Innovative Practices to Enhance Soil Quality for Vacant Urban Lot Afforestation

2016 | Dr. Mitchell Pavao-Zuckerman, University of Maryland and Dr. Raymond Weil, University of Maryland

Urban forests have great potential to provide ecosystem services and improve well-being and health in cities. However, the quality of urban soils is impaired, thus limiting the potential for urban forests. By investigating approaches to improve urban soil quality, this project addresses the TREE fund soil biology/soil amelioration priority area. Our objectives are to: (1) review current literature on urban soil quality and amelioration, (2) explore the transfer of agricultural best practices for managing soil quality to urban forestry settings, (3) evaluate the impacts of soil amendment practices on soil quality for urban tree growth, (4) explore a soil quality minimum/best data set to characterize urban soil characteristics to support plant growth and establishment. We propose a 3-year field study comparing several soil amendments, including the use of agricultural cover crops, to improve soil quality in vacant lots in Baltimore, MD, for reforestation purposes. We will track soil quality and plant response variables over time, and analyze the connections between treatments, soil biological, chemical, and physical quality and their influence on plant responses. Our expected outcomes include: (1) a quantifiable evaluation of soil amendment practices for urban forests, including the adoption of a technique from sustainable agriculture; (2) an assessment of soil quality indices for plant growth and ecosystem services for urban soils in vacant lots, (3) dissemination of results and approaches to academics, industry professionals, and municipal and governmental managers and researchers, and (4) the training of two graduate students and mentoring of one junior faculty member.