Help! Lawn renovation attempt #2 on compacted/hard pan soil

Creaton

LawnSite Member
After a $2k failed lawn renovation attempt by my lawn contractor on a new construction house lot I'm taking this project into my own hands and looking for advice on what to do. I want a decent lawn in the next 12 months and don't want to invest more than an additional 1k if possible. I'm very handy with a green thumb and access to any equipment available at local rental companies. Root cause of problem appears to be extremely compacted soil, perhaps considered hardpan. I've found lots of interesting ideas online on how to renovate lawn when it is compacted/hardpan ranging from 1) wait it out several years for soil to loosen up; 2) deep plowing soil (16-18" deep) with some serious equipment to breakup hardpan followed by rototilling, compost addition, and seeding; 3) Adding 3" of woodchips and waiting a year or two for them to breakdown and loosen soil then reseed. What should I do???

History of my lawn below, current picture attached, and lots of additional pictures included in my media gallery.

Oct. 2017 - House construction began on a 1/4 acre lot that had been sitting vacant for more than 40 years. Existing topsoil was beautiful but mostly lost during construction - most buried under fill dirt when re-grading was done. Unknown construction conditions but heavy equipment was used which resulted in very heavy compaction of soil.


March 2018- Lawn was re-graded and seeded by builder before sale but very little to no top soil was put down before seeding the new lawn. Seed quickly sprouted and greened up but also quickly showed signs of trouble as it didn't thrive.

August 2018 - 5 months after builder seeding of lawn it was more than half crabgrass and not looking good. It was obvious as this point that soil compaction (likely hardpan in many places) was a major contributor to lawn failure along with lack of organic material and nutrients in soil. Consulted with numerous lawn renovation companies in the area who all recommended core aeration, adding compost/topsoil mixture and re-seeding, followed by fertilization and weed control as needed.

October 2018 - Lawn renovation contractor I went with nuked lawn with roundup, added 1" of compost/topsoil, and seeded with high quality grass seed

November 2018 - 1 month post renovation and watering done according to contractor instructions.

August 2019 -Contractor did spring aeration fertilization, pre-emergent herbicide, etc in Fall and Spring. By August the lawn looks very similar to what it looked like exactly 1 year ago before renovation (less than 25% grass, lots of crabgrass). Contractor admitted this this was the most difficult lawn he's dealt with and encouraged me to stick it out for another year during which he would continue aeration and overseeding . Discussed potentially adding "biochar" to help.

Sept 2019 -Could no longer justify throwing more money at my contractor considering that lawn looked no better than it did 1 year into the renovation, so decided to take project into my own hands. I dug a hole in my lawn to see how bad compaction was at this point. It is very bad - cannot get shovel more than 1 inch into soil even when jumping up and down on shovel. Eventually dug a hole after lots of scraping and pounding with shovel. First 3-4 inch are very very hard, below that is a little less hard but still required a lot of work to dig out. Soil is more clay-like than sand-like. Started a water/soil test tonight on soil sample to see where it falls on the USDA soil texture triangle - will know more in a few days when soil sample settles.

2019-09-02_typical.jpg
 
Last edited:

Mudly

LawnSite Senior Member
Location
OH
Wait to get your soil tests back before taking any advice, your ph and cation exchange are crucial and will help immensely with suggestions. Curious if your contractor took one?
 

Cjames808

LawnSite Senior Member
1/4 acre reno with 2-4" topsoil would run in the $3-5000 range.

OR $6-8000 for sod.

So you are at a small percentage of that.
 
OP
C

Creaton

LawnSite Member
Wait to get your soil tests back before taking any advice, your ph and cation exchange are crucial and will help immensely with suggestions. Curious if your contractor took one?
Soil has been tested twice in the last 12 months. First time I pulled samples from impacted part of lawn and tested. Second one done by contractor after reno. See attached. Thanks in advance for your input!

2018 soil test results combined.jpg
 

RigglePLC

LawnSite Fanatic
Location
Grand Rapids MI
In one place the soil pH is 7--in the top test sheet it is 6.2. Unusual.
Soil may not be ideal--but you can grow crabgrass just fine. So ...you should be able to grow grass.
I think I can see some thin spotty clumps of perennial rye grass. What exact mixture of seed was sown?
I am not local to your town--however--I suspect your best grass species would be turf-type tall fescue--should be mixed with 10 percent high quality Kentucky bluegrass. University of Maryland has plenty of good information on suitable grass varieties online. Perennial ryegrass is fine and comes up quickly--however you are probably too far south for perennial rye; too hot and humid--fungus will take it out.
You did not mention irrigation--so I am assuming there is none. A good irrigation system will go a long ways towards the "decent lawn" that you are seeking.
Clay soil grows weeds just fine; it retains soil nutrients and moisture. Clay gets very soft when wet--but it gets really hard when dry--it shrinks and big cracks form when fully dry.
As you said crabgrass is major. Apply a post emergent crabgrass control. Then seed now--hurry--so you can get your new grass up and strong.
Not sure-I think you can vertical mow over the crabgrass--then apply seed--then vertical mow again to mix the seed into the soil. New grass will sprout as the crabgrass is dying from the cool nights. Then you can have crabgrass control applied in spring. Two crabgrass controls 6 weeks apart are better.

https://extension.umd.edu/hgic/topics/seedingsodding-lawns
 
Last edited:

