties, including parks, green infrastructure,
    and urban agriculture. The poor condition of the soils on these properties, however, can often  be
    a significant impediment to green infrastructure and urban agriculture uses. The soils are often
    severely compacted, lack sufficient organic matter, and can contain large amounts of construction
    debris, making them unsuitable as a growing medium.

    This report provides a concise, practical, and scientifically-based overview of the typical conditions
    of urban soils, and offers recommendations for how such soils can be rehabilitated or reconditioned
    to support green infrastructure or urban agriculture. Reconditioning methods for improving poor
    quality soils will vary depending on soil conditions and the intended use of the site. In general, the
    objective is to restore disturbed urban soils to a condition more consistent with the functions and
    services of native soils. Sites intended for urban agriculture might need considerable reconditioning
    to achieve the characteristics needed to grow certain crops, whereas areas intended for recreation
    (e.g., parks, playgrounds, hiking trails) might need only moderate improvement to allow for

    Reconditioning of urban soils is intended to adjust drainage characteristics, improve soil structure,
    add organic matter, and mitigate compaction. Examples of soil reconditioning techniques include:

    • Raking out construction debris and using a subsoilerto break up compacted soils
    • Adding compost and tilling
    • Altering the soil chemistry to achieve desired parameters (e.g., pH)
    • Manipulating organism populations to achieve a desired change in soil characteristics (e.g., using
      earthworms to promote easier air, water, and nutrient penetration into the soil profile).

    In many cases, reconditioning of soils on vacant parcels involves raking out rubble and debris
    and tilling in compost ortopsoil. In procuring compost ortopsoil, care should be taken to bring
    in materials from sources where the origin  of the compost or soil is known and the quality of
    the materials is certified or otherwise ensured.  This is important to make certain there are not
    undesirable characteristics in the soil or compost being brought to the site, such as contaminants or
    seeds from invasive plant species.

    In some cases urban soils may have concentrations of contaminants from past land  uses or air
    deposition. Possible soil contamination issues should be considered when planning reuses of urban
    parcels. This report does not specifically address assessment or remediation of contaminated
    soils.  The U.S. EPA Brownfields Program and/or State Brownfield or Voluntary Clean-up Programs
    should be consulted for technical information on assessing sites and addressing soil contamination,
    if identified. This report focuses on assessing and reconditioning soils to provide good drainage and
    support plant growth.

    Soil quality and characteristics should be assessed during the project planning phase, and initial
    reconditioning should be done before vegetation is established.  Project planners need to understand
    that long-term management of the soils is  needed to ensure success. Soil management is a dynamic
    process that usually requires a large initial  effort followed by smaller sustained efforts to achieve a
    lasting beneficial result.
Evaluation of Urban Soils

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v  Evaluation of Urban Soils

    1.0 Introduction
    Many urban areas, especially within the industrial Midwest, are experiencing a significant increase in the
    number of vacant properties and underutilization of substantial tracts of land. In an effort to revitalize these
    areas, communities are looking at using vacant properties as locations for green infrastructure and urban
    agriculture. The poor conditions of soils on these properties, however, can often be a significant impediment
    to successfully implementing green infrastructure or urban agriculture projects. Soils are often lacking organic
    matter and/or are severely compacted, and may contain large amounts of construction debris, making them
    unsuitable as a growing medium.

    This report provides a concise, practical, and scientifically-based overview of the typical conditions of urban
    soils, and offers recommendations for how such soils can be rehabilitated or reconditioned to support green
    infrastructure or urban agriculture. The focus of the document is on conditions within the Great Lakes Basin,
    although many of the principles apply to urban environments throughout the U.S.

    U.S. EPA defines green infrastructure as "an adaptable term used to describe an array of products,
    technologies, and practices that use natural systems—or engineered systems that mimic natural processes-
    -to  enhance overall environmental quality and provide utility services. Green infrastructure can be used
    as a component of a stormwater management system when soils and vegetation are used to  infiltrate,
    evapotranspire, or recycle stormwater runoff." Rain gardens, permeable pavement, trees and  urban forestry,
    downspout disconnection from storm sewers, vegetated swales, green parking and green streets, and riparian
    buffers are examples of green infrastructure. Many communities and neighborhood groups are working to
    implement green infrastructure on vacant properties.
                                                   Green infrastructure has the potential to provide
                                                   the following benefits:

                                                   • Reduced and delayed stormwater runoff volumes;
                                                   • Enhanced groundwater recharge;
                                                   • Stormwater pollutant reduction;
                                                   • Reduced sewer overflow events;
                                                   • Increased carbon sequestration;
                                                   • Urban heat island mitigation;
                                                   • Reduced energy demand;
                                                   • Improved air quality;
                                                   • Additional wildlife habitat and recreational space;
                                                   • Improved human health; and
                                                   • Increased land values.
Figure 1.  Community garden in Detroit
    Urban agriculture is the cultivation of crops in urban or suburban areas for local consumption or sale.
    While individuals may develop backyard gardens or begin a for-profit venture, the focus of this report is on
    community gardens that can be established on a vacant parcel or at a school or another communal location in
    a neighborhood. Urban agriculture can provide many benefits, including:
             Improving the quality of life for people living near the garden;
             Providing a catalyst for neighborhood and community development and neighborhood stabilization;
             Stimulating social interaction;
             Beautifying neighborhoods;
             Producing nutritious food;
             Reducing family food budgets;
             Conserving resources, including those which would otherwise be needed to transport food from
             remote areas to urban dwellers;
             Creating an opportunity for recreation, exercise, therapy, and education;
             Preserving green space;
             Creating income opportunities and economic development;
             Reducing city heat from streets and parking lots;
             Reducing impervious urban land area; and
             Providing opportunities for intergenerational and cross-cultural connections.
Evaluation of Urban Soils

       The use of certain green infrastructure practices and the development of urban agriculture can be challenging
       in an urban environment due to a number of factors, including the poor condition of the soils.

       This report provides information on the characteristics of urban soils (Section 2), summarizes how urban soils
       should be assessed before initiating a project (Section 3), and provides recommendations for reconditioning
       urban soils (Section 4). The report concludes with a description of a case study (Section 6)

       2.0 Characteristics of Urban Soils
       Soil is the unconsolidated mineral or organic material on the immediate surface of the Earth that serves as a
       natural medium for the growth of plants. Soil characteristics reflect the effects of climate (including water and
       temperature effects) and macro- and microorganisms acting on parent material over time. An urban soil on a
       parcel in a metropolitan area has typically been moved, graded, and/or or compacted over time, often as a
       result of construction and demolition activity at the site.  Movement of soil and addition of non-native soils is
       relatively common in developed areas. As low areas are filled and hills are graded, soils are shifted  and
       relocated, resulting in mixing of the soil profile or placement in a different order. Fill is often brought on-site
       from nearby areas and frequently has characteristics different from the native soils on site. Because of the
       ways soils have been altered,  there can be great variation in the characteristics of soils within an urban land

       Soil studies in urban areas have found that soil compaction, low organic matter content, and low levels of
       contamination, usually from air deposition or from historical uses on site, are common attributes of urban soils.
       The issue of assessing soil quality becomes two-fold: the health of the soil as a growing medium needs to be
       addressed as well as the possible contamination that may be present.

       The history of a vacant parcel  can provide valuable
       information to help identify possible soil contamination.
       In industrial areas, historical contaminates might include
       heavy metals, hydrocarbons, or chemicals used during the
       manufacturing process. In residential areas built before
       the early 1980s, contaminants generally include lead paint
       residues, and may have asbestos, coal and wood ash
       deposits, fuel oil, used motor oil residues, or pesticides.
       Remnants of abandoned septic systems, cisterns, and
       wells are also often uncovered during redevelopment of
       residential sites. Residential areas tend to have relatively
       less compaction and better-quality soils than more heavily
       urbanized areas. Knowing the development history of a
       parcel is key to determining what type of  soil testing should
       be done, if any, prior to redevelopment or reuse.
                                                                  Figure 2. Vacant residential lot, Cleveland, Ohio
                                                                  Photo: William Sinister (U.S. EPA)
Some vacant parcels in an urban environment are referred
to as Brownfields. Brownfield sites are properties that are
available for redevelopment, but site redevelopment is
complicated by the presence or potential presence of contaminants in the soil and/or the groundwater.  U.S.
EPA's Brownfield Program and many States provide funding for the assessment and clean-up of Brownfields
through grants and loans. In many cities Brownfields and other vacant properties have been successfully
remediated and are being reused as community gardens and stormwater parks (U.S. EPA, 2009).

