Compacted soil can make it hard to landscape your yard, whether you want to put in a flower bed or grass. The most obvious sign of compaction is standing water that drains very slowly after rain or irrigation. There may even be deep cracks in the soil that water doesn't seem to penetrate. Compaction can be a result of heavy traffic over an area, but more often the cause is poor soil structure and clay particles in the soil. The following can help you break up the soil so you can landscape as you please.
Aeration is one of the simplest solutions for fixing compaction, and it can be used even over areas that already have grass planted. A core aerator is a wheeled tool that you push across the lawn. As you push it, it pulls up small plugs of soil and drops them on top of the lawn. The holes left behind by the removed plugs allow water to seep in and break up the compaction. The plugs will slowly dissolve over time and repeated irrigation, effectively melting back into the soil in a looser, less compact form. Aeration can be done annually to ensure good drainage and loose soils in the yard.
Sometimes aeration alone isn't enough, particularly in areas where there was previously no grass or garden plants. In this case, deep tilling is the answer. Deep tilling is suitable for areas with no existing plants or areas where you don't mind removing the existing plants and replanting afterward. You can till by hand, using a spade and hoe to dig up and break up the soil to a depth of at least 12 inches, but a power tiller makes the job easier. These gas-powered machines can break up even the hardest soil in a short time, allowing you to break up compaction over larger areas much more quickly.
Breaking up the soil may not provide a long term compaction solution if your soil has a high clay content. In this case, adding non-clay, organic particles to the soil is needed in order to change the soil composition. A combination of compost and topsoil can likely solve the problem. In areas where you are deep tilling, you can simply till in several inches of soil amendments. In lawn areas that you only aerate, place some compost in a spreader and topdress the lawn with up to an inch of compost.
Contact a landscaping service if you need more help with the compacted soil in your yard.