Mudly

LawnSite Senior Member
Location
OH
In one place the soil pH is 7--in the top test sheet it is 6.2. Unusual.
Soil may not be ideal--but you can grow crabgrass just fine. So ...you should be able to grow grass.
I think I can see some thin spotty clumps of perennial rye grass. What exact mixture of seed was sown?
I am not local to your town--however--I suspect your best grass species would be turf-type tall fescue--should be mixed with 10 percent high quality Kentucky bluegrass. University of Maryland has plenty of good information on suitable grass varieties online. Perennial ryegrass is fine and comes up quickly--however you are probably too far south for perennial rye; too hot and humid--fungus will take it out.
You did not mention irrigation--so I am assuming there is none. A good irrigation system will go a long ways towards the "decent lawn" that you are seeking.
Clay soil grows weeds just fine; it retains soil nutrients and moisture. Clay gets very soft when wet--but it gets really hard when dry--it shrinks and big cracks form when fully dry.
As you said crabgrass is major. Apply a post emergent crabgrass control. Then seed now--hurry--so you can get your new grass up and strong.
Not sure-I think you can vertical mow over the crabgrass--then apply seed--then vertical mow again to mix the seed into the soil. New grass will sprout as the crabgrass is dying from the cool nights. Then you can have crabgrass control applied in spring. Two crabgrass controls 6 weeks apart are better.

https://extension.umd.edu/hgic/topics/seedingsodding-lawns
He will never get enough fertilizer down, look at his cation exchange, it’s darn non existent. He’ll never hold enough water or nutrients to maintain turf grass. Op, you need to bite the bullet and till in tons of organics not just topdress.
 

hal

LawnSite Fanatic
Location
Georgia
Yes mudly is right, rent a dingo with a tiller attachment and rock hound if you can. Tiller will do fine. Get organic rich soil, about 2" and till it in very well, about 3" to 4" deep. Add another 2" on top. Seed, seed, seed, and add fertilizer and water.
 

RigglePLC

LawnSite Fanatic
Location
Grand Rapids MI
Stormy weather coming. Opportunity knocking! Sow plenty of seed. 7 to 10 pounds of tall fescue per thousand sqft. No cheap seed. No rye. Not all seed will take hold under less than ideal conditions. Double that, if you want extra thick grass. You need about 15 seeds per square inch. Be sure to use varieties recommended by Univ of Maryland. Be sure to use varieties that have the ability to spread and self-repair. Be sure to add 10 percent bluegrass to add more spreading and self-repair ability. Use Scotts or better.
https://www.scotts.com/en-us/products/grass-seed/scotts-turf-builder-grass-seed-tall-fescue-mix

Add plenty of fertilizer to give your new grass a flying start. Add additional "grow-in" fertilizer at week three and six.
Consider seed-safe Tenacity (mesotrione) to control crabgrass. Or apply Scotts "Starter Fertilizer for Seeding" (which contains mesotrione). Costs more, but it is better.
Seed over the top of the crabgrass--you have no choice--rake it in or vertical mow. It should take OK, but double seed in the crabgrass areas will help it take hold.
 
  • Like
Reactions: hal

takervader

LawnSite Senior Member
Location
Alabama
First thing I looked at was your CEC, its really low. So your soil is somewhat sandy and not holding any nutrients in it for the plants. 2.2% organic is fine by itself, but nothing is really staying available.

I think youre going to have to bring in a lot of topsoil or soil + cow manure/compost. You'll need to tiller the sh** out of it, put down that top layer, re-tiller it in so its all mixed and then seed it, rake smooth, and water. Add a starter fert at that time.

And it would be a good idea to scalp and add more at the start of every growing season.
 
OP
C

Creaton

LawnSite Member
In one place the soil pH is 7--in the top test sheet it is 6.2. Unusual.
Soil may not be ideal--but you can grow crabgrass just fine. So ...you should be able to grow grass.
I think I can see some thin spotty clumps of perennial rye grass. What exact mixture of seed was sown?
I am not local to your town--however--I suspect your best grass species would be turf-type tall fescue--should be mixed with 10 percent high quality Kentucky bluegrass. University of Maryland has plenty of good information on suitable grass varieties online. Perennial ryegrass is fine and comes up quickly--however you are probably too far south for perennial rye; too hot and humid--fungus will take it out.
You did not mention irrigation--so I am assuming there is none. A good irrigation system will go a long ways towards the "decent lawn" that you are seeking.
Clay soil grows weeds just fine; it retains soil nutrients and moisture. Clay gets very soft when wet--but it gets really hard when dry--it shrinks and big cracks form when fully dry.
As you said crabgrass is major. Apply a post emergent crabgrass control. Then seed now--hurry--so you can get your new grass up and strong.
Not sure-I think you can vertical mow over the crabgrass--then apply seed--then vertical mow again to mix the seed into the soil. New grass will sprout as the crabgrass is dying from the cool nights. Then you can have crabgrass control applied in spring. Two crabgrass controls 6 weeks apart are better.

https://extension.umd.edu/hgic/topics/seedingsodding-lawns
In one place the soil pH is 7--in the top test sheet it is 6.2. Unusual.
Soil may not be ideal--but you can grow crabgrass just fine. So ...you should be able to grow grass.
I think I can see some thin spotty clumps of perennial rye grass. What exact mixture of seed was sown?
I am not local to your town--however--I suspect your best grass species would be turf-type tall fescue--should be mixed with 10 percent high quality Kentucky bluegrass. University of Maryland has plenty of good information on suitable grass varieties online. Perennial ryegrass is fine and comes up quickly--however you are probably too far south for perennial rye; too hot and humid--fungus will take it out.
You did not mention irrigation--so I am assuming there is none. A good irrigation system will go a long ways towards the "decent lawn" that you are seeking.
Clay soil grows weeds just fine; it retains soil nