Really bad soil smell

goudNovember 9, 2006

Hi,

I have a very strong odor coming out of my front landscaping bed. I live in Hamilton County, IN. The bed in question is very small, less than 300 sq feet. However the odor is incredible, a cross between dirty sweat socks and something dead. The neighbors are complaining and the kids won't stand in front of the house for the bus stop, they have moved themselves across the street. The odor starts in the late fall and lasts until the ground is hard frozen and really until the spring. The ground in the bed stays fairly wet. I have called several landscaping companies and no one thinks its the vegetation? I am assuming the soil is rank with a bacteria or mold however I can not see anything to the eye? I need a way to get rid of this stench, it has been going on for years....I have extensive landscaping in this bed and don't want to dig-up or kill what is there, An ideas? Thank you,

Doug

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Kimmsr(4a/5b-MI)

Your problem is poor drainage. Soil that stays wet for long periods of time get lots of anaerobic bacteria operating in them and those kinds of bacteria produce offensive odors, just what you are smelling. A simple mehtod to test a soils drainage capability is to dig a 1 foot square hole 1 foot deep and fill it with water. Once that water drains away refill the hole and time how long it takes for that water to drain away. If it takes longer than 6 hours for the 2nd pail of water to drain corrective action is required, adding lots of organic matter to the soil to open up the soils pores so water can flow through. One garden I did that test to once took 4 days for the first pail of water to drain away and the "gardener" did not understand why her plants kept dying on her.

    Bookmark   November 9, 2006 at 8:03AM
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claireplymouth z6b coastal MA

You say you have extensive landscaping in that bed - If the problem is primarily poor drainage, I would think the plants would suffer (unless they are bog-type plants). Do they look OK when the smell starts in the fall? What kind of plants are they? Is the area sunny, shady, clay soil, sandy, what zone?

Do you mulch the area in summer/fall? If so, what kind of mulch?

You could also try posting on the Bog Gardens Forum.

Also try contacting the local Cooperative Extension. You might be able to get a soil sample analyzed for microbial growth, and some proposed treatments.

Good luck,
Claire

Here is a link that might be useful: Cooperative Extension System

    Bookmark   November 9, 2006 at 10:58AM
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remuda1(7b Hood Co TX)

Just a thought....you might have a small sewage leak. It may not show up until you have more precipitation in the fall and winter. The precip then mixes with the sewage and causes it to rise to the surface.

Just thought I'd throw that out there for consideration.

Kristi

    Bookmark   November 9, 2006 at 12:21PM
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seamommy(7bTX)

My first thought was a sewage leak too. A soil test would tell you a lot. Cheryl

    Bookmark   November 9, 2006 at 1:25PM
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maggiemae_2006

I built a bog garden which is full of plants that grow like weeds, hosta, pulmonaria, astilbe, sedge, tomatoes?, daylilies.

This system will act like a septic tank with the plants roots taking up the sewage (whatever it is), but it doesn't do this job in the winter so you may probably go through a fall problem. Try planting this area more densely, it will grow a LOT of plants in a small area.

Also, search the web for bog septic systems, interesting. I used rubber liner like a pond, filled it with organic matter, plumbing my shower to this system.

Again everything grows like weeds and I never bother with watering or fertilizing.

    Bookmark   November 9, 2006 at 3:11PM
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rayama(7b Birmingham, Al)

What kind of plants do you have? Some can make produce bad smelling fruit (like female ginko trees).

    Bookmark   November 9, 2006 at 4:17PM
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bob64(6)

I bet Kimmsr has pegged it but there is the possibility of a failed septic system or a broken sewer line.
Also, does the bed have impermeable borders that turn the bed into a sort of tub that never drains? If so that could be part of the problem. For instance, one time we had leaves, etc. clogging the edge of a chain link fence and water was building up in the grass because the leaves created a little boundary that kept the water in. I pulled the leaves away and the water drained away.

    Bookmark   November 10, 2006 at 4:56PM
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claireplymouth z6b coastal MA

I was just on a different forum (Building a Home) and people were talking about underground springs and streams. Some of these were seasonal, becoming a problem during rainy times.

Another possibility for your problem.

I think people here are running out of suggestions until they get further information on your specific conditions. It's an interesting problem and I know I would like to understand what's happening (as well as wanting to help).

Claire

    Bookmark   November 11, 2006 at 4:28PM
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claireplymouth z6b coastal MA

What's confusing to me is the fact that the smell is so overwhelmingly bad, yet the existing planting isn't bothered by the soil condition.

Bogs per se don't really smell bad even though they're wet, and a septic condition of that magnitude should be more deleterious than just a little extra fertilizer. Just my non-expert opinion.

Claire, puzzled

    Bookmark   November 11, 2006 at 4:46PM
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indylars(Indianapolis 5)

When was the last time these beds had a good turning over of the soil? Could be as simple as getting the garden fork out and turning 8-10 inches of soil over.

    Bookmark   November 12, 2006 at 1:21PM
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seritas

I have a slightly different problem. We have city sewer system and lines to it are in the front of the house. The back yard was dug up to lay drainage pipes to the woods in back to stop the erosion in back yard from rain water coming off the house. Soil is clay. Many tulip poplar roots had to be removed. While the yard was dug up, the smell was really very terrible. No smell now that yard was smoothed out and grass growing. My question is: Could there be something so bad in the earth there that the vegetables from my garden are not safe to eat? I do only organic gardening. This is central NJ. I am only interested in the safety of eating my garden vegetables and fruit from fruit trees.
I realize this is a followup to another question. I am a new user and cannot figure out how to post an original question.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2011 at 2:12PM
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sunfish2_hotmail_com

I have a similar problem with bad smelling soil, but it only comes AT NIGHT. So weird, and it's driving me crazy. It doesn't smell septic, but like wet moldy soil or rotting organic material. The smell fills our guest bathroom and office at night, and coincidentally, our water hose, which doesn't appear to be leaking, is built into the wall under those windows. Nothing is planted near there, but after reading other comments, maybe planting something there would be a good idea. But why does it only smell at night? We have had a lot of rain, and it never smells during the day, even when there's no breeze.

    Bookmark   May 28, 2011 at 10:51PM
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