View Full Version : How to improve my soil

09-25-2007, 04:28 PM
Hi! I'm trying to improve my lawn, and I think my soil has a great deal to do with my lawn's many bare and thin spots. I have one area that is just gorgeous -- nice, thick, green bermuda. I have other spots that are a mixture of bermuda and fescue (mainly in shady areas) and other spots still that are so bare that when you look at the grown, there is only a little sprig of grass every inch or so. I live in north Alabama, where there is lots of red dirt. It's not clay, per se, at least not the sticky, malleable stuff I was used to growing up in Georgia -- the stuff you could literally form into a shape and stick in the kiln with barely any preparation! However, it's red, dry, and very very compacted, and as such, nothing will grow there. What can I add to the soil or do to it to make grass grow there (add sand, topsoil?), and can I do it this fall, or must I wait until spring?

09-26-2007, 12:03 AM
Visit your local ag center and bring a soil sample with you...

09-26-2007, 12:14 AM
:( I was really hoping there would be something very general you could tell me. At least tell me, will I have to pay for tests?

09-26-2007, 12:26 AM
Your local ag extension office of the state university offers soil tests for free or minimal charge.

Regardless of analysis, there are a few fundamentals that can be predicted.

There are few soil structures that would NOT benefit from the addition of organic matter and aeration. That you can do easily, without professional help (unless you want it), and without breaking the bank -- though it isn't exactly cheap.

Core aerate the yard and topdress with about 1/4 inch of compost. You'll be amazed at how quickly the grass will respond.

I would do that right away, if I were in your shoes. Then, let that work into your soil over the winter, get an analysis in February and start the recommended program in March.

09-26-2007, 08:22 AM
Just work in a bunch of sand along with OM into at least a part of the lawn and see if it doesn't work. Don't skimp on the OM because that is what will keep the lawn going until your soil structure settles as a loam.
As an experiment I topdressed a 5 gallon pail of mason sand over a 4x4 area of grass on clay. No OM just watered and overseeded the blank spots in early July. This is the area where I sit so I didn't want compaction to be a problem. It works fine, so try any size area to convince yourself. Good luck.

09-26-2007, 04:51 PM
Thank you very much! I'll try that.

09-27-2007, 08:39 AM
The topdressing of sand is also better with OM and will not get that deep.
Tilling it in with OM will give the better tilth throughout the root zone.
If you would, post your observations and ideas after you have played around with it.

09-27-2007, 10:31 AM
All of the above are good ideas. Sounds like anything will help. Sand, Org. matter are the two best amendments for your situation. Topsoil, the more the merrier.
As for fertility requirements, go the soil test route.

Liberty Lawn & Landscape
09-28-2007, 10:47 PM
Hey Erinspice,
Everything the guys have told you so far is the way to go. I was just going to share my own experience. When I bought my house a couple of years ago, I got a load of compost to top-dress my lawn with, because I knew that the only topsoil in the yard was what came with the sod. I live in Georgia, the land of red clay. First I aerated, then top-dressed with compost, and then aerated again. I followed up later with sand. My grass, Bermuda in front & Zoyzia in back grew like mad. I notice a decreased need to water by about 25% and fertilizer by 50%. The grass is so thick I've put down only a minuscule amount of herbicide. The yard was fairly weedy the first year. Good luck.:usflag:

09-29-2007, 12:32 AM
Thanks! I'm starting off with no grass at all in about 20% of the yard, so I'm doing compost and sand at the same time, tilling it in, and seeding with the most expensive shade mixture I could find. I'm not looking forward to receiving this month's water bill!

09-29-2007, 03:51 AM
Do not waist your cash on a soil test it is clear you need amendment. amend the area with high quality topsoil then you can spend the cash on a test. and go from their if you choose to.

till in high quality topsoil, topsoil topsoil topsoil did I say topsoil?

09-29-2007, 11:31 AM
So I need to use all three? Topsoil, compost, and sand? What does topsoil add that the others dont?

09-29-2007, 11:51 AM
Either topsoil or compost/sand. BTW, it is worth getting a soil test, and it is not going to break the bank either. :)

09-29-2007, 02:06 PM
Either topsoil or compost/sand. BTW, it is worth getting a soil test, and it is not going to break the bank either. :)

ya your right, I only suggested a test after amending the soil becouse amendment is what is needed right at this moment he doesent need a test to know that. so he gets the test now and is told to amend so he ammends, now the composition has changed so who knows where the soil stands after amendment, so you test the soil again. I was trying to save him time.

09-29-2007, 02:25 PM
So I need to use all three? Topsoil, compost, and sand? What does topsoil add that the others dont?

Topsoil is considered the overall body and composition of the soil, compost although similar to topsoil, usually has a higher percentage of micro nutrients and has a more active biological environment, important to have . sand helps aerate the soil encourages moisture transfer and breaks the bonds of your heavy red clay soils. you might want to defer to the other posters hear with warm season grass experience. most of my experience is with cool season grasses like ttfescues and blue grasses

09-29-2007, 11:28 PM
When you first start mixing things together a soil test really has nothing to relate to. Your sample may have the old clay a 60 % or the new topsoil at 60%or the sand at 60%.
You will certainly get different results if the sample has a majority of the old clay or sand than a sample that contains alot of compost.
By next season your soil should homogenize a little better to give a little better representation of what your grass roots will be encountering.
Your water requirements should not be as bad as a month ago. Once you have soaked in the seed , just maintaining the moisture in the top half inch is all you need to concern yourself with. Dew and fog up here barely let us mow before 10AM :)
Remember to keep us up to date on how the growth compares to what you have established.