This report does not specifically address how to assess or remediate contaminated soils.  U.S. EPA
Brownfields  Program and/or State Brownfield, Voluntary Clean-up Programs, or health agencies should be
consulted for technical information on assessing sites and addressing soil contamination.  The focus in this
report is on improving urban soils so that they provide an adequate growing medium for urban agriculture
or native plants, and/or so the soils are suitable to support green infrastructure strategies for managing
2  Evaluation of Urban Soils

    3.0 Site Suitability Evaluation

    Before urban agriculture or green infrastructure is implemented at a site, the suitability of the site for these
    practices must be evaluated. This section of the report provides general guidance for assessing soil quality at an
    urban site.

    The suitability of a site is dependent on redevelopment goals and must take into account possible human
    health concerns. Sites where the planned end use is a green space or a stormwater park may have different
    site preparation and soil reconditioning needs as compared to a parcel where food products will be grown. For
    example, if a site is to become a swale for stormwater runoff, the risk to human health from low-level historical
    contamination is relatively small (note risks to workers coming in contact with soil should always be considered.
    Risks to human health must be more explicitly evaluated for urban agriculture because the food products grown
    will be eaten, and adults and children will come into direct contact with the soil as agricultural activities are
    carried out.

    Suitability assessments also vary depending on what type of vegetation the soil will need to support. The
    types of testing used to determine soil quality for urban agriculture focuses on whether the desired crops can
    be grown, and whether there may be uptake of contaminants into plants grown for consumption. Testing to
    determine if the soil is suitable for infiltration or green infrastructure focuses on the soil as a growing medium for
    plans, the capacity of soil to store water and infiltrate water, and the possibility of mobilization or migration of

    3.1 Characterization of the Site and Soils

    After determining the goals for the site, site characterization is an important next step in the process. Site
    characterization includes assessing the site's historical, physical, chemical, and biological characteristics by
    reviewing available records and  visiting the site.

    3.1.1   Historical Uses
    After the objectives of the site are decided upon, an assessment of the historical usage of the site is valuable
    to determine the potential for contamination. If the site has been used for residential housing for the entire time
    period since the neighborhood was developed, it is  less likely that there will be significant soil contamination
    as compared to a site in an industrial area. The full process for determining the characteristics of historical use
    and potential environmental concerns  is called a Phase I Environmental Site Assessment (ASTM E1527-05).
    This includes interviewing neighbors, local city officials, or former property owners and trying to acquire old
    aerial photographs or maps. Useful information is available from many sources, including local conservation
    district offices (e.g., soil surveys), city halls (e.g., permits), county offices (e.g., tax records), libraries, and
    historical societies and preservation offices (e.g., photos, hand-drawn site maps, paintings). Doing a Phase
    I Environmental Site Assessment will typically include evaluations of public land ownership records and
    environmental databases. Phase I assessments which identify potential environmental concerns are followed by
    field data collection, known as Phase II Environmental Site Assessments (ASTM E1903).

    3.1.2   Field Assessment
    A site visit and field assessment is critical to helping guide future activities. Notes should be recorded and
    photographs should be taken for future analyses. Example field sheets are available from the Urban Watershed
    Forestry Manual, Part 3:  Urban Tree Planting Guide (USDA, 2006).

    The site history  is used to guide the field visit.  For example, if records show a former structure, site visitors can
    use local landmarks to try to locate the former location of the structure. Also, if remediation occurred at the
    surface, it might be observable.  Field visitors can use current and historical aerial imagery in an effort to ground-
    truth the imagery and to help focus the on-the-ground analysis.

    Existing utilities should be documented during the field assessment. Underground and aboveground utilities
    can pose hazards and might limit the site's restoration or re-use potential. Public utilities are typically identified
    through a statewide utility locator company, such as Miss Digg in Michigan, Gopher State One in Minnesota, and
    the Ohio Utilities Protection Service in  Ohio. Private utilities need to be identified by a property owner or by using
    plans and maps.
Evaluation of Urban Soils

       Site topographic, hydrologic, and biological conditions should also be thoroughly assessed. Both urban
       agriculture and stormwater management practices require an accurate understanding of the hydrologic
       condition of the urban site. Existing drainage patterns should be identified, as well as the general slope of the
       site and locations of concentrated flow or erosion. The contributing drainage area to the site, or watershed,
       should  be evaluated for land use. Land uses that are higher in paved areas or are impervious generate larger
       volumes of runoff and peak flows that could impact the site. Areas of depressional storage and the presence of
       wetlands should be identified. Soil type should also be evaluated to determine infiltration potential.

       Many methods are available to determine the degree of soil compaction on a site. These methods range from
       visual observations to field measurements to laboratory analyses. Typically, visual observations provide enough
       information to determine reconditioning needs. Compaction can be identified by observing a lack of or poor
       plant growth at the surface or a lack of roots or biological activity within the soil profile. A professional can
       perform laboratory and field tests when needed. Also, soil particle size can be evaluated in the field to determine
       the relative proportions of various particle sizes, or can be analyzed in a laboratory through grain size and
       hydrometer analysis.

       Vacant  properties that have had recent demolition occur are likely to include a significant amount of construction
       debris and fill. In addition, basement foundations might still  be present several feet below the ground surface,
       possibly with fill material placed into what was once the basement. It is important to note the presence of any
       remnant structures or evidence of structures in order to anticipate possible construction costs and expected
       performance of a green infrastructure  practice. The site might also have been further compacted as a result of
       the demolition work.

       Finally,  soil sampling for suitability as a growing medium is strongly recommended for urban agriculture and
       green infrastructure sites. At a minimum,  the soil test should include pH, percent organic matter, nutrients,
       micronutrients, and metals, including lead. Local soil testing information can be obtained from or performed
       by USDA Cooperative Extension System offices and from many land grant universities and private local
       laboratories.  Information on interpretation of soil test results is presented  in this fact sheet:
       http://www.soiltest.uconn.edu/factsheets/lnterpretationResults  new.pdf

       Further information on Evaluating Soil Suitability is presented in Appendix A.

                                                      3.2 Strategies to Address Unsuitable Soils

                                                      If the preliminary evaluations determine that soils are
                                                      unsuitable for the site's intended purpose, efforts can often
                                                      be made to enhance the condition of the soils. Where soil
                                                      reconditioning is feasible, it is likely that multiple strategies
                                                      will be needed, with a relatively large effort at the beginning
                                                      and smaller sustained efforts over time. In cases where it is
                                                      not feasible to recondition soil, or there are contamination
                                                      issues that preclude use of site soils, altering the plans for
                                                      site use may be an option.

                                                      In some  cases, raised planting beds, vertical gardening, and
                                                      container gardening can be used in lieu of using existing site
                                                      soils for  urban agriculture. These garden alternatives can be
                                                      used if the existing soils are unsuitable for the intended crops
                                                      for urban agriculture, or if the existing soil is contaminated
                                                      at the surface or in the root zone. Procedures to prevent
                                                      contamination during the installation of raised beds or
                                                      containers can be used to minimize or eliminate plant and
                                                      human contact. In Connecticut, Stilwell et al. (2008) found
                                                      that using raised planting beds with imported clean soils for
                                                      planting  above areas contaminated with  high existing levels
       of lead  or other heavy metals was a cost-effective method for community  gardening on a site with unsuitable
       soils. The authors also recommend using physical barriers such as mulch around the planting beds and a
       porous  barrier between the planting bed media and the site soils.
Figure 3. Example of raised planting beds
being used to support urban agriculture in
Cleveland, Ohio
4  Evaluation of Urban Soils

     If a site has soils that cannot support the intended use, it might be possible to use the parcel for another use.
     For example, a site that turns out to be not well-suited for stormwater runoff control might still be suitable for
     urban agriculture. Another example:  if soils are of relatively poor quality and cannot support urban agriculture,
     they might still be satisfactory for hearty native plants. In many cases, native landscaping can be aesthetically
     pleasing, and seeds can be collected for sale or use at another site.

     4.0  Reconditioning Urban Soils

     Soil reconditioning goals are dependent on the intended use of the site. In general, the objective is to increase
     the soils' ability to support different types of plants and their ability to infiltrate stormwater. Sites intended
     for urban agriculture might need relatively more work to achieve the specific characteristics needed to grow
     certain crops, whereas areas intended for recreation (e.g., parks, playgrounds, hiking trails) might need only
     moderate work to allow for urban grasses, certain manicured plants, or native vegetation. Soils on green
     infrastructure sites that will be used for stormwater management might need to be modified to promote
     increased infiltration and to support the desired plant types. Longer term methods for reconditioning soils
     include amending existing soils with  mulch and compost, and/or planting cover crops to provide additional
     nutrients and erosion control over the winter months.

     4.1 Types of Reconditioning

     Physical reconditioning of urban soils is intended to adjust drainage characteristics, improve soil structure,
     and mitigate compaction. The mitigation  of compaction  is important for both urban agriculture (e.g., for root
     penetration) and stormwater management (e.g., for infiltration capacity). After physical reconditioning is
     performed,  chemical and biological reconditioning techniques can be used to  improve soil productivity.
     Chemical reconditioning involves altering the soil chemistry to achieve desired parameters (e.g., altering soil
     pH). Chemical reconditioning should be performed only after evaluating soil chemistry through the laboratory
     analysis of field-collected samples. Testing should also occur after chemical reconditioning and into the
     future to determine whether the reconditioning was successful and whether supplemental reconditioning is

     Biological reconditioning practices involve manipulating  organism populations to achieve a desired change in
     soil characteristics. Biological conditioning should be performed after physical and chemical reconditioning
     because the latter two prepare the soil ecosystem for biological production.

     In general, physical techniques should be performed first, followed by chemical and then finally biological

     The most common types of physical, chemical, and biological reconditioning that are used with urban soils are
     presented in Table 1 and discussed throughout the remainder of this section.
                                        Table 1. Reconditioning Methods
Soil Removal
Tillage and subsoiling
Soil amendments and additives
Cover crops




Evaluation of Urban Soils

        4.1.1   Soil Removal
        Excavation typically involves removing contaminated soils or structures. Depending on the level of existing
        contamination, soils can be managed or capped on site or hauled off-site for disposal. Excavation is typically
        the most expensive reconditioning or remediation technique and is often very costly for privately funded
        residents or community groups. Local municipalities might already own the necessary equipment which lowers
        costs and  may make excavation a viable alternative for city-owned properties.

        4.1.2   Raking
        Some urban soils, especially those on vacant parcels that have recently had structures removed, might have
        extensive rocks, rubble, and debris resulting from the demolition activity and the placement of fill material (see
        Case Study in Section 6 as an example). In these situations, it is advisable to rake and remove the debris.
        Small areas can be raked by hand, or for larger areas, landscape rakes can be rented and used with a compact
        tractor. Raking can efficiently collect small rocks (as small as % inch) while at the same time leveling the soil.

        4.1.3 Tillage and Subsoiling
        In most situations, compaction problems are in the top 12 to 24 inches of site soils, the root zone of most
        plants. Compaction is typically the result of construction on the site, historical use of the site (e.g., driving on
        the driveway, parking a vehicle in  a garage), and use of heavy equipment during demolition. Often deeper soil
        layers are relatively less compacted.

        Tillage is the process of turning over or mixing the soil for the purpose of loosening and aerating  in preparation
        for seeding or plantings. Deep tillage or subsoiling techniques such as ripping or scarification of the soils can
        be used to recreate soil structure  and break up compacted soils. These techniques typically involve tilling
        to depths from three to eight feet, where soil is typically ripped in a gridded pattern using metal shanks to
        create pore spaces and flow paths for water and air in the soil. Subsoiling can be used in combination with
        other tilling techniques to mitigate the effect  of compaction, and is commonly used for agricultural purposes.
        Tilling or subsoiling for compaction mitigation will likely only be required once.  Care should be taken to ensure
        newly-exposed soils are properly  stabilized to prevent erosion.

        In the Great Lakes region, soil freezing and thawing is a key factor affecting soil conditions, and it can  be a
        beneficial tool for soil manipulation in urban areas. Fall plowing can be used to expose soils to freezing and
        thawing. As soil water freezes, it expands and acts as a wedge to break compacted soil clods. As thawing
        occurs, pore spaces remain, allowing air and soil microorganisms to thrive. These processes can improve soil
        structure, allow better water infiltration, and kill weed seeds, insects, and pathogens.  Combined with other soil
        manipulation techniques, tillage and freezing can be an effective and inexpensive soil-conditioning tool.

        4.1.4   Drainage
        Ensuring appropriate drainage of a project site is a necessary component of a successful green infrastructure
        or urban agriculture project. The object of drainage in a horticultural context is to  promote a healthy root
        environment; therefore the root zone is the target area for moisture control. Every plant has a soil moisture
        range in which it thrives. Surface drainage can be modified with grading, excavating, and restricting drainage
        outlets. Soil amendments can also modify surface drainage patterns by increasing infiltration capacity and the
        moisture conditions of the soils. Care should be taken to modify soils to the appropriate root zone depth for
        desired plant materials. If drainage modification is difficult, plants should be selected  accordingly (e.g., native
        wetland vegetation).

        4.1.5   Soil Amendments and Additives
        Soil amendments  and additives introduced into soils to modify specific physical soil characteristics. Any
        materials brought  in to improve a  soil's condition should be of known origin and quality to ensure that
        diseases, unwanted chemicals or seeds, and allergens are not introduced. Urban (2008, p. 176) categorizes
        soil amendments into five types:

        Organic: Composted plant residues that increase the  organic matter content of the soil.
        Mineral: Natural or processed mineral products that change the texture of the soil.
        Physical:  Manufactured additives designed to amend or replace natural soil structure and improve the soils'
6  Evaluation of Urban Soils

     resistance to compaction or erosion.
     Biological:  Condensed organic compounds and biological inoculants used in small amounts to alter soil
     biology or soil chemistry.
     Chemical: Compounds used in small amounts to add nutrients, change pH, or stimulate biological activity.

     These five types of soil amendments are discussed in the remainder of this subsection.   Organic Amendments
     Organic soil amendments and additives are organic materials added to improve the soil food web, both by
     introducing organisms and providing the carbon source to support those organisms (Urban 2008, p. 176).
     Organic amendments can also improve the CEC, chemical buffering, and initial aeration of the soils.

     One of the most common organic amendments is compost. Research conducted by Pitt et al. (1999)
     determined that compost added to an urban soil improved the physical properties and the nutrient content
     of the soil. Compost also provides plant-protection benefits and stimulates biological activity. The quality
     of compost can vary significantly and should be taken into account when selecting a supplier. The U.S
     Composting Council sets standards for compost and provides specifications that can be used to ensure high-
     quality compost.

