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Major Lawn Renovation... questions

Discussion in 'Turf Renovation' started by Whitey4, Dec 17, 2007.

  1. Whitey4

    Whitey4 LawnSite Silver Member
    Posts: 2,448

    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.
  2. ICT Bill

    ICT Bill LawnSite Platinum Member
    Posts: 4,115

    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.
  3. Kiril

    Kiril LawnSite Fanatic
    Posts: 18,308

    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.
  4. Whitey4

    Whitey4 LawnSite Silver Member
    Posts: 2,448

    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!
  5. Drew Gemma

    Drew Gemma LawnSite Bronze Member
    Posts: 1,511

    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.
  6. ICT Bill

    ICT Bill LawnSite Platinum Member
    Posts: 4,115

    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
  7. Whitey4

    Whitey4 LawnSite Silver Member
    Posts: 2,448

    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!
  8. Drew Gemma

    Drew Gemma LawnSite Bronze Member
    Posts: 1,511

    Blue and rye I hope use fescue for shade rye is a must in your area fescue in full sun turns into thatch
  9. Whitey4

    Whitey4 LawnSite Silver Member
    Posts: 2,448

    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.
  10. Kiril

    Kiril LawnSite Fanatic
    Posts: 18,308

    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.

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