Soils give off carbon dioxide, generated by microbes and plant roots, to the atmosphere. How this “soil respiration” (Rs) varies in time, and how it is affected by nearby vegetation, is related to the processes driving it and has implications for how we estimate this flow of carbon across space and time. We measured _R_S in a coastal deciduous forest in Maryland, USA, and found that the variability of Rs–how much it changed between successive measurements—varied at the different time scales, and was more temperature-sensitive close to large trees. These results help us understand the factors driving this large flow of carbon to the atmosphere and improve our ability to estimate Rs at times and places not directly measured. This dataset consists of the continuous (automated) and manual (survey) measurements made of Rs at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, MD, USA.