Tree growth and health tied to soil conditions

Jul 18, 2022 | Author: Story and Photos by Conner Tye, LCSWA website editor | Editor: Conner Tye

Soil is one of the most important parts of growing trees, as it contains nutrients that the plants need to grow and survive. It is quite often overlooked, however, as many only consider whether the soil is rich or poor, according to soils expert Mark Kimsey.

Kimsey is the director of the Intermountain Forestry Cooperative (IFC), which is based at the University of Idaho but also does research in Eastern Oregon and Washington, Northern California and Western Montana. He knows how much more there is to soil types and is doing a long-term research project on the Happy Valley Tree Farm. He recently shared some of his thoughts to the owners about how his research is going.

Soil is all about geology, Kimsey told the owners. Finding out the geology of your soil is critical in determining what kinds of plants will grow in it, he explained. Extrusive or volcanic rocks cool quickly and will form fine soil. Basalt-based soil, in particular, is rich in iron and magnesium which are important nutrients for plants. Intrusive rocks, on the other hand, cool slowly and form sandy soils that contain less nutrients. The texture and kinds of nutrients found in the soil will dictate what species of plants you will find there, Kimsey said.

The US Department of Agriculture has a website called the Web Soil Survey that allows you to see the soil geology of land anywhere in the nation. The site can be used to find the characteristics, nutrients and water capacity of your soil. This can allow you to better plan where to plant and what kinds of trees would grow best on your property. The Web Soil Survey is easy to use and navigate.

Mark looking out onto the tree farm
Mark is able to get a general idea of the soil type by looking at the landscape
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Mark Kimsey, master's degree in soil science and doctorate in natural resources, Univ. of Idaho