Restoration of woody plants to capped landfills: Root dynamics in an engineered soil

Steven N. Handel, George R. Robinson, William F.J. Parsons, Jennifer H. Mattei

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35 Scopus citations


Closed or abandoned landfills represent significant land areas, often in or near urban centers, that are potential sites for ecological restoration of native woodlands. But current guidelines in many jurisdictions do not allow for the installation of trees or shrubs above landfill clay caps, although these plants have many environmental, functional, and aesthetic advantages, including a rapid start to community succession. Typical closure procedures for capped landfills include only a grass cover to control moisture infiltration and impede soil erosion. The main concern that limits the application of a woody cover to a closed landfill is that roots may penetrate and weaken the clay cap. As part of a comprehensive experimental program on woodland restoration, we installed 22 tree and shrub species on Staten Island, New York (the Fresh Kills Sanitary Landfill). We found no evidence that roots of the transplanted woody plants penetrate caps used on these landfills. Root growth requirements and dynamics stop penetration of these materials. Anoxic and acidic conditions were found in the sandy subsoil above the cap, as indicated by corrosion patterns on steel test rods. Also, the intensity of mycorrhizal infection on the experimental plants was high in the surface soil and decreased progressively with increasing soil depth. The potential vertical rooting depth during this time period was greater than that occurring over the clay cap. This was shown from data collected on a nearby control site, where seven of the species were installed on an engineered soil lacking a clay barrier layer, and roots of all seven species penetrated deeper than on the landfill. The engineered landfill soils are poor growth media for roots, and below ground constraints that limit restoration on these sites must be addressed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)178-186
Number of pages9
JournalRestoration Ecology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 1997

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation


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