Regenerating Topsoil Functionality in Four Drastically Disturbed Soil Types by Compost Incorporation

Authors

  • Matthew J. Curtis,

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Land, Air and Water Resources, University of California, Davis, 1111 Plant & Environmental Sciences Building, Davis, CA 95616-8627, U.S.A.
      Address correspondence to M. J. Curtis, email mjcurtis@ucdavis.edu
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  • Victor P. Claassen

    1. Department of Land, Air and Water Resources, University of California, Davis, 1111 Plant & Environmental Sciences Building, Davis, CA 95616-8627, U.S.A.
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Address correspondence to M. J. Curtis, email mjcurtis@ucdavis.edu

Abstract

The low water-holding capacity and low nutrient levels of roadcuts in northern California cause many of these disturbed areas to remain chronically barren. Yard waste compost was incorporated into four nonvegetated substrates found along roadcuts (decomposed granite [DG], lahar, serpentine, and sandstone) in order to regenerate topsoil infiltration, water-holding capacity, and nutrient availability. Soil physical and chemical properties, as well as the vegetative response of a native perennial grass, were compared between treatments (non-tilled, tilled, and tilled with compost amendment). Tillage and compost addition decreased soil bulk density compared to the non-tilled treatment, and the compost treatment increased the soil carbon and nitrogen contents compared to the non-tilled and tilled treatments. Tillage alone resulted in an increase in saturated hydraulic conductivity in soils that did not contain a large amount of coarse fragments. Tillage also reduced sediment loss in all soils except the DG. Foliar C13 content did not predict water stress consistently between treatments. The incorporation of yard waste compost increased plant available water in coarse but not in fine-textured soils, and aboveground plant biomass was significantly greater in the compost treatment than in either of the other treatments. Although the incorporation of yard waste compost generated the greatest revegetation success, tillage alone may be a sufficient treatment if residual soils have adequate nutrient levels.

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