     Food scrap items such as vegetable and fruit waste, meal leftovers, coffee grounds, tea bags, stale bread,
     grains, and general refrigerator spoilage can be effectively composted to be used as organic amendments.
     Food scraps should be adequately secured in a bin while they degrade to avoid attracting  rodents and other
     scavengers, and should not be directly tilled or applied into the soil. It is important that organic materials be
     composted properly to avoid introducing noxious weed seeds, insect eggs, and other undesirable organisms
     to any site. Composting does not eliminate all pesticide residues or chemicals. Other organic amendments
     and additives include peat moss, sludge, and manure.
     Organic materials hold abundant moisture and  require proper aeration. Organic amendments are therefore
     typically not effective for improving drainage in compacted or abused soils where excess water cannot move
     from the root zone. To be effective, organic materials generally must be periodically replenished to maintain
     benefits.  Mineral Amendments
     Mineral amendments are inorganic and "are generally permanent and dimensionally stable in the soil, and
     may increase drainage if used in sufficient quantity" (Urban 2008, p. 179). Perlite, hadite, and pumice are
     three mineral amendments excellent for soil mixing because they have large internal pore spaces and hold air
     and water in suitable proportions for plant growth. Perlite
     is an  inert volcanic rock structurally expanded with steam.
     It comes in different grades and is used for a wide array
     of applications. Hadite is a clay product baked at high
     temperatures to form a porous, inert additive. Pumice
     is a light, foamy volcanic rock. They are all chemically
     stable and sterile, and they make excellent soil additives.
     Powdered charcoal can be  beneficial for soils because it is
     chemically stable, has high  CEC,  can absorb a wide array
     of chemicals, stabilizes pH, and stimulates secondary
     biological activity.

     Gravel and sand are commonly recommended to improve
     drainage and are typically used in drainage structures and
     green infrastructure practices. Sand mixed with compost
     and topsoil is typically used as a soil amendment beneath
     rain gardens and bioretention facilities. Sand and gravel
     can also be used in other filtering practices such as a
     rain garden with an underdrain (biofiltration). However,
     infiltration capacity typically does not improve in clayey
     soils with just the addition of sand and gravel.
Figure 4. Example of compost amendment
used for green infrastructure projects

Photo: Jennifer Olson (Tetra Tech)
Evaluation of Urban Soils

     Additional mineral amendments include:
     • Calcine clay - increases moisture retention;
     • Expanded shale, clay, and slate (ESCS) - increases porosity;
     • Diatomaceous earth - increases moisture retention; and
     • Vermiculite - increases moisture retention (not recommended for agricultural uses).   Physical Amendments
     Physical amendments are structures that stabilize loosely compacted soil within the root zone. Physical
     amendments include soil stabilizer grids, geowebs, and turf cells. This type of physical control commonly has the
     ability to support loads or control erosion and is recommended for certain types of green infrastructure such as
     permeable parking areas. These amendments are not appropriate for urban agriculture and are generally used to
     stabilize soils for grasses and small plants.   Biological Amendments
     Biological amendments are used to improve the soil ecosystem by improving the soil food web. Types of biological
     amendments include:

     • Mycorrhizae, a symbiotic fungus that colonizes plant roots and increases water and nutrient absorption;
     • Kelp extracts, which contain trace minerals and nutrients;
     • Humic acid, which stimulates microbial activity and increases nutrient uptake;
     • Compost tea, which inoculates microbial life into the soil and adds soluble nutrients; and
     • The addition of macrofauna or microfauna to break down organic material.

     In terms of their abundance and their soil forming roles, earthworms, termites and ants are the most important
     macrofauna components of soils. Many of these animals burrow in the soil,  aiding soil drainage and aeration; in
     addition, some organic material passes into the soil through the burrows. Most macrofauna consume decaying
     plant material and organic debris. They bury seeds, provide readily available nutrition and air to the root zone by
     burrowing and excreting, and cull weak plants to allow stronger ones to grow.

     The most effective and readily manipulated soil macrofauna are earthworms. Many earthworm species burrow
     several feet deep, and all ingest soil. Earthworms leave castings that aggregate soil particles and resist degradation
     and promote easier air, water, and nutrient penetration into the soil profile. Earthworms alter soil in a variety of ways,

     • Altering soil chemistry, including pH,  CEC, and other major soil parameters
     • Efficiently burying seeds and  other organic debris
     • Detoxifying a wide array of contaminants, including petrochemicals
     • Altering heavy metal bioavailability
     • Promoting microorganism growth and dissemination
     • Providing ideal macropore space for microfauna and root penetration.

     Compacted, rocky, biologically barren, and extremely wet or dry soils require modification before earthworms will
     thrive. Reconditioning using earthworms is a relatively new, but maturing and viable, technology for improving soils
     in urban areas, provided species are properly selected and sites are made suitable. For example, "red worms" are
     extensively used for composting but are not as well suited to survive in soil, and common bait worms and night
     crawlers thrive in soil but are not really efficient composters.   Chemical Amendments
     Chemical amendments are added to affect soil chemistry (usually to alter nutrient levels or soil pH), but changing
     the chemical composition of a soil is difficult. Chemical amendments should be applied only after the soil has been
     physically reconditioned using the techniques described previously. Chemical amendments should also be applied
     only after the chemistry of the urban site has been analyzed and after proper chemicals have been selected. The
     application of a chemical amendment,  often a fertilizer, is intended to rectify a chemical imbalance in the soil.
     Chemical amendments can have unintended side-effects (e.g., soil salinization1) that can be avoided or limited
     through review of the amendments and existing soils conditions. It should also be noted that  over-application of
     fertilizers is common; every effort should be made to apply the least amount of fertilizer that is necessary to achieve
     the intended results. This is especially true because phosphorus, included in many fertilizers,  is  often a limiting
     nutrient in waterways and over-fertilization can lead to excessive algae growth in lakes,  streams, and ponds.

     1       The accumulation of salts in the soil, which affects the fertility of the soil. Salinization is commonly a problem for irrigated areas.

8  Evaluation of Urban Soils

                      Table 2. Recommended reconditioning measures (after USDA 2006).
Soil Characteristic
Infiltration, percolation,
and permeability rates
Percent sand
Percent clay
Bulk density of clay (mg/
Bulk density of loam
Depth to bedrock (ft)
Acidic soils (pH)
Alkaline soils (pH)
Cation exchange capac-
ity (meg/1 OOg)
Potassium (Ibs/acre)
Phosphorus (Ibs/acre)
Percent organic matter
Soluble salt (ppm)
Moderately Impacted
Severely Impacted
Reconditioning Measure
Adjust drainage depending
on type of vegetation; refer
to Table 3
Add compost or peat
Add compost or peat
Add compost or peat
Add compost or peat
Add new soil
Add lime
Add compost or peat, add
iron sulfate/iron oxide
Add compost and/or peat
Add compost
Add compost
Add compost or peat
Add gypsum, add compost
or peat Cover Crops
     Cover crops can be used to create organic matter; stimulate biological activity; inhibit weed species; buffer
     moisture, temperature, and pH; and in some instances, fertilize and improve infiltration with root systems.
     Cover crops double as secondary biological indicators to show troublesome areas not observed by spot
     tests. Cover crops can be planted in the late fall or winter to provide soil cover. Common winter cover crops
     include clover, oats, and rye. Summer cover crops, sometimes referred to as green manure, are often used to
     provide improved conditions of poor soils or prepare land for a perennial crop. Legumes, such as soybeans,
     can be used as summer cover crops to add nitrogen and organic matter to the soil. Non-legumes such as
     millet, forage sorghum, annual rye, clover, oats, or alfalfa can be used to provide biomass, control weeds, and
     improve soil conditions.

     A living mulch is a cover crop that is planted along with an annual or perennial cash crop. Living mulches
     suppress weeds, reduce soil erosion, enhance soil fertility, and improve water  infiltration. Examples of living
     mulches in annual cropping systems include overseeding hairy vetch into corn at the last cultivation, no-till
     planting of vegetables into subclover, sweetclover drilled into small grains, and annual ryegrass broadcast
     into vegetables. Living mulches in perennial cropping systems are simply the grasses or legumes planted in
     the alleyways between rows in orchards, vineyards, berry farms, windbreaks, and field nursery trees to control
     erosion and provide traction.

