Soil settlement is an issue in gardening as it is in areas such as construction, farming and landscaping. Soil shifts and settles creating hard soil that does not drain well and is difficult to dig in. The settlement of the dirt sometimes makes low places that trap rain water in pools, or if under a structure, causes cracks in the foundation. Settling also causes dirt to move to other locations through erosion, which results in the exposed roots of plants and loss of top soil.
Till the soil once a year when you plant new plants. Tilling breaks up the dirt which might have been pressed down by equipment or foot traffic. Till the soil when it is mostly dry. Wet soil will tend to clump together and will result in compact areas.
Try not to walk over soil that you are attempting to keep loose. In the case of lawns, do not allow vehicles to drive on it. The pressed soil will keep water from soaking in as it does in other areas of the lawn, which might result in brown spots.
Mix in materials such as mulch and dead vegetation. These added nutrients replenish the soil after a growing season and keep soil from bonding together.
Plant vegetation on sloped areas to keep soil from eroding and settling at the bottom of the slope. The roots of the vegetation as well as the vegetation itself holds the dirt in place.
Install drainage ditches or drain pipes to prevent soil settlement in areas. If water has a path to follow, it is less likely to erode land areas.
Create small mounds of soil in between plant rows to keep soil from shifting or settling due to a slope in the field.