The Q&A Archives: The dirt is soft and sinks

Question: I bought a house in December. It now has what appears to be a 30 square foot area in the back yard that is soft. You sink when you step on it. It may be gophers, as there appears to be holes several feet away. How can I tell for sure? I don't see any critters.

Answer: It may be gophers but it sounds more like an area was filled with topsoil and is not yet compacted. Generally moles and gophers make tunnels in a straight line rather than concentrating their efforts in a single area. You are likely to see mounds of excavated soil in front of their holes, as well. If you see holes but no mounds of soil, you might be dealing with other critters (ground squirrels, etc.) It's really difficult to suggest a course of action without seeing the problem area. If the house is new, perhaps the builder filled in a sunken area and forgot to compact the soil. If it is an older home, it is possilbe the former owners had a pool or pond and filled it in. I'd be inclined to check with the neighbors and then talk with helpful folks at your local cooperative extension office. They may know local sources for renting rollers to help compact the soil so it isn't so soft. They will also know what common ground dwelling creatures are in your area and can suggest control measures. Best wishes with your landscape!

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