     Cover crop seed is relatively inexpensive and easy to plant. Since even common pre-grown conservation
     plant species are relatively more expensive and labor-intensive to install than cover crops, it makes proper
     fiscal sense to use cover crops to ensure soil characteristics are satisfactory before incurring the expense, and
     doing so allows more time to properly plan the site. Managing Cover Crops Profitably (SAN 2007) has a great
     deal of detailed information on cover crops; this publication is available online:
Evaluation of Urban Soils

        4.1.6   Mulch
        Mulch is "material placed on the soil surface primarily for the purpose of reducing evaporation or controlling
        weeds" (Brady and Weil 1999, p. 231). Mulch can also help reduce compaction by retaining soil moisture
        (compaction naturally decreases because of the freeze-thaw cycle) and promoting biological activity (Urban
        2008). Mulch can include granulated or pulverized soil; organics, including peat moss, leaves, wood chips, bark,
        compost, rice hulls, and straw; synthetic materials, including shredded tires, sheet plastic, shredded paper,
        crushed glass and cans; and geotextiles. Mulches can serve as walking paths through green infrastructure
        parks or in urban agriculture areas.

        Each type of mulch has benefits and disadvantages, but all modify soil surface temperatures, soil air and
        moisture relations, compaction potential, and biological activity. Mulches are usually intended to keep root
        systems cool, moist, uncompacted, biologically active, and protected from freezing. Mulch can help soil recover
        from light compaction and shallow surficial compaction,  but it is decreasingly effective in warmer and drier
        climates and as  biological activity decreases and root penetration diminishes (Urban 2008).

        Properly executed mulching can be beneficial, but overuse or misuse can harm the soil and can even kill long-
        established shrubs and trees. Unless used as a growth medium, more than two inches of any non-living mulch
        application can result in biological degradation through soil anoxia and by providing a home for detrimental

        Organic non-living mulches are the most common mulches used in landscaping and perennial crop production.
        They have distinct advantages over other mulch forms because with few exceptions, they decompose readily
        and are easily obtainable in bulk quantities. Decomposition allows mulch matter to be incorporated into soil,
        benefitting many levels of soil organisms and releasing nutrients slowly to roots. Organic mulches of proper
        thickness are highly insulating and are the best choice to keep underlying soil cool and moist in summer and
        above freezing in winter. Organic materials can be used to introduce beneficial microorganisms and fungi to

        However, slowly decomposing mulches such as cypress mulch, while requiring fewer applications, can form
        a water and air impermeable barrier because their fine structure can  act like a thatched roof, repelling water
        and preventing necessary air movement.  Plants tolerate such mulches poorly over time if the mulches are not
        mechanically disturbed. Poor mulching practices can also introduce  diseases, chemicals, unwanted seeds, and
        allergens. It is important to research the intended plants and  mulches carefully, and to match the mulch with the
        desired crop and function. Over time decomposition of mulches will  allow "thatched" or compacted mulches to
        develop a porous structure and be more water absorbent.

                Table 3. Reconditioning considerations for compacted urban soils with low organic matter
                Type of
         Reconditioning Considerations
           Native plants
The purpose is to cover the ground
with native species that survive and
outcompete nonnative species under
less-than-ideal conditions with little or
no maintenance. Common impediments
include low nutrition, slow drainage,
and no or very little supplemental water
Compost should be incorporated into existing soil to
a depth of 4 to 8 inches until soil works easily with
tools. (Deeper depths will be needed if planting trees.)
Generally no supplemental drainage is required or
needed other than subsoil plowing.
           Ornamental plants
                            The purpose is to cover the ground with
                            vegetation that looks good under mod-
                            erately maintained conditions, including
                            low to moderate nutrition levels and
                            only occasional supplemental water.
                            (Survival and aesthetics)
                                   Adequate drainage and a deep root zone are critical
                                   to long-term survival because most ornamentals do
                                   not tolerate more than occasional saturation in root
                                   systems. Root zone incorporation of compost and
                                   perlite should be 12 to 18 inches deep until soil is
                                   uniform and has no aggregates larger than marbles.
                                   Supplemental drainage beyond subsoil plowing might
                                   be necessary, depending on plant selection, because
                                   excess water in the root zone should be gone within
                                   30 minutes to 8 hours. Supplemental drainage is pas-
                                   sive and only allows water to leave without actively
                                   drawing  moisture out of the soil.
10  Evaluation of Urban Soils

       Food plants
The purpose is to produce vigorous
growth and large, edible parts under
high-maintenance conditions. No
growth impediments and luxury con-
sumption of nutrients, rapid drainage,
deep root zones, and all needed supple-
mental water and nutrition. (Survival,
aesthetics, vigorous growth, and safe
to eat)
Compost should be incorporated into the root zone
(12 inches deep for root crops; 6 to 8 inches for other
crops). Contamination control is critical for safety.
Excess water should be out of the root zone in 15 to
20 minutes. Soil should be worked easily with hands,
and aggregates should be marble-sized or smaller.
More frequent and larger quantities of compost are
needed with frequent tillage. Organic additions will
decompose quickly due to frequent aerating activities.
Perlite or other porous additive is not generally neces-
sary because of the frequent tillage (at least once in
the growing season). Supplemental drainage  may
be necessary. Supplemental watering and nutrition
are typical. Use cover crops to store nutrients and
improve soil structure.
    5.0  Bioremediation

    Project managers who wish to implement site/ soil remediation before implementing green infrastructure
    or urban agriculture are encouraged to engage State Brownfield, Voluntary Clean-up Programs, or health
    agencies for technical information on addressing soil contamination.  In some cases, bioremediation and
    phytoremediation are long- term strategies for remediation that may be integrated into a green infrastructure
    management plan.

    Bioremediation involves the use of "enhanced plant and/or microbial action to degrade organic contaminants
    into harmless metabolic products" (Brady and Weil 1999, p. 737). The concept of bioremediation is based on
    the use of organisms'  natural abilities to repair the urban soil ecosystem. Bioremediation typically involves
    plants, microorganisms and application of compost or soil amendments to digest harmful chemicals such as
    gasoline or oil, resulting in harmless byproducts (U.S. EPA 2001 a). All of these must work in concert to achieve
    maximum benefit.

    Phytoremediation is a type of bioremediation that uses plants to take up harmful chemicals from the soil
    and groundwater and then store the chemicals in their roots, stems, or leaves, changing the chemicals into
    less-harmful substances, or releasing them into the atmosphere. For example, prairie grass can stimulate
    the breakdown of petroleum products (NRCS 2000b). While some plants can absorb and metabolize
    specific organic constituents and others help degrade pollutants at the root level, the primary agents of
    phytoremediation are the microorganisms associated with the rhizosphere of the plants (Brady and Weil 1999,
    p. 738). Phytoremediation is typically used on sites that are not severely contaminated. This practice often
    includes harvesting of the plant material to remove contaminants from a site.

    6.0  Case Study

    Relmagining A More Sustainable Cleveland was adopted by the Cleveland City Planning Commission in
    December 2008. "Relmagining Cleveland" is a collaborative grant and technical assistance program of the
    Cleveland Community Development Department and partnering nonprofit organizations aimed at creating
    sustainable land reuses on vacant land parcels in Cleveland. The Bellaire-Puritas Development Corporation
    (BPDC) in Cleveland is working in  partnership with community members, Neighborhood Progress, Inc.,
    Park Works, Inc., Cuyahoga County Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD), Ohio State University, the
    Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District, and other partners to enhance vacant parcels with community gardens
    and green infrastructure.

    An objective of the BPCD projects is to demonstrate many of the types of sustainable land reuse projects
    suggested in the report and in the companion Relmagining Cleveland Pattern Book. The goals for implementing
    green infrastructure included:

      • Improving stormwater management:
           reducing delivery of pollutants to local waterways;
           reducing erosion in stream channels due to stormwater; and
           reducing localized flooding.
Evaluation of Urban Soils

           • Providing amenities for the neighborhood:
                green open space;
                aesthetically pleasing landscaping (using native plants to the extent practicable);
                educational signage;
                source of neighborhood pride; and
                reduction in supply of vacant properties.

         6.1  Project Overview

         In 2010 the BPDC undertook a project to implement green infrastructure at a vacant parcel located on West
         131st Street in Cleveland (Figure 5). Green infrastructure was seen as a beneficial site reuse at this location
         because the  parcel is adjacent to a perennial stream, the Chevy Branch of Big Creek, which is greatly
         affected by wet weather flows. The amount of water in the Chevy Branch increases dramatically during and
         after rain events due to the runoff from impervious surfaces in the area. Green infrastructure practices will
         retain and infiltrate stormwater,  which helps to reduce the volumes of water in the stream and the associated
         adverse water quality impacts.

