View Full Version : What would work for sandy soils?

CSRA Landscaping
10-29-2003, 12:08 AM
We have a lot of yards in this area that are thin and get scorched in the summer time due to the amount of sand in them ... I've been toying with the notion of offering some sort of service to help correct this. Here's what I'm wondering:

Would a humic acid alone do well?

Would topdressing alone do well? (And what formulation?)

Or would it be a combo of these two?

... or something else?

Bear in mind that what would be the ideal thing would be to get a service that gets great results with low costs but any views are welcome ... if you need to, you can PM or e-mail me if you have info that you don't want just anybody to have.

Thanks in advance.

10-29-2003, 07:58 AM
You can improve the water holding capacities in sandy soils by adding organic matter. This could be accomplished by topdressing with OM after aeration. This isn't a one time cure, as it will take many applications over time to achieve the desired results.

CSRA Landscaping
10-29-2003, 10:52 AM
What about sustane or milorganite? I've heard folks saying they've gotten good results with these.

10-29-2003, 09:11 PM
Probably the best way to fix the problem would be to till in a LOT of compost. I mean like dumping about 3 inches on and tilling it in to 6 inches or so. Of course that is truckoads of compost even on a small lawn and would be a big project. If the grass happened to be bermuda (or maybe some other types?) it could just be tilled in and should grow back quickly. Otherwise it would have to be reseeded. And this also depends on availability of compost. Here you can get it free from the city (whenever they release it a few times a year). But it really needs to be screened since it has a lot of wood in it. Some cities screen theirs. If none is availabe, then other types of organic matter could be used, but they would probably have to be purchased by the bag, or bulk sources hunted down.

While this would be the "best way", it would be cost-prohibitive for most people. The next best thing would be to top-dress with organic matter, such as compost. Which would need to be done a little bit at a time for many years. Hopefully earthworms would be helping to integrate in into the soil. The idea of applying OM after aerating is also a good way to gradually get it worked in deeper.

As far as the cost though, you can look at the cost of the one-time fix (tilling in LOTS of organic matter) versus top-dressing many times. And also factoring in the cost of watering sand versus watering a soil rich in OM, which will retain water much longer. And also factor in the health of the lawn and the reduced need to reseed or otherwise baby the scorched grasss.

But of course it is not easy to convince people.....

The soil is always STEP ONE. And everyone always skips it.

10-29-2003, 10:52 PM
Originally posted by CSRA Landscaping
What about sustane or milorganite? I've heard folks saying they've gotten good results with these. They are both good sources of OM.

10-30-2003, 12:18 AM
Compost is partially decayed organic matter. To till in a truckload of compost will net you probably a few cups of organic matter within 2-4 years. Compost is a great way to enhance the vegetable garden, or the annual beds, but is a poor way to try to enhance soil for turf growth.

If one has a chance to start a lawn from scratch in a sandy medium, the best addition is finely ground, aged wood chips. Green wood can be used, but care must be taken to add enough nitrogen to initiate decay and not rob N from the new turf you are trying to grow.

Wood is composed mostly of lignin. The microscopic structure of lignin is basically hollow open-ended tubes, and lignin takes a very long time to decay. By using woody material to enrich a lawn area, you will create a prime environment for turf growth in any soil. The OM within lignin tubules will decay, providing food for microscopic root hairs of the grass. After using up this food, the root hair dies, and soil microbes consume that dead OM of the root hair. Then the dying microbes provide food for more root hairs. A simple cycle of life is established, and will be continued because as the original lignin is being eventually decayed, it is being replaced by the lignin of the dying roots and stems of the actively growing turfgrass.

A lawn I built in a pure sand subdivision in this manner 11 years ago still stands out from other lawns on the block.

Green in Idaho
10-30-2003, 12:21 AM
"they get scorched during the summertime due to the amount of sand"

It's not exactly the amount of the sand, but rather the sand (quick drain soil) requires the irrigations right?

Instead of trying to change the soil profile I would try to alter the other practices in the turf.

1) Mow long height if possible due to the grass species
2) If the grass type does not allow tall mowing consider new grass type.
3) More more frequently.

As a last resort I have seen a new method of plug a turf with polymers that act as water retentions molecules... the guy posted on here a couple times... I'll see if I can find it....

Green in Idaho
10-30-2003, 12:25 AM
Not exactly organic but


The side would be that by compromise here it may allow a fullfilled organic program in the other areas of lawn care.

They do have one branch office here in my area, but I NOT affiliated with them and have no first hand experience with it. The locations are a coincidence.

10-30-2003, 08:24 AM
Originally posted by GroundKprs
Compost is a great way to enhance the vegetable garden, or the annual beds, but is a poor way to try to enhance soil for turf growth.

Gee Jim, generally I agree with your views on turf, but I think you are a little off base on this one. CSRA was asking about growing grass in sandy soil. The first thing that would come to my mind is the water holding capacity of the sand to support turf growth. Grass can be grown on pure sand soils without modification. Golf course greens are an example. The limiting factor would be water. By introducing compost, you will be adding to the water holding capacity of a sand based soil (although I will agree that wood chips will accomplish the same result). More and more courses are going to a 90/10 or 80/20 topdressing mix to address water holding capacity of sand based soil in light of recent water restrictions throughout the country. Anyways, I always enjoy your comments regarding turf. Your assessments are generally right on the money.

10-30-2003, 09:55 AM
Mike, I was referring to the suggestion to till in compost in a renovation mode. Adding compost will function as a regular maintenance on sand, but the wood chips are a one time long term alternative when renovating a sand based ornamental lawn.

I'm always looking at long term. My first question to a new prospective client is "Are we going to just make this lawn look good while you live here, or are you living here until you die?"

CSRA Landscaping
10-30-2003, 03:28 PM
Jim, I remember yopu posting about the wood chips before ... what would you think about topdressing in wood chips?

10-30-2003, 06:46 PM
If you topdressed your lawn area with woodchips wouldn't that really screw up the C/N ratio in the soil and tie up nitrogen?
How about a good irrigation system insted and mabey a wetting agent every so often. :)

Pete D

10-30-2003, 08:50 PM
Jeff, tried it once after a good aeration. Used finely ground chips - biggest pieces were 1/4 size of average fingernail, and the wood was well aged, so there was no worry about C/N problems. Just did strips of the lawn to see if it made a difference, and was going to run experiment for at least a couple of years. Got too busy to follow through, and did not see any benefit from the one application.

I would not expect to see a surface application give the benefit of tilling it in 6".

CSRA Landscaping
10-30-2003, 10:42 PM
Ok ... I was wondering about that ever since I first read about the wood chips .. haha.

What I'm wondering now, is what would be the best method for incorporating OM into an existing yard that is on a fert program? There is no particular yard in question here, just planning things out for the spring. I'm sure that we'll play around with different ideas as well.

10-30-2003, 10:58 PM
I would think that topdressing with OM after aerating would be the best.

CSRA Landscaping
10-30-2003, 11:03 PM
Has anyone on here ever dealt with humic acid, or is it a nebulous subject?

10-31-2003, 08:03 AM
I don't think humic acid has been studied in enough to make a reasonable recomendation on it. I've heard that it works and I've heard that it does not work. It is much like the organic end of lawn care - it needs more in-depth study. JMO.

11-06-2003, 03:44 AM
This thread is bouncing around a little. I'll try to cover the unanswered territory.

Humic acid is a nebulous subject. One person's humic acid is another person's coal dust. I want a good definition of it before I start using it. Having said that, if you are using a product called humic acid (or anything else for that matter) and it is working for you, you're on to something. I've not used any humic acid that I could notice a difference from using.

Tilling in wood chips is a bad thing. The wood chips require surface fungi with LOTS of air to decompose. If they cannot get nitrogen from the air, they will take it from the materials in the soil. You can shut down the microbes in you soil by burying wood chips or sawdust. Raw wood products should only be used as a topdressing. Then keep them damp if you want them to decompose.

Topdressing with sawdust over the long haul is a good thing. I've read of folks with ceramic quality clay soil turning it around in a couple years. It should work for sand, too. Be sure you have no CCA treated lumber in the wood dust. Just a little of that can wipe out your soil for many years (voice of experience). Bare spots are embarassing.

CSRA Landscaping
11-06-2003, 08:46 AM
David, I appreciate your post but all I really see being said is "Find something that works." And about the wood chips - Jim made it clear that these were well-aged wood chips ... not raw wood. As far as one person's humic acid being another person' coal dust ... I just don't know about that. I have looked at some sites for humic acid and have talked with some folks about it that have used it and they were pleased. They said that it increased water retention by a great deal. I just wondered if anyone HERE had ever dealt with them but seeing as how most of you probably have clay or loamy soils, there wouldn't be any real need ...

11-06-2003, 11:43 AM
Dave, is the mechanics of soil life and decay in TX that different from their northern cousins? I doubt it. My use of wood chips as ammendment for turfgrass growing medium came from the late Dr. Geoff Stanford, of the Dallas Nature Center.

Of course, I'm not talking about the tree service refuse - those are too large to work with. It should be finely ground or shredded wood. And even green wood can be used, if you provide the extra N to get decay initiated without robbing it from rest of soil life and your desired turfgrass. The recommendation from our state soil scientists was 6# N per cubic yard of green wood chips. And you must monitor over the first year, additionnal N may be needed beyond what the neew lawn needs.

11-12-2003, 04:18 PM
When I read a thread all the way through and see an asinine comment, I have to go back and see who said it. Then, when I see that I made the comment :rolleyes: , I have to go and check out what time of day it was. Sorry about my last post folks! Let me see what I can agree with and defuse from my own mistaken message.

First I agree with Jim's idea of incorporating wood chips or sawdust into SAND. I would not do it in clay because you don't generally need the retentitive capacity in clay that wood offers in sand. There is another problem with wood in CLAY. When the little wood rotting fungi eat, they need tons of nitrogen. This is the mechanism by which they "tie up" the nitrogen in the soil. You can overcome that by seemingly gross amounts of nitrogen (protein) fertilizers. So this concern can be overcome. But in sand there ain't nothin to rob nitrogen from, so just adding the wood is not a problem. As long as the unrotted wood is there, the sand will retain water for a longer period. This is a huge plus to establishing OM in the soil. This is BIG! So I think I agree completely with what Jim said. If not, I missed something again. In summary, using wood dust or tiny chips is great in sand and even better when tilled in and well fed. Clay is different.

I have not tried this but I've seen enough people get burned by it that I don't have to try it myself. If you till compost into sand, it will vaporize before your very eyes! It vanishes with no improvements. The only way to use compost on sand is to use it on top as heavily as you can afford it. In turf, of course you still cannot smother the grass, so you are limited to about 1 cubic yard of compost per 1,000 square feet. This is hardly anything.

If you've found a good humic acid product, go for it. I can't recommend one. That's all I'm saying. There is another product on the market that the manufacturer is sending me a bottle of (it's in the mail!). If that stuff works, I'll give you the name. It is a like a compost tea only with a shelf life. It is basically a bottle of microbes in a dormant, spore form. Once you spray them out, they wake up and go to work. Supposedly nobody else has figured out how to get the microbes into spore form in such quantities.

I'm not sure I got that all covered and healed. I might be posting again. Today, my excuse is that I'm on some cold medicine that is keeping me from waking up.

11-12-2003, 10:23 PM
We forgive you, David. Now, get some rest.