Land development and soils

Urban development often results in stripped and compacted soils that cannot sustainably support trees and landscapes and provide little in terms of environmental benefits. Soil Profile Rebuilding is a cost-effective technique that can help rehabilitate these soils to provide documented increases in tree growth and ecosystem services such as carbon sequestration and stormwater management.

Where can soil profile rebuilding be used?

This technique is intended to address soil compaction in a sustainable fashion, especially the subsurface compaction common to developed areas. It can be used where there are existing soils that have been compacted by construction, pavement, traffic, or similar activities. It is not appropriate to use within the root zone of established trees and it is not appropriate for remediating engineered soils such as structural soils. It can be used in tight spaces such as street medians or wide-open expanses such as large landscapes that may be planted with combinations of trees, shrubs, perennial beds, or turf. It is also appropriate for gardens and other uses in modified form (i.e., without the tree or shrub planting).

What benefits can soil profile rebuilding deliver?

The effects of soil profile rebuilding have been rigorously studied in fully randomized studies and are documented in numerous peer-reviewed journal articles. Response to any soil management is dependent upon context, so response will vary according to the environment.

  • Increased tree growth
  • Increased percolation of stormwater through the soil profile
  • Increased carbon storage in stable forms

The research

The effects of Soil Profile Rebuilding have been carefully evaluated during more than seven years of field research. The process was developed by a Virginia Tech research group led by Dr. Susan Day. Many people contributed to the creation of this specification and the evolution of the research including: Yujuan Chen, W. Lee Daniels, Roger Harris, Rachel Layman, Bill Mauzy, David, Mitchell, Kevin McGuire, Kaj Rolf, Brian Strahm, Abbey Wick, and P. Eric Wiseman.

This project was made possible in part by a grant from the Tree Research and Education Endowment Fund.
Additional support was provided by the Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Research.


Layman, R.L., S.D. Day, D.K. Mitchell, Y. Chen, J.R. Harris, and W.L. Daniels. 2016. Below ground matters: Urban soil rehabilitation increases tree canopy and speeds establishment. Urban Forestry & Urban Greening. 16: 25-35.

Chen, Y., S.D. Day, Shrestha, R.K., Strahm, B.D., Wiseman, P.E. 2014. Influence of urban land development and soil rehabilitation on soil‐atmosphere greenhouse gas fluxes. Geoderma. 226‐227 (1): 348‐353.

Chen, Y., S.D. Day, A.F. Wick, and K.J. McGuire. 2014. Influence of urban land development and subsequent soil rehabilitation on soil aggregates, carbon, and hydraulic conductivity. Science of The Total Environment, 494-495: 329–336

Chen, Y., S.D. Day, A.F. Wick, B.D. Strahm, P.E. Wiseman, and W.L. Daniels. 2013. Changes in soil carbon pools and microbial biomass from urban land development and subsequent post-development soil rehabilitation. Soil Biology and Biochemistry. 66: 38–44.

Download the specification

Specifications for Soil Profile Rebuilding are available in two forms. The Full Specification is suitable for projects where enforcement and documentation of the specification are essential, typically in bidding environments where the lowest bid must be accepted. The Brief Specification is a truncated version designed simply to communicate the intent and process.

Soil Profile Rebuilding Specification by Susan Day et al. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 United States License.
Both specifications are licensed under a Creative Commons license to allow the user full use of the specification in your business. However the specification itself may NOT be sold or distributed for commercial purposes. You may use the specification as is, or adapt it for your use. The term "Soil Profile Rebuilding" may only be applied if the specification is used as is. Research documentation only applies to the specification as written and references to Soil Profile Rebuilding or the documented outcomes cannot be used unless it refers to the specification as written. If you have suggestions for improving the specification, or alternate forms for different regions, we welcome your thoughts. It is our aim to facilitate the use of this specification as much as possible while preserving the integrity of the term "Soil Profile Rebuilding." Please contact us.

Installation of SPR at George Mason and Lee Highway by Vincent Verweij, Arlington County Forester