         Prior to site work, a residential home was demolished at the site. Based on visual observations and field work
         done by a U.S. EPA National Risk Management Research Laboratory (NRMRL) team, it was found that much
         of the demolition debris (rubble-type material, rocks,  and debris) had been  left at the site, much collected into
         the basement of the former structure (Figure 5). The home and driveway had been leveled and compacted,
         leaving the area poorly suited for infiltration or the establishment of vegetation. The NRMRL team observed
         that there had been an unsuccessful attempt to establish turf grass at the site after demolition. The
         compaction and amount of construction debris mixed into the top 1.5 feet of fill limited the stormwater
         management opportunities at the site if soil restoration work was not undertaken. Soil tests, conducted May
         17, 2010, indicated  low levels of organic matter, low levels of nitrogen and phosphorus, and a slightly higher
         than normal pH. Low levels of lead were detected in the soils. Other parameters were normal.

         The restoration work was completed in November 2010. The goal for the site  was to provide a natural area
         in the neighborhood that would serve as an amenity and learning center and provide stormwater treatment.
         Restoration activities included:

         1.   Chisel tilling and debris/rock removal in the upper one foot of soil on the site
         2.  Amendment of the topsoil with compost
         3.   Grading and excavation of a rain garden and swale, which will retain runoff from the contributing drainage
            area and overflow to the Chevy Branch of Big Creek
         4.  Soil amendment in the rain garden and swale, consisting of a mix of compost, sand, and topsoil
         5.   Planting of the rain garden and swale with native plant plugs and broadcast seeding of the remaining
             portions of the site using a native grass and forb  mix (Figure 6)
         6.   Installation of a permeable paver path on the site
         7.   Installation of signage with information on the Chevy Branch, native plants, and green infrastructure.
                 Figure 5. The case study location. Left photo shows the site post-demolition. Photo on the right
                 shows an example of construction debris left after demolition.

                 Photos:  William Shuster, EPA and Jennifer Olson, Tetra Tech
12   Evaluation of Urban Soils

                                                   SHORT GRASS
                                     SHALLOW STORM WATER INFILTRATION
                                             AND STORAGE AREA

                                           PLANTING PLAN
                                                                                          QILMOHE AVENUE
               Figure 6. Planting plan for the case study site. Plan developed by Zwick Assoc., Inc., 2010.

     The soil restoration and the establishment of vegetation improved infiltration in the areas of the site where
     demolition debris had been present and made the site more aesthetically pleasing for residents in the
     neighborhood. The infiltration area now stores and infiltrates stormwater runoff that does not soak into the
     ground on the upland areas of the site in larger storms; under certain circumstances, the green infrastructure
     can accept some high-water flows from the Chevy Branch. The vegetation and enhanced infiltration reduce
     stormwater discharges to the Chevy Branch during and after rain events and thus help to reduce localized
     flooding in the area.

     6.2 Challenges and Lessons Learned

     Restoration of vacant properties can pose many challenges. The West 131st Street site is an example of a
     vacant residential property where a structure (and related features such as a driveway) was demolished.
     Restoration of the site (following a period of project planning) was completed in less than a month. The
     BPDC, along with many local nonprofits, agencies, and  organizations, as well as community members,
     provided input and  support of the project.

     Key challenges were created in large part due to the demolition practices implemented at the site. Stormwater
     infiltration is reduced due to the presence of the remaining structure of the basement. The incorporation of
     rubble and debris into the basement and within fill material reduced the infiltration capacity and ability of
     the existing soils to sustain plant life, and was the most expensive task to remediate during construction.
     Increased soil compaction was created while removing aboveground structures, which resulted in poor
     performing soils that could not establish vegetation prior to restoration.

     The development and use of contract/bid specifications for demolition work that would take into account
     green reuses of the site could be an important step to facilitate green infrastructure and urban agriculture on
     vacant urban parcels. Such contract/bid specifications could potentially address:
     •  Deconstruction for reuse of materials;
     •  Consideration of air quality and dust issues  during demolition;
     •  Proper removal and disposal of debris;
     •  Creating an infiltration pathway through any basement or foundation remaining onsite;
     •  Establishing vegetative cover to reduce erosion; and
     •  Minimizing compaction during demolition activities.

     Demolition procedures that minimize compaction and minimize the amount of debris and rubble left on the
     site would have lessened the amount of work that need to be done at the case study site to make it ready for
     green infrastructure.
Evaluation of Urban Soils

                                           References and Resources

         Brady, N. and R. Weil. 1999. The Nature and Property of Soils, 12th ed. Prentice-Hall Inc., Upper Saddle
                River, New Jersey.

         Cleveland Botanical Garden. 2011. Vacant Lot Stabilization: Cleveland Best Practices. Final Report for
                the Lake Erie Protection Fund, SG 394-10. Geri Linger, Project Manager; Sandra Albro, Research
                Technician. November 2011.

         Craul, P. 1994. Urban Soils: An Overview and Their Future. In The Landscape Below Ground: Proceedings
                of an International Workshop on Tree Root Development in Urban Soils, Morton Arboretum, Sept.
                30-Oct. 1, 1993, pp. 115-125. Ed. G.W. Watson and D. Neely. International Society of Arboriculture.

         Easterbrook, D. 1999. Surface Processes and Landforms, 2nd ed. Prentice-Hall Inc. Upper Saddle River,
                New Jersey. 546 pp.

         Finster, M., K. Gray, and H. Binns, 2004. Lead Levels of Edibles Grown in Contaminated Residential Soils: A
                Field Survey. Science of the Total Environment 230: 245-257.

         Foth, H. 1984. Fundamentals of Soil Science, 7th ed. John Wiley and Sons, New York.

         Harris, R., D. Karlen, and D. Mulla. 1996. A Conceptual Framework for Assessment and Management of
                Soil Quality and Health. In Methods for Assessing Soil Quality, ed. J.W. Doran and A.J. Jones, pp.
                61-82. Soil Science Society of America Special Publication 49. Soil Science Society of America,
                Madison, Wisconsin.

         Holmgren, G., M. Meyer, R. Chaney, and R. Daniels. 1993. Cadmium, Lead, Copper, and Nickel in
                Agricultural Soils of the United States of America. Journal of Environmental Quality 22: 335-348.

         ITRC (Interstate Technology and Regulatory Council). 2003. Vapor Intrusion Issues at Brownfield Sites. The
                Interstate Technology and Regulatory Council. December.

         King County Department of Natural Resources. 1999. The Relationship between Soil and Water How Soil
                Amendments and Compost Can Aid in Salmon Recovery.

         Koenig, R., and V.  Isaman. 1997. Topsoil Quality Guidelines for Landscaping. AG/SO-02. Utah State
                University Cooperative Extension.

         Murray, K., D. Rogers, and M. Kaufman. 2004. Heavy Metals in an Urban Watershed in Southeastern Michigan.
                Journal of Environmental Quality 33: 163-172.

         NRCS (Natural Resources Conservation Service). 2000a. Urban Soil Compaction. Urban Technical Note No.
                2. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Soil Quality Institute,
                Auburn, Alabama.

         NRCS. 2000b. Heavy Metal Soil Contamination. Urban Technical Note No. 3. U.S.  Department of
                Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Soil Quality Institute, Auburn, Alabama.

         NRCS. 2010. Glossary of Soil Science Terms. Natural Resources Conservation Service.

         NRCS. 2011. Soil Quality - Improving How Your Soil Works, http://soils.usda.gov/sqi/index.html
14 Evaluation of Urban Soils

    Olson, Nicholas, John S. Gulliver (Department of Civil Engineering, University of Minnesota) and John L.
           Nieber (Department of Biosystems and Bioproducts Engineering, University of Minnesota), 2011. So/7
           Remediation with Compost, http://stormwater.safl.umn.edu/content/updates-april-2011

    Pitt, R., J. Lantrip, R. Harrison, C. Henry, and D. Xue. 1999. Infiltration through Disturbed Urban Soils
           and Compost-Amended Soil Effects on Runoff Quality and Quantity. EPA/600/R-00/016. U.S.
           Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Research and Development, Washington, D.C.

