Clay and how to grow grass in it?

Discussion in 'Turf Renovation' started by handyandy, Aug 27, 2006.

  1. handyandy

    handyandy LawnSite Member
    Messages: 6

    I am just about to start my landscape service. Just about to get insurance, and apply for my contractors license. I've been studying lawns for the past year, buying equipment gradually, and learning as much as I can about the business. But here's my questions...
    In my experiments in my own lawn I have had some bad experience getting grass growing. I know the soil is clay, and nothing but clay. The grass grew in the spring for about 2 weeks and then slowly died off. I was watering it plenty, but never got it fully established. I am just wondering what the best way to deal with clay is? I have heard gypsum will help break it up, is this true? Any advice will be thankful!
  2. dcgreenspro

    dcgreenspro LawnSite Senior Member
    from PA
    Messages: 688

    you need to open that soil up and get some air into the root system on a continual basis for a couple of years. That will help with the caly and compaction. If it were possible, incorporating some compost will also help. Next, grass selection will help tremedously. The fescues grow well in poor soil.

    You have to know that compacted clay soil is harder to water than any other type of soil because of much you need to water at one time to finally get it to penetrate the soil surface. Although, once its wet, it will stay that way longer than any other soil. Hope this helps
  3. turfcobob

    turfcobob LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 878

    Dcgreenspro is right. I grow a nice lawn on pure clay on a hill in Nebraska where the summers and winters are hell on grass. I aerate the hell out of it spring and fall to keep the clay open and loosen it up a bit. When I water it is infreqent and deep so the roots have to go after it. Too often and the roots just stay on top with no depth.
  4. TforTexas

    TforTexas LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 260

    Gypsum will help but it is a long slow process. On a clay turf I would aerate and apply gypsum every fall. Incorporating organic matter is a great Idea but who is going to let you roto till their lawn up and start over?
    Just remember clay does not percolate well so most of your irrigation water will run off. Instead of watering 20 min a station try 4- 5min sets to allow each cycle more time to absorb.
  5. Harley-D

    Harley-D LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 508

    The two previous posts were right on point. My only comment is: Avoid seeding and watering frequently in the spring/summer. It could have been disease that took your grass. Have you had a soil test? Testing your new properties gives you something to show the customer and can help you determine where problems may arise or be solved. Check you ph level and your cation exchange capacity. Aerate and seed this fall and put some lime down if needed.

    I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if we have some of the worst soils on the east coast here in va.

    There's an area in stafford co. near the airport that the soil was so acidic (ph of 3.0 or lower) that with water it would actually comprimise the foundations of houses and the sidewalks were stained and breaking within months of being poured. The state gov't is now involved i believe because it was their engineer's that passed the zoning reg's for residential construction.
  6. Runner

    Runner LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 13,497

    Aerate and top-dress with sand. Repeat, and repeat again. These are your first steps. The soil needs breatheability and drainage. The amount of sand required will depend on the percentages of clay and loam. (triangle)
  7. olderthandirt

    olderthandirt LawnSite Platinum Member
    from here
    Messages: 4,899

    I go about it differntly than all who posted. I apply a co-polymer gel to the soil when seeding and work it in. only takes a few minutes when using a tractor or skid steer. It holds the moisture and the constant swelling and shrinking stops compaction. Had very good results the past 5 yrs with this method and have been able to charge substantially more than others who don't use it.
  8. Grassmechanic

    Grassmechanic LawnSite Silver Member
    Messages: 2,697

    My God Runner, with all of your other good advice you give, I can't believe you suggested adding sand to clay! Sand (large particle)+clay (small particle)=cement! Sand should never be added to clay. Add organic matter and gypsum to relieve clay. Basic soils 101.
  9. TforTexas

    TforTexas LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 260

    I agree not only that sand builds up heat and doesn't retain moisture. If Im not using the recycled newspaper, terra sorb gel type pellets I like to use spaghnum peat moss, its sterile (unlike topsoils) and retains moisture well.
    And I also agree early fall is the best time to seed cool season grasses. Zoysias and Burmudas should be seeded early summer. Spring and summer seeding of cool season grasses suffers because of weed infestations, fungus, and heat stress and provides unsatisfactory results.
  10. Runner

    Runner LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 13,497

    Nope. I still stand by that. It has to be added in amounts that will eventually equal 50% (or more), though. I know what you are saying about the the organic materials, as they help the other materials then bond to the clay particles. But clay topdressing and repeated aerations (over time and to help mix) the soil have proven effective. The key is, is that the sand must be added in adequate amounts. As a matter of fact, adding too little sand DOES have an adverse effect on the soil, because it allows the clay to bond around it and can become even MORE compact. The real drawback, is that for real large areas, this can become impracticle. How much area does this guy have to do? Lord knows we don't want that. Anyway, that's my :)

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