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View Full Version : Help with a TN clay nightmare..


zanemoseley
06-26-2009, 09:58 PM
We got good deal on 2 acres in Cookeville Tn and have built a house. My contractor's brother has a landscaping service (doesn't specialize in mowing ect) and did the our yard. He used a Harley rake to prep the soil although it is very much clay comprised, there was some top soil but we had to do so much grading and land work it all but disappeared. It has been about 3 1/2 months since seeding fescue and our yard is pretty much horrible, the back is a slope so in heavy rains water runs around the house and has created bad erosion. The seeds sprouted after about 2-3 weeks and had some initial growth but quickly stalled. It hasn't provided enough ground cover and now my yard is extremely pitted/channeled as you can see in the pictures. I'm afraid its to the point where fertilizing and overseeding this Fall would only help at growing a bumpy mess of a yard.

I have spoken with the contractor and explained that I didn't feel that the effort they put forth and their approach has produced a sufficient "base" for my yard. We have a 1 yr warranty and I believe he is going to work with us to make it right. He is coming over next week with more of a lawn specialist to discuss options. I would like to get everyone's input here to see what I should expect as well as to avoid being led down the wrong path.

What I plan to propose to him is that he provide all the labor and materials that have already been paid by myself in the first attempt. I will offer to pay any additional expenses not encountered initially such as fertilizer, top soil ect... Their initial try was basically raking, seeding and blowing hay.

So what are your thoughts. The front yard has more of a gentle slope where the back is pretty severe in spots. The pictures only show parts of the yard but give an idea of what I have to work with. The one picture was right before seeding.

THANKS!

http://i6.photobucket.com/albums/y218/zanemoseley/Front-1.jpg

http://i6.photobucket.com/albums/y218/zanemoseley/Back-1.jpg

http://i6.photobucket.com/albums/y218/zanemoseley/harleyraketilledyard.jpg

ICT Bill
06-26-2009, 10:29 PM
You will have to put up with it until it gets cooler for sure, any seed or sod this time of year will be difficult to keep alive
Find a local hydroseeder that has a good source of compost, ask him to use 1/8 inch minus screened compost, 1 yard per 750 gallons with the mix

that clay will be rock in a few weeks as it dries up. It gets too complicated to explain on here you can call if you like. We work around these things all of time and I can give you some very simple and inexpensive ways to help with success

Bill: 410-997-5450

zanemoseley
06-26-2009, 10:43 PM
I forgot to mention, we're just kind of throwing ideas around now. I hope to get them out late September or so to do the work.

Never heard of hydroseeding, looks interesting though.

Thanks for the offer to chat, I may call you next week.

Think Green
06-27-2009, 12:11 AM
Zane,
That is quite a large property and a steep sloping lawn to seed in the beginning.
There are professional hydroseeding products and applicator's out there, but I can't help but wonder why you didn't want to sod the lawn and be done with the whole thing.
I didn't see how far over into Tennessee you are, but here sod isn't that expensive to purchase, it is the labor that is expensive.
I agree with ICT on the fact that the clayic soils will turn into brickette's after the heat sets in, and those natural water channels are going to get worse. There isn't much you can do other than to terrace the lawn into sections to slow that water down. As a matter of fact, I would look into terracing that lawn give a real nice curb appeal to it.
In our golf course communities, large lots like this are sodded and terraced because of the watering and drainage issues.

zanemoseley
06-27-2009, 09:27 AM
I will check out sod, I guess I always just thought is was too expensive for so much land. Honestly I could probably have them do the labor and me just pay for the sod. Honestly I feel that if I could get some grass to come up fairly quickly to provide cover there is only 1 trouble spot that I will have to battle over time and I may end up having to put a decorative water channel in for that.

zanemoseley
06-27-2009, 10:55 AM
My contractor said that he gets sod for $65/450ft which even if I only counted on 1.5 acres due to the house and non grass sections is like $9,000 assuming he'll cover labor and grading which to say the least is more than I want to spend. I may consider some long rolls of sod to go on the slope in the back yard to control erosion.

Think Green
06-27-2009, 05:05 PM
Zane,
After my brain cooled down from a week long of trimming.
Consider using Bermuda sod and reverting back to the old time of sprigging that acreage.
Use 3 pieces of bermuda per square foot leaving spaces between the sprigs. Fertilize with 13/13/13 and roll it down afterwareds. Water daily until established.

zanemoseley
06-27-2009, 05:42 PM
Sprigging also looks interesting. Are you recommending machine or hand sprigging, the hand method seems like it would take forever. Is machine sprigging common in most areas? How much square footage of sod is used to sprig? Can I assume that sprigging provides erosion control quicker than seeding at a reduced price compared to sod? I appreciate the help. I'm also going to get a soil test done soon.

Think Green
06-27-2009, 08:38 PM
Zane,
Years ago, stolonizing was done around my area, as the cost of sod was astronomical. The turfgrass had to be ordered and brought in from afar. Now the Bermuda and Zoysia's are grown within 25 miles of our city. We would take a piece of sod and break it into small 3 inch squares and store them into a wheelbarrow. Then we would take the pieces and walk to the designated spots and just drop them into place. The site was prepared and or graded with top soil--sandy loam--silt loam material for quicker rooting for our clayic soils. The top soil had to be 3+ inches for the sprigs to take root. We did not insert plug the bermuda nor did we have to insert the stolons into the soil as you would for the Zoysia species. All we do is break the sod into squares and throw it onto the ground, fertilize and roll it. Water daily until new growth starts to show. Mow after the sprigs are 4-5 inches tall. Bermuda is vigorous and will spread quicker than zoysia-- 10 fold.
The cost for sprigging is far less compared to an instant lawn. Seeding isn't a bad thing if done correctly. We seed lawns occassionally here as sod is a quicker way to go. The seed is fertilized and covered with straw afterwards. The straw will give you unwanted weeds but the erosion effects are reduced as well as seed loss from drying and birds.
I don't want to mislead you in your figures, but after you achieve your total square footage, then divide that by 9 of course to get your square yards needed. The number of square yards of sod then can be reduced by 40%. Bermuda will last a couple weeks on the pallet unlike zoysia. Otherwise, you will have to get the stuff off quickly. Keep the pallets in a shaded area until ripping them into pieces. Do not water the pallets or it will cause quicker death of the sod. The farther into the pallet you go, usually the sod will get thinner and not as nice looking.
The soil test will tell you what is lacking as far as the nutrients or the pH.......I am not sure if Tennessee uses the Melich 3 process. IF that lawn needs liming........as it probably does, you can do it at any time, just do it in stages of twice per season at half rates each time.
You need to see what you have privey to in the field of plastic meshing to hold down the erosion on those intense slopes. Seeding and straw will keep in place better, but an added mesh fabric will help immensely. The fabric is similar to the material used in orchard's to keep the birds off the trees. The square shaped web helps hold the seed-soil-straw in place. Steep slopes will be hard to deal with otherwise, unless some terracing is done to slow down the sediment in the event of what I call---TURD FLOATING rains.
I wish you all the best of luck............Dont give up!

greendoctor
06-28-2009, 04:37 AM
If irrigation is available, another way to establish this kind of area is by broadcasting stolons of bermuda or zoysia, then shooting hydromulch over them. Soil prep prior to doing this and the aftercare is critical. Once the stolons are down and hydromulched, you are looking at 4 10 minute waterings per day until the grass takes root and starts growing from the stolons.

greendoctor
06-28-2009, 04:40 AM
Hey, that looks like the red clay I frequently deal with here in Hawaii. Get a soil test done. Pay attention to the calcium and magnesium levels and ratio. Low calcium and high magnesium turn red clay into red grease. Slippery and sticky when wet, but hard to get water to penetrate into it.

marthanmike1959
06-28-2009, 08:47 AM
Shout out to Zane,hey i live in Cookeville.I live out east of town off hwy 70

zanemoseley
06-28-2009, 04:39 PM
Shout out to Zane,hey i live in Cookeville.I live out east of town off hwy 70

We're SE off 111 and Old Sparta Rd.

zanemoseley
07-03-2009, 12:17 PM
So let me ask you guys this, do you think adding a layer of topsoil is totally necessary? I would love to add some but with this kind of coverage it would cost a fortune. Even if I just calculate on 1.5 acres, $150 per 16 yards would cost me $1800 per inch of top soil, that doesn't include labor to spread which the contractor would help out on, that's also not even the best top soil its the cheaper non-screened type.

Do you think re-tilling, using a rock hound for rock removal, liming, fertilizing, seeding and covering heavy slopes with netting would be sufficient or will I be repeating my previous failure. One thing that sucks is that the lime would take up to 6 months to work properly. Can I apply it now with a broadcast spreader to get a few months before seeding or is it much more effective if worked into the soil?

hotshot4819
07-04-2009, 12:20 PM
check into Sol-u-cal lime.
its a pretty fast realising lime that will help out faster then 6 months

also. i wouldnt consider rototiling up that yard. your asking for an invasion of weeds of you do that. i would simply suck the cost of the loam up. 3-4 inches. find a hydroseeder in your area that uses a good product and stay away from hay.

You are talking 1.5 acres, you should have known getting into this house that this yard would cost you a big dollar..

Consider the fallowing fertilizer expenses to keep this lawn up to par over the next several years.

Kiril
07-04-2009, 12:27 PM
Till in LOTS of compost to a 12" depth and whatever other amendments you might need, then hydroseed with compost.

RigglePLC
07-04-2009, 05:24 PM
Have patience, you will have plenty of grass soon. I would skip the compost on an area this large. Reseed the washouts and recontour as needed. Apply straw retained with mesh---or hydroseed mix stuck together with tackifier to protect the new seed. Try to reduce the water flow during storms. Put in temporary drain pipes to carry off the downspout water. Then just apply plenty of premium quality slow release fertilizer, about once per month for new grass--until the dirt is fully covered with grass--then cut back on the nitrogen. Weeds will probably be a problem. Plan on weed spray after about two mowings.

Kiril
07-04-2009, 05:50 PM
Have patience, you will have plenty of grass soon. I would skip the compost on an area this large

Yup, skip it if you want to continue having problems. Not only can compost be used to significantly reduce erosion, but the good it will do to that soil structure and successful turf establishment is nearly immeasurable.

Why is it people never have enough money or time to do something right the first time, but always have the money and time to fix it when they realize they should not have skimped?

zanemoseley
07-05-2009, 01:33 PM
I appreciate the advice. I'm sure its much easier for some of you to sit back and push the $10k+ worth of topsoil/compost plus all the other expenses but when you're actually the one paying the bill its a bit tougher to swallow. I'm sure it would do wonders but that's a whole lot of money especially for this area and after building a house. To be honest, this is the first new lawn I've established and would never have guessed you could dump this much money into it. The large portion of the front yard that is doing to worst is about 15,000 sqft, I could put 3" of topsoil on that for about $1400 which may be an option. I've got two people now coming out in the next couple weeks, I'll let you know what they suggest.

greendoctor
07-05-2009, 04:23 PM
Whatever you do, do not bring in any "topsoil" into the yard. What is commonly called topsoil in areas known for clay soil is more clay. I would spend every last cent I had on some kind of straight organic matter. I would also want the results of a detailed soil test so that I could correct the Ca/Mg balance and any other nutritional issues while the soil is open and not covered by grass. In my area, many lawns and landscapes have been ruined by topsoil. On the other hand, when 3-4" inches of compost was used as the growing media, the lawn was a showpiece. I speak from many years of dealing with red clay that correcting as much as possible before the grass goes down is less costly than trying to get grass to grow on unamended red clay.

zanemoseley
07-17-2009, 12:45 AM
Ok guys, I got in the soil test and am wondering what you think.

PH: 6.2
P: 8 (Low)
K 80 (Low)
Ca: 870 (Sufficient)
Mg: 170 (Sufficient)

They are recommending that I do NOT need lime at this time and are basically stating to use a starter fertilizer and have high/mid/low maintenance schedules listed for the next couple of years.

Does this test tell you guys anything that might help me. Based on the numbers do you think grass will grow if fertilized properly?

I had a couple nice LCO's look at my lot this week. I've come to the conclusion that I need to run all the gutters to the road as well as put in some drainage for the back yard to dump into the ditch by the road. One guy has suggested just going with about 1" of top soil, fertilize, reseed and straw the yard.

Kiril
07-17-2009, 10:03 AM
Ok guys, I got in the soil test and am wondering what you think.