    Pouyat, R.,  I. Yesilonis,J. Russell-Anelli, and N. Neerchal. 2007. Soil Chemical and Physical Properties that
           Differentiate Urban Land-Use and Cover Types. Journal of the Soil Science Society of America 71:

    Rosen, C. 2002. Lead in the Home Garden and Urban Soil Environment. F-02543. University of Minnesota

    Rossiter,  D. 2007. Classification of Urban and Industrial Soils in the World Reference Base for Soil Resources.
           Journal of Soils and Sediments 7: 96-100.

    SAN (Sustainable Agriculture Network). 2007. Managing Cover Crops Profitably, 3rd ed. Published by the
           Sustainable Agriculture Network with funding from the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education
           Program. Beltsville, Maryland.

    Scheyer,  J., and K. Hippie. 2005. Urban Soil Primer. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources
           Conservation Service,  National Soil Survey Center, Lincoln,  Nebraska.

    Shuster W.D. et al. 2011.  Moving Beyond the Udorthent  - A Proposed Protocol for Assessing Urban Soils to
           Service Data Needs for Contemporary Urban Ecosystem Management. Soil Survey Horizons, Spring
           2011, Volume 52 Number 1.

    Stilwell, D.,  T. Rathier, C. Musante, and J. Ranciato, 2008. Lead and Other Heavy Metals in Community Garden
           Soils in Connecticut. Bulletin 1019. The Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, New Haven,

    SWCS (Soil and Water Conservation Society). 2007. Framework for Sustainable Soil Management. Special
           Publication 2007-001.  Prepared by John S. Kruse. Soil and Water Conservation Society. Ankeny, Iowa.

    Urban, J.  2008. Up by Roots: Healthy Soils andTrees in the Built Environment. International Society of Arboriculture.

    USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture). 2006. Urban Watershed Forestry Manual.  Part 3. Urban Tree Planting
           Guide. Prepared by the Center for Watershed Protection.

    U.S. EPA (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency). 1997. Innovative Uses of Compost: Bioremediation and
           Pollution Prevention. EPA 530-F-97-042. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Solid Waste
           and Emergency Response, Washington,  D.C.

    U.S. EPA. 1998. Sources of Lead in Soils: A Literature Review. EPA747-R98-001a. U.S. Environmental
           Protection Agency, Washington, D.C.

    U.S. EPA. 2001 a. A Citizen's Guide to Bioremediation.  EPA 542-F-01 -001. U.S. Environmental Protection
           Agency, Office of Solid Waste and  Emergency Response, Washington,  D.C.

    U.S. EPA. 2001 b. A Citizen's Guide to Phytoremediation. EPA 542-F-01-002. U.S. Environmental Protection
           Agency, Office of Solid Waste and  Emergency Response, Washington,  D.C.
Evaluation of Urban Soils                                                                                           15

        U.S. EPA. 2005. Road Map to Understanding Innovative Technology Options for Brownfields Investigation
               and Cleanup, 4th ed. EPA-542-B-05-001. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Washington, D.C.

        U.S. EPA. 2008a. Design Principles for Stormwater Management on Compacted Contaminated Soils in Dense
               Urban Areas. EPA-560-F-07-231. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Washington, D.C.

        U.S. EPA. 2008b. The Great Lakes Atlas. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Washington, D.C.
               July 2008.  http://epa.gov/greatlakes/atlas/index.html.

        U.S. EPA. 2009. How Does Your Garden Grow? Brownfields Redevelopment and Local Agriculture. EPA-
               560-F-09-024. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Solid Waste and Emergency
               Response (5105T), Washington, D.C.
16   Evaluation of Urban Soils

                                            APPENDIX A
                                     Evaluating Soil Suitability

Soil suitability evaluations vary depending on the end use of the site. For green infrastructure, testing should
focus on the capacity of the soil to retain and infiltrate stormwater runoff and to support naturalized or
ornamental vegetation. For urban agriculture, soil nutrient levels and the capacity of the soils to sustain certain
crops are of greatest interest. Particle size distribution, infiltration capacity, nutrient content and soil chemistry
are all factors that determine soil health and its ability to support plant life. Each of these are components of a
sampling strategy to evaluate the existing conditions of the soil and what improvements may be necessary in
order to implement the planned reuse of the site.

Soils Background

In assessing soils it is important to consider the
physical, chemical, and biological conditions and
characteristics of the soil.

Physical characteristics of urban soils that are
relevant to green reuses of a site include soil
texture, structure, permeability and porosity, and
organic matter content. Physical characteristics
can be observed and assess to help determine soil
rehabilitation or reconditioning needs.

Soil Texture

Soil infiltration rate, which is heavily dependent         ,_^vanC\          ~~7            / silt     .
         dry and swell when wet. The small particles give clay cohesiveness and a unique ability to resist wind erosion;
         however, water erosion can be severe. Clayey soil is typically poorly drained, and is the easiest to compact by
         both human activity and natural phenomena.  Establishing vegetation in clayey soils can often require aeration
         or soil amendments.

         In the field, clay can easily be pressed into a ribbon between the fingers, and the length of ribbon created
         before it breaks can be used as a field assessment tool for determining clay content. If you create a small ball
         of moist soil in the palm of your hand  and the soil does not retain the ball shape, the soil is silty, not clayey.

         Soil Structure
         Soil is made up of distinct horizontal layers; these layers are called horizons. Soil horizons in natural conditions
         include from  rich, organic upper layers (humus and topsoil) to underlying rocky layers (subsoil, regolith and
         bedrock). Different soil horizons are important for various soil functions and processes.

         Natural soils  have a variety of structures depending on parent material, weathering, and biological factors.
         Soil particles arrange in aggregates with pore spaces between them that allow air and water to penetrate. In
         compacted soils, these areas (identified as "Soil Air" and "Soil Water" in Figure A-2) are reduced. Soil structure
         provides physical resiliency, as well as allowing moisture buffering and temperature insulation because of the
         air spaces in the soil matrix. Soil structure is preserved when protected from erosion, compaction, and other
         disturbing activities.

         Soil structure tends to deteriorate during and after site development, a result of grading, filling, construction
         and demolition activities, and the absence of deep-rooted vegetation.  Degraded soil structure results  in
         compaction,  decreased aeration, decreased drainage, decreased water-holding capacity, and decreased root
         penetration (Craul 1994), as well as reduced soil biological activity and reduced plant uptake of water and
[•Soil Air

 ! 1 Soil Water

 n Organic Matter

 G Mineral Matter
  (sand, silt, clay)
• Soil Air

B Soil Water

  Organic Matter

D Mineral Matter
  (sand, silt, clay)
                        Figure A-2. Comparison of a natural soil (left) to a compacted urban soil (right)
                        by weight (adapted from Scheyer et al. 2005).

         Compaction occurs when heavy weight on a soil surface collapses the pore space between soil particles.
         It can be caused by pressure exerted by heavy equipment and vehicle traffic, tillage practices, water, or
         construction activities. Compacted soil becomes more dense, increasing heat transfer and resulting in soil
         temperature extremes. Temperature extremes result in unnaturally dry or oversaturated areas, and the ability
         of the soil to support plant life is diminished. Heavy compaction produced by construction, grading, and
         heavy or repetitive traffic, causes impervious layers that prevent water and air movement and results in root
         mortality. Heavily compacted soils can exhibit stormwater runoff characteristics that are comparable to those
         of impervious surfaces such as streets and parking lots.

         Soil Moisture/Infiltration

         Permeability is "the ease with which water passes through the soil," and it "depends on the amount, size,
         and distribution of pore spaces in the soil" (Easterbrook 1999, p. 101). A sandy soil that is composed of
         rounded particles has a high permeability,  whereas a clayey soil that is composed of flat particles has a low
18  Evaluation of Urban Soils

     permeability, because water and air cannot move through clay easily. Porosity is the ratio of the volume
     of pore space to the total volume, (Easterbrook 1999, p. 531) or, a measure of the amount of pore space
     between particles. Fine-grained, uniform materials like clay tend to have higher porosities, while soils
     comprised of varying grain sizes have low porosity. Soil porosity tends to decrease with increasing depth due
     to compaction from the weight of overlying soils.

     A soil with high porosity does not necessarily have high permeability. Permeability is dependent on the
     interconnectedness of pore spaces (Easterbrook 1999). Thus, a soil like clay, with a large volume of pore
     spaces that are not interconnected, has high porosity but low permeability, and water and air have limited
     opportunity for movement within the clay. A sandy soil can have a high permeability but less porosity,
     allowing for drainage, but limiting the moisture retained in the soil profile. Soil remediation efforts and plant
     selection should take into account the porosity and permeability of existing soils.

     Soil moisture content is an important factor when considering green infrastructure or urban agriculture.
     The best time to observe soil water movement over the entire project site is immediately after a soaking
     thunderstorm or during snowmelt when the ground is thawed. Results should be recorded over several
     hours and days and should include the time when the soil surface starts to dry and whether standing water
     is still in the root zone (depth of 12 to 18 inches). Long dry periods later in the spring and summer are perfect
     for observing soil water retention and unusual saturation areas such as those caused by clogged drainage
     systems, leaking subterranean  pipes, springs, and other unusual soil features.

     Once general soil characteristics have been determined, simple tests can be performed to further test the
     soil for supporting vegetation. As a simple screening-level assessment, one can dig into the soil about six
     inches, grab a  handful of soil, and squeeze. If the soil remains in a "ball" and a wet outline of water appears,
     it is considered very moist. If the "ball" breaks apart but remains in large clumps, the soil is moist. (Note that
     this assessment does not work for very sandy soils.) Because the  root zone soil will most likely be amended
     or manipulated, it is useful to see if water can leave the root zone within a suitable time. To evaluate this,
     one can dig a 12- to 18-inch-deep hole and fill it with three inches of water. If the water drains within 15 to
     20 minutes, the soil is suitable for most plants and root crops; if it takes between one-half and eight hours to
     drain, the soil is suitable for most general woody and grass species; if water is still present after eight hours,
     drainage modification is probably necessary for all but wetland vegetation.

     Soil Chemistry
     Soil chemistry  is an important factor regardless of the intended use of a site. Soil chemistry is particularly
     important for the growth of food products. Soil should be tested at sites that will be used for urban

     Soil chemical characteristics are a function of soil reactions with nutrients, contaminants, air, and water, and
     they are greatly dependent on temperature and biological activity.  Interactions are complex, but for green
     infrastructure purposes, knowledge of the presence and quantities of nutrients and contaminants, and the soil
     pH will allow you to gauge the soil's ability to serve as a growing medium. All chemical soil chemical reactions
     require water, and many are influenced by oxygen and other air components.

     Standard test parameters usually include soil pH, potassium, phosphorus, and  lime index (calcium and
     magnesium), and cation exchange capacity (CEC), which is a gauge of soil's potential nutrient holding
     capacity. Widely offered tests also include nitrogen (total nitrogen, nitrate, and ammonium), heavy metals
     (aluminum, arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury), salinity, and micronutrient tests that vary by locale.
     Because plants take up only nutrients that are
     dissolved in the soil solution and are in contact
     with the root surface, plant nutrient availability is
     largely controlled by pH. pH is a measure of the
     acidity or alkalinity of a substance (see Figure
     A-3).  In soils, a high pH can prevent chemicals
     from entering a plant, and low pH (a more acidic
     soil) can result in certain elements concentrating
     in the soil (Urban 2008, p. 64). The optimal soil
     pH  range is between 6.0 and 7.5 standard units.
     Most native soils around the Great Lakes have
                      - Neutral -
01   2   3  4   5   6   7   8  91011121314
  Battery Lemon   Wine  Normal Distilled Baking  Soft  Ammonia Lye
   Acid  Juice         Rain   Water   Soda   Soap
               Figure A-3. pH scale.
Evaluation of Urban Soils

         a pH in the range of 6.0 to 8.0 standard units.  This pH range is where most plants and soil microorganisms
         thrive. Great Lakes soils also have a large buffering capacity, or ability to withstand a rapid change in pH, due
         to generally high natural amounts of silt, clay, or organic matter in the soils.  In urban areas, concrete and
         masonry construction may have leached  lime into the soil, increasing the soil pH (Urban 2008, p. 63).

         Local soil testing lab information can be obtained from State Cooperative Extension Service offices and
         from many land grant universities. The University of Massachusetts at Amherst2 also performs a series of
         soil tests to help determine the suitability of site soils for green infrastructure or urban agriculture. For green
         infrastructure, such tests might include the University's So/7 Texture test, which provides the USDATextural
         Classification. Various soil tests that provide pH, nutrients, or metals data can be used to determine the
         suitability of urban agriculture. Soil tests that cover standard test parameters typically cost $25 to $30.

         Note again the while focus of this report is on assessing and reconditioning soils so they can effectively
         support plant growth, assessing soils for possible contamination issues is also very important. There can be
         health risks associated with touching  and tilling contaminated soil, and for urban agriculture sites, there can
         be risks from eating food  products grown in contaminated soils. Root vegetables may require more attention
         and concern than aboveground, fruiting plants or woody perennial crops because of the potential for uptake
         and increased soil interaction by gardeners. Check the site history and where appropriate seek assistance
         from State or local Brownfield authorities as you evaluate a site for green infrastructure or urban agriculture

         Biological Characteristics
         The biological characteristics of urban soils vary based on factors such as drainage, land use, and
         contamination. During a site visit, the growing condition  of the soil can be determined based on the status
         and species of the plants  growing on  it; plants should be observed and their condition recorded. Existing
         large trees "are often the best long-term indicators of soil condition" (Urban 2008). Various plant species can
         also indicate soil conditions. Plant  species vary regionally, and local professionals should be contacted to
         determine what various species might indicate about the soils.

         Soil organic matter is derived from decomposed plant leaves and other carbonaceous materials on the
         ground surface. The amount of organic matter that accumulates is influenced by temperature and moisture
         (Urban 2008). Organic matter levels generally vary by soil type: forest soils typically contain 4 to 5 percent
         organic matter; agricultural soils can contain up to 15 percent organic matter (Craul 1994); and horticulturally
         productive soils can contain around 3 to 4 percent organic matter (Urban 2008). Soils that are well watered
         and have high plant productivity generate higher levels of soil organic matter (Brady and Weil 1999). Colder
         climates also inhibit rapid decomposition and allow organic matter to accumulate faster.

         The natural processes that generate soil organic matter are often interrupted in an  urban environment (Craul
         1994). Various aspects of  the urban environment (e.g., pavement, bagging leaves/grass clippings, removal of
         tree branches)  prevent the cycling  of organic matter and nutrients back into the soil. Without decay of plant
         materials, microorganisms in the soil cannot persist. Therefore, the restoration of urban soils (to make them
         more suitable for green infrastructure  and urban agriculture) often involves increasing the amount of soil
         organic matter.

         On sites with no or little vegetation, soil odors can also indicate biological activity. If soil has little or no odor,
         microbial activity is poor or absent, and the amount of organic matter is often low.  If soil has an "earthy" odor,
         microbial activity is good and aerated organic matter is present in the soil. Soil with a putrid or sour odor
         either has been wet for a long time or has had improperly processed compost applied.

         The presence of earthworms in a soil  is a sign of good soil conditions, but if the earthworms are skinny or
         anemic-looking, the soil might lack good  nutrition and be low in organic matter. Lack of earthworms is a
         fair indicator of compaction; in the case of friable soils, this condition can indicate heavy metal or chemical
         contamination or extremely low organic matter content.
         2  Refer to the University of Massachusetts at Amherst website: http://www.umass.edu/soiltest/index.htm.

20  Evaluation of Urban Soils