UACES Facebook How Soil Impacts Your Tree's Success
skip to main content

How Soil Impacts Your Tree's Success

Searcy, Ark. –

A common problem in many new landscapes is poorly drained soils. In this case, we have two choices: either deal with the drainage issue or select plants that tolerate poorly drained soils. In this situation, knowing that plants such as boxwood, most evergreen hollies and evergreen azaleas will die in poorly drained sites should prompt you to avoid these plants. A clear understanding of a plant’s attributes, good and bad (e.g., plant size, flower fragrance, flowers and fruits, messy fruits, brittle wood) is needed.

Many new landscapes are over planted because homeowners did not consider the ultimate size of the plants selected. This leads to dissatisfaction, extra pruning and the inevitable need to replace or severely prune the plant. Placing a large shade tree close to the corner of a house or a shrub growing to 12 feet beneath a four-foot window does not make sense long term. Be sure that the mature plant size will fit the site.

Know your planting site!

Before purchasing plants or planting them, you need to know several things about the planting site. Issues such as sun exposure, soil pH, drainage, and location of utilities need to be considered. Start with the soil. Significant changes to the soil are easy prior to planting the landscape.

Have your soil tested before planting!

It is easy and will provide useful information that will improve the long-term success of your landscape. Soil samples can be submitted at your local county Cooperative Extension office. One of the most important pieces of information gained from a soil test is the soil pH. The soil test report indicates the current soil pH (acid or alkaline) and makes a recommendation based on the plant type if a change is required. Soil analysis is even more important if other plants in the landscape are having problems.

Check the soil’s drainage with a simple percolation test. The rate at which water drains through the soil affects plants’ survival and growth. Poorly drained soil results in too much water in the root zone and a lack of needed oxygen for healthy roots.

How to determine percolation (water drainage) rate

  1. Dig a hole 1 foot deep, fill with water, and see how long it takes to empty.
  2. If the water level drops more slowly than 1 inch per hour, drainage is poor.

Poorly drained sites can be corrected by proper plant selection, installing a drainage system, elevating plants, or planting beds above the affected area.

Check for underground utilities and obstructions before digging!

  • Before digging, make sure you know the location of buried and above-ground utilities.

To check for utility obstructions, contact AR 811 by calling 1-800-482-8998 or 811 or visit their website

  • Never place any tree growing taller than 15 feet beneath power lines or within 15 feet of them. Under ideal conditions, keep trees away from utility wires a distance equal to the mature spread of the tree being planted. For example, if the branch spread on a mature tree will be 30 feet, plant the tree 30 feet away from overhead utility lines.
  • Do not plant too close to surrounding objects including houses, barns and other trees. Remember that tree roots spread well beyond the branch area of the tree and roots can interfere with foundations, sidewalks, and paved areas.

The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture is an equal opportunity/equal access/affirmative action institution. For more information you can contact your local county extension service, you can also follow Sherri Sanders on Facebook @UADA.WhiteCountyAgriculture


By Sherri Sanders
County Extension Agent - Agriculture
The Cooperative Extension Service
U of A System Division of Agriculture

Media Contact: Sherri Sanders
County Extension Agent - Agriculture
U of A Division of Agriculture
Cooperative Extension Service
2400 Old Searcy Landing Road Searcy AR 72143
(501) 268-5394


The Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service is an equal opportunity/equal access/affirmative action institution. If you require a reasonable accommodation to participate or need materials in another format, please contact your County Extension office (or other appropriate office) as soon as possible. Dial 711 for Arkansas Relay.

The Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service offers its programs to all eligible persons regardless of race, color, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, age, disability, marital or veteran status, genetic information, or any other legally protected status, and is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer.