Help designing a Midwest shady lawn w/ dogs

Discussion in 'Turf Renovation' started by Redline9k, Jan 12, 2010.

  1. Redline9k

    Redline9k LawnSite Member
    Messages: 17

    Recently a client asked about their back lawn. At first inspection, its a 50x60 area that sits directly on top of Saint Louis clay mines. Needless to say, organic matter and drainage is pretty non-existant at this point being mostly soft clay soil and the PH is very acidic. To top that off, the owner has a 30' diameter southern magnolia shading off a majority of the lawn when foliage is present spring-fall. And to make it even better...they have two dogs who play in the entire yard.

    The lawn appears to have had several attempts at repair. The unshaded sections are a k-31 that seems to be thriving and relatively un-destroyed by the dogs, while the shaded area under the tree is a tall fescue mix that is almost completely bare. The client claims to be reseeding twice a year, but notes that any good rainfall leaves standing water and the dogs kick up any new (or existing) seedlings running about.

    I am scratching my head trying to think of what to do for the client. I am leaning to tilling the shaded area with organics and sand or turface to help drainage and resodding with farmed bluegrass due to the shade, but i cant imagine that will hold up any better to dog paws.

    any ideas, short of putting in a pool?

  2. OrganicsMaine

    OrganicsMaine LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 553

    If turf is what is absolutely needed, then I would absolutely till that area as deep as possible and add much organic matter. If there is standing water now, be sure to regrade properly and address those areas. If possible, install a sub surface drainage system to remove more water from the area. Then use a mix of KB and fescue. The key will be the owners keeping those damn dogs off for as long as possible. Also, talk to them about proper mowing heights as this will help it to look better if it is thin due to the high traffic.

    After this I would recommend aerating at least once if not twice per year....esp. if there is still a drainage problem.

    Good luck!

    Oh yeah, don't forget to address that PH level.
  3. OrganicsMaine

    OrganicsMaine LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 553

    If you can cut down a little on the turf, encourage more turf in the sunny areas, and cut back on the amount of turf in the deep shade. You can do shade tolerant perennials plus some shrubs. If the dogs are a problem, and the owners are open to it, have them install invisible fencing in the beds to keep them out.
  4. Redline9k

    Redline9k LawnSite Member
    Messages: 17

    Thanks for the ideas!

    I think I am going to propose a bed around the magnolia to add a mulch layer and take up some of the dead space, bring the k-31 in the open sun up to par, and then till the remaining shade section under the tree and re-sod (they seem to really want grass under the tree although i tell them I cant guarantee it).

    I think getting the soil up to par will be ok...just till the bejezus out of it as deep as I can and add some lime/organics/turface to work the soil back into condition. I know its a rhetorical question, but what would you recommend for a durable, shade tolerable sod?
  5. OrganicsMaine

    OrganicsMaine LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 553

    I am not a turf specialist, so check out this site:

    Also, you can thin the Mag a bit to get more sunlight down to the turf under the tree....make that mulch area as large as you can....try 10' diameter at least. I would still try and upsell a small planting under the tree.....sounds like a tough spot so some variegated hosta would work great to brighten the area up and they are extremely durable.

    Good luck.:waving:
  6. Smallaxe

    Smallaxe LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 10,082

    With dogs, shade and clay, I would say it is not worth the trouble, to try and do grass. 1 dog is ok but 2 or more are always on the run tearing up the ground. Do not do sod, unless your client has more dollars than sense.
  7. DA Quality Lawn & YS

    DA Quality Lawn & YS LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 9,289

    Easy solution, tell this customer you have a choice, a lawn or dogs.
    Either get rid of one or the other. Can't have both, can't have neither.
  8. RigglePLC

    RigglePLC LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 13,795

    This is really at the core--a shade problem. You need 6 hours of light to grow good grass. Chain saw and 5 minutes would solve that. If not, you are right to use a ground cover like ajuga, ivy, myrtle, pachysandra, ferns, hosta or...cotoneaster if you need something thorny to keep the dogs out. If there is a dog path along the fence periodically block their favorite route with a row of lawn chairs or a picnic table--move it every week. By all means do a soil test to see if it is partly an acid problem--correct low fert and acidity as needed. Recontour to fix the drainage. And install underground irrigation to reduce the summer burnout and thinness. Plan to seed every year with a higher quality tall fescue--like Aztec. Fescue doesn't creep--it does not heal itself well--bluegrass in the mixture will help to some extent. Where traffic is the heaviest--or mud is a problem--install concrete paving stones (under the tree if you have to.) Tilling the area under the tree will be difficult due to the roots and may damage the tree.

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