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Question DetailsAsked on 7/17/2017

I have motor oil spilled into my flower bed ,what can I do to nuetralize the dirt?

I have grape vines growing out of there also

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1 Answer


Nothing other than fire really neutralizes oil - the best you can do is remove and dispose of the contaminated soil, and soap off the plant contamination and replant the plants in good clean soil.

If hard to see the contaminated area, drape an opened up (cut and flattened) black plastic bag over the area and your head (or markk it out at night), and use a black light (about $5-10 at box store) - oil and organics will flouresce, but the oil zone should be a pretty solid area of flourescence rather than the spots or lines of organic deris or roots.

Personally, unless just a small surficial splash spill, I would extract and bare root the plants if small - take out and wash per below, then replant in the bed or in pots - or if bulbs, take the plant out and prepare the bulb as if for overwintering after washing it off well with mild dish detergent like Dawn (which is the best degreaser dish soap, in my opinion) in luke warm water (about a teaspoon per gallon of water) and rag then dip/spray rinsing well to get most of the soap off - or clean per above then replant in clean soil.

Larger plants like shrubs, vines - if not inclined to bare root wash and replant them, I would dig the contaminated dirt away from them - bare-rooting in place with as little disturbance as possible of the roots, rinse with a couple of passes of the dawn solution, gently wiping the roots clean with cotton balls or rags to get the oil on them off, then rinse the plant well to remove the soap, bail out soapy water from the hole, then lightly compact new clean dirt into the hole.

The key is to dig out all the contaminated dirt before starting to wash any roots left in the hole - so you do not spread the oil into the soil with the soap. When washing, if you can catch the water on plastic bag in bottom of hole to remove or bail out, so much the better. Spreading the oil by mixing with water or soap will just rapidly expand the contaminated area - and of course, turn off automatic sprinklers in the area and cover with plastic in event of rain, too, to stop water driving the oil out further.

Annuals which are significantly affected I would write off for the year.

For favorite plants, I would NOT replant them in the same place - I would remove, wash the roots, then plant in another bed or in pots, and try inexpensive new plants you do not care as much about in that part of the bed (mark it out) for a couple of years, in case residual oil or the soap inhibits/damages their growth.

Personally, assuming a quart or more (like a whole oil change pan spilled by accident - or a ticked off neighbor) - I would remove or bare root all affected plants, then dig out the entire contaminated area. I would dig out all the contaminated dirt you can find - start at the outside (contact edge) of the spill area and dig a moat around the contaminated soil ASAP - easier to visually distinguish oiled from unoiled soil that way before you spread dirt around digging the center out. Work around in a circle - perimeter first (digging towards center so the contamination does not get spread around), maybe in 4-6 inch deep passes till you bottom out the contaminated area. Once you think you have it all, shave a bit more dirt off the inside of the hole and feel with hands to see if oily, and smell it - toss and expand the perimeter if either of the above. Depending on how much got in there, you might have to remove maybe (for typical garden soil) maybe a couple of 5 gallon bucket worths of soil per quart of oil.

If leaving any roots in there and bare rooting them as you excavate the contaminated soil, be sure to bail out the soapy water and dig out a few more inches of soil to get the soap level down before starting to replant - if you have the abilitiy and room, I would overdig by at least 3-4 inches all around the sides ofthe hole, and 6-12 inches below the deepest contamination to get the oily/soapy contamination as much as possible.

On soaping the roots off - quick wash and rinse, not soaking - that can kill the rhizomes and root hairs, preventing the roots from functioning once they are embedded in good dirt. And remember - pack the dirt firmly but not "hard" around the roots to give them good soil contact, preferably use a good potting or gardening planting mix to put them in to give best chance for revival, and soak with water deeply once the dirt is in the hole.

Oily soil disposal - check your local solid waste disposal company/utility website. Normally, up to about 50# total of contaminated soil can be put in a sealed container in your trash can - other landfills have specific landfilldump locations for oil contaminated soil - usually free in small quantities for homeowners - larger quantities commonly from about $$0.10-$1/lb for disposal. (Large quantities are usually processed in an incinerator, or if sand or gravel (as opposed to topsoil) used in making asphalt paving.

Answered 2 years ago by LCD

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