PH: 6.2
P: 8 (Low)
K 80 (Low)
Ca: 870 (Sufficient)
Mg: 170 (Sufficient)

They are recommending that I do NOT need lime at this time and are basically stating to use a starter fertilizer and have high/mid/low maintenance schedules listed for the next couple of years.

Does this test tell you guys anything that might help me. Based on the numbers do you think grass will grow if fertilized properly?

I had a couple nice LCO's look at my lot this week. I've come to the conclusion that I need to run all the gutters to the road as well as put in some drainage for the back yard to dump into the ditch by the road. One guy has suggested just going with about 1" of top soil, fertilize, reseed and straw the yard.

Would have to see the actual test and know the lab you used to really say anything here. I do agree you need to deal with your drainage somehow, whether it be draining it to the road, a dry well, or a swale.

Ramairfreak98ss
08-30-2009, 12:38 AM
Till in LOTS of compost to a 12" depth and whatever other amendments you might need, then hydroseed with compost.

yeah id agree, a big lot will cost big dollars...

Id till in a lot of compost, or manure or low grade top soil. forget about surface rocks, most get tilled in anyway and youd want a nice top soil on top

But your right, youd spend big $$$ on supplies to till, a landscape company to do the work, and then to rake/grade out a few inches of top soil and then seed.

Id still say hydroseed the whole place or at least the areas on the slopes, yet youd have a different look between the areas with the hydro and normal broadcast seeding.

we have massive amounts of clay in central nj, only way is sod, top soils and doing what you'd have to do there minus the big slopes.

i see people with 6yr old sod, you can still peal it right up when wet because its a hard block of slimy clay underneath 2-3" down :/

AmGreen
08-30-2009, 10:13 PM
I think your initial problem was the the time that you seeded. It's tough if not impossible to get Fescue to establish in May/June and make it through the summer (I'm guessing the climate isn't much different then here, unless you're in the mountains). I would suggest trying again this fall, if not within the next 15 days to re-seed everything and see what happens. I think once you get the grass to establish, the water won't be much of an issue. I would consider greatly installing irrigation to help out (I'm guessing there is none due to the hose across the yard). The idea of putting out sprigs (plugging was suggested), would work much better if you have irrigation. Applying N every 2 weeks will have you a full lush lawn in 6-8 weeks.

greendoctor
08-30-2009, 10:33 PM
yeah id agree, a big lot will cost big dollars...

Id till in a lot of compost, or manure or low grade top soil. forget about surface rocks, most get tilled in anyway and youd want a nice top soil on top

But your right, youd spend big $$$ on supplies to till, a landscape company to do the work, and then to rake/grade out a few inches of top soil and then seed.

Id still say hydroseed the whole place or at least the areas on the slopes, yet youd have a different look between the areas with the hydro and normal broadcast seeding.

we have massive amounts of clay in central nj, only way is sod, top soils and doing what you'd have to do there minus the big slopes.

i see people with 6yr old sod, you can still peal it right up when wet because its a hard block of slimy clay underneath 2-3" down :/

I have seen that here as well. Sometimes the block of clay is from the "topsoil" the "landscaper" brought in instead of properly amending the existing soil with tillage, incorporation of organic matter, correction of soil chemistry and drainage.

piste
09-01-2009, 11:11 AM
You got lots of options on the grass as posted above but that's not at all what you need to focus on. You are in a position many wished they were in...in that you have an opportunity to set yourself up for many years of a reduced maintenance and disease/drought resistant lawn. How? Deal with the clay now. Don't, and you will live to regret it and spend multiples of what it will cost to deal with it now. You got a few posts in here from folks who obviously know what they are talking about. I've been through this twice...once with a lawn I inherited and with my current lawn after being BS'ed by a "lawn guy" who turns out knew nothing about lawns. Short answer...turn the clay/soil and work in some compost...at least 6 inches down. Then I'd add at least 2" but 4" is better of top soil on top of that. Seems like a big nut $$$ to swallow now...but sell a kid if you need to as you'll spend much MUCH more trying to correct for the clay after the fact...using gypsum, multiple aerations per year.....you'll work harder over the years, spend more money, only to have a poorer looking lawn....until many years from now when all your corrections finally take hold. Good luck. These are indeed...words from the wise....ignore at your own regret...and believe me...you will regret.