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View Full Version : Major Lawn Renovation... questions


Whitey4
12-17-2007, 09:01 PM
Problem: A lawn that is 60 to 70% weeds, and has a 6 foot wide strip of soil that is so poor it will not support grass.

Background info: Quite a few years ago my service area installed sewers and made cesspools illegal. The sewer pipe contractors dug ditches about 6' deep, and didn't keep the top soil in a separate pile, they just dumped the top soil and clay and sand back in over the pipe. This soil does not hold any moisture at all.

Specifics: A lawn that has thatch so thick water just runs off. A six foot wide, 50 foot long patch of untenable soil. The owner wants a complete renovation.

I know I have to excavate at least six" of soil from the sewer line area and bring in some compost and top soil. I will have to cart off about 2 yards of trash fill just doing this. My P/U can handle that with two trips. Now to my questions:

Can I just rototill the heck out of this lawn, level it, and bring in some compost and soil and seed? I do have a rototiller, but anything else would have to be rented. I am reluctant to rent a sod cutter, they are beasts to use and the cost of dumping would be very high... I'd have to rent a dump as well. That would cut labor down a lot, but is still a much more expensive way to go for me.

The owner will pay, but if I can bring it in at a reasonable price, I have another 3 jobs just like it that I can get. I've done some new construction stuff, but never a renovation like this. It's really about how best to remove the old sod/weeds.

I'm a solo guy, but have two friends that I can subcontract with. They have their own businesses. Keeping in mind I'd prefer to do more labor with my rototiller, I realize that may not work here. In any case, some excavation has to be done. Any suggestions/advice would be very much appreciated.

ICT Bill
12-18-2007, 10:45 AM
I will make the assumption that where you are in NY the soil is pretty rocky.

Rocks are going to drive you crazy, if you have a bobcat rent a rockhound. You can glide over the area a couple of time and it removes all the larger (1" and above) rocks very quickly.
I don't know if they have the same kind of attachment for Dingo's (if you have to get in a fence gate the bob cat won't fit)

Thatch is a sign of no microbial action in the soil so compost instead of top soil is a good choice

Good soil is 3 to 5% organic matter, great soil is 5 to 7% OM, I have seen up to 19% OM in soil but it depends on the climate whether it will cause more problems than its worth that high.

Kiril
12-18-2007, 12:40 PM
Perhaps consider trying to work on improving the soil that is there instead of replacing it. It will take longer but will be far easier and cheaper.

Whitey4
12-18-2007, 06:34 PM
Thanks for the replies.

I'm on Long Island, not upstate, and LI was basically the rubble pushed down from the last glaciers before they retreated. The North Shore is rocky, but not my territory. We have rocks, but nothing bigger than your fist, and few even that large.

Yes, there are few earthworms in this yard. Not much organic matter. I was thinking a 3 to 1 compost to top soil mix. Do you think I can get away with just excavating the area above the sewer installation, and just rototilling the rest? Then after leveling, some top dressing? I'm thinking I can put that thatch to good use once I've roto'd it enough... it will eventually decompsoe on it's own.

I have no doubt I need to excavate 6" deep, 5 to 6' wide, about 50' long where that sewer pipe was installed. It is really trash fill, and just won't support a lawn, of that I am sure.... I've seen people try to bandaid it... never works. I'll also have to hand dig around a dogwood tree, if I roto the roots... not good.

I also would greatly prefer to do this and seed in the fall, but the customer wants it done in the spring. More weeds to fend off, but it is what it is. His previous landscaper had two years to fix it without a renovation... he aerated, did it right, but it didn't work. The customer is willing to pay, but a sod job is too expensive for him.

Any more suggestions are most welcome!

Drew Gemma
12-18-2007, 06:59 PM
rock hounding through sod or green turf is a pain.

first take the top 10 inches of the clay out
Second fill in with tops soil
round up the entire rest of the area
Only till or disturb areas that need leveled.
then slice seed and fert or topress as required get a soil test to figure that out for you.

With out seeing the site that is the best plan we have done this more than i care to remember.

ICT Bill
12-18-2007, 07:40 PM
Whitey4
Sounds like you have the makings of a plan. If you are going to have to move a lot of soil around to get the small hills out and move rocks by all means rototil compost into the top 5 or 6 inches. Its too bad it wasn't done in the fall, spring is usually so wet and wet soil compacts badly.

Around here if we have to regrade the existing soil we use a rockhound (after the turf is removed), it leaves a really nice finished grade with no rocks and all fluffy. They go down 4 or 5 inches. We then throw down 2 or 3 inches of compost and til it in. Definately turn the thatch into the soil.

maybe you could talk them into mulching around the dogwood, in time that would be a better answer, it certainly would be better for the roots. Turf and trees steal water and nutrients from each other. I say mulch to the drip line and turf up to it

Whats the plan for seed? hydro-seed, slice seed, seed and straw

Whitey4
12-18-2007, 09:51 PM
Whitey4
Sounds like you have the makings of a plan. If you are going to have to move a lot of soil around to get the small hills out and move rocks by all means rototil compost into the top 5 or 6 inches. Its too bad it wasn't done in the fall, spring is usually so wet and wet soil compacts badly.

Around here if we have to regrade the existing soil we use a rockhound (after the turf is removed), it leaves a really nice finished grade with no rocks and all fluffy. They go down 4 or 5 inches. We then throw down 2 or 3 inches of compost and til it in. Definately turn the thatch into the soil.

maybe you could talk them into mulching around the dogwood, in time that would be a better answer, it certainly would be better for the roots. Turf and trees steal water and nutrients from each other. I say mulch to the drip line and turf up to it

Whats the plan for seed? hydro-seed, slice seed, seed and straw

This is pretty much what I think I will do. I will probably go deeper than 6" when I excavate over the sewer line. Then there is a depression where the old cesspool was, so that is about 40% of the lawn. I can sense that this customer wants a uniform lawn... right now it's a bizarre mix of grasses and sedges along with every imaginable weed. I will seed and straw the thing. Blue and fescue... no rye.

The tree is a bit of a pain in the butt... it's old and on it's way to the chipper in two or three, four years at best. I may propose a bordered flower garden around it, warning the customer that this will likely accelerate it's eventual demise.... maybe he will elect to remove it now, I hope. Mushrooms are growing around it, and it has a lot of dead growth. It was a pretty tree...once. Some hostas, impatiens and astilbe would work there. Maybe some lower light ornamental grasses.

I think I'll work the quote up this way. There are three neighbors that I might get nearby, same sort of job. For that I would do all three at the same time, and rent bigger machines and a dump for the trash fill. So, I want this one to be profitable and be a quality job, even more than usual.

Thanks all for the welcomed suggestions and help!

Drew Gemma
12-18-2007, 11:52 PM
Blue and rye I hope use fescue for shade rye is a must in your area fescue in full sun turns into thatch

Whitey4
12-19-2007, 12:33 AM
Blue and rye I hope use fescue for shade rye is a must in your area fescue in full sun turns into thatch

Yeah, I would spread a mix of 80% fescue and 20% blue directly under the tree, and 70% blue, 30% fescue on the rest. It's a small lawn, maybe 80X 60, so the tree shades almost all parts of the lawn at some point during the day. Rye will come up faster than either blue or fescue, and usually chokes them out as a superior competitor. I might add something like 10% rye, but no more. Probably Victa Blue and tall fescue, which are much slower to germinate than any of the rye grasses.

Kiril
12-19-2007, 10:43 AM
Sounds like a no win situation and no easy way out. Your plan sounds solid, 6" out, till the new stuff in to 10-12". I also agree you should take the tree out now if it is coming out in the next few years anyhow.

Out in these parts I use a 80-20 or 90-10 fescue-blue in full sun and shade -> no problems with thatch.

turfnh2oman
12-20-2007, 07:04 AM
Rocky and extra hard soils - use Bobcat / Rock hound as you stated.

Gravelly type soils - try Dingo's Soil Cultivator attachment. Makes the most beautiful seedbed you ever saw. It's a 4 step process contained in one machine and it works like no other. Word to wise: if set on it's feet / level it will till and prep 4" depth and make "fluffy". A little too "fluffy" for turf jobs. I drilled 3 adjustment holes in the side plate and fabricated 2 shoes like the ones that are on there to adjust the height and/or depth of prep and it works great set at 2" instead of 4". Works great ! You can pick up a demo for about $2 - 4,k if you can find one.


I will make the assumption that where you are in NY the soil is pretty rocky.

Rocks are going to drive you crazy, if you have a bobcat rent a rockhound. You can glide over the area a couple of time and it removes all the larger (1" and above) rocks very quickly.
I don't know if they have the same kind of attachment for Dingo's (if you have to get in a fence gate the bob cat won't fit)

Thatch is a sign of no microbial action in the soil so compost instead of top soil is a good choice

Good soil is 3 to 5% organic matter, great soil is 5 to 7% OM, I have seen up to 19% OM in soil but it depends on the climate whether it will cause more problems than its worth that high.

Whitey4
01-10-2008, 06:30 PM
I was at a local supply house today, big turf oriented outfit. I was looking at the hydro seeders, but had a problem. I am a small operation with postage stamp sized properties. I have a small open trailer and a Chevy S10 pickup with a 8 foot bed, with cap. No way I can tow a hydro seeder, and don't want to take the cap off. I thought straw would have to be my solution.

At this place, All Pro Horticulture, they have dry compostable matts... like dry hydro seeding if you get my drift. Comes in 600 sq foot rolls for about $50 a roll. Perfect for this 1100 sq ' job I have. Fully compostable. They even have some of this stuff with a sort of biodegradable mesh netting for sloped seeding applications. This stuff is PERFECT for what I need. No straw to remove, and it makes a good bird/ erosion/ moisture barrier that I won't have to remove.

Just thought I'd share that, and ask if anyone has experience with this type of material.

turfnh2oman
01-10-2008, 07:48 PM
I have run into this. Have you ever used the mulch pellets that are primarily composed of shredded newspaper and compressed hard like rabbit pellets ? When you seed into them they sit on top of the soil, the seed then germinates into them mainly rather than the soil. When germination occurs the new root shots are fully exposed to the weather and do not go "hunting" for soil and therefore perish. The pellets themselves take a long time to break down as they are compressed so tightly. The seeds that do germinate are usually weak and turf comes out splotchy as a result.

Now as for the mat being an all in one solution. In theory it may be but in my opinion I would have a perfectly tilled and graded seedbed [soil] 2-3inches deep then physically plant or settle the mat into the top 1 inch of soil RATHER THAN lay it only on top for the reasons mentioned above.

Best of luck. I have seen these mats and heard a few things here and there about them. Agronomically, that's what I would do if I HAD to use one, to guarantee it success. Also find out what the seed rate is implanted into those things. Possibly add a little over seeding to them just from a mortality standpoint.

Whitey4
01-10-2008, 08:40 PM
No, this stuff doesn't have any seed in it. You prepare the soil as you normally would, drop the seeds, arke them in a little bit, roll it to get better soil to seed contact, and then just throw this blanket over it like a carpet. The new growth will grow right through it. It breaks up natuarally decomposing in about 3 to 4 weeks. The seed is in the soil, but under this very flimsy thin biodegradable blanket. It is designed to disappear into the soil, but offers some erosion and bird protection, and also helps keep the seed wet.

It's the same thing as using a hydro seeder strictly as a moisture barrier after the soil has been seeded. It is dry, but will look just like you used a pump hydro seeder after watering. It's very flimsy when dry and about 3/8" thick. Water it, and it shrinks to a 16th " or so. It LOOKS like mulch, and it is mulch as far as I can tell, but made to be rolled out and watered. He said grasses will have no problem growing right through it, but the roots will be in the soil.

I trust this guy.... he was the fert contractor for Shea Stadium this year, and has a great rep. He will even spend time with a little guy like me, at least during the off season. He was a turf farmer for 20 years before going into the supply side. He is repped as the best seed guy anywhere around, and knows his stuff. If he thought using a hydro seeder would work better, he would have said so, I believe... more money in it for him if I rent one.

I think it's worth a shot, as my other option is straw. It might be a better weed seed barrier than straw too. The recommended way to use it is as a cover to new seeding, not intergrated into the soil. So, we might be talking about two different things here... I dunno for sure.

turfnh2oman
01-11-2008, 06:19 AM
Apparently, we were talking about 2 different things. My mistake there I guess.

Your second description sounds alot better. More like a biodegradable turf cover and that's cool. Turf covers are great esp. for germination for all of the reasons you listed. Just keep a constant eye out for disease development under there !!