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How to improve my soil

Discussion in 'Turf Renovation' started by erinspice, Sep 25, 2007.

  1. erinspice

    erinspice LawnSite Member
    Posts: 9

    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?
  2. Lawn-Scapes

    Lawn-Scapes LawnSite Silver Member
    Posts: 2,810

    Visit your local ag center and bring a soil sample with you...
  3. erinspice

    erinspice LawnSite Member
    Posts: 9

    :( 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?
  4. jeffinsgf

    jeffinsgf LawnSite Senior Member
    Posts: 641

    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.
  5. Smallaxe

    Smallaxe LawnSite Fanatic
    Posts: 10,080

    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.
  6. erinspice

    erinspice LawnSite Member
    Posts: 9

    Thank you very much! I'll try that.
  7. Smallaxe

    Smallaxe LawnSite Fanatic
    Posts: 10,080

    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.
  8. turfnh2oman

    turfnh2oman LawnSite Member
    Posts: 127

    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.
  9. Liberty Lawn & Landscape

    Liberty Lawn & Landscape LawnSite Member
    Posts: 11

    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:
  10. erinspice

    erinspice LawnSite Member
    Posts: 9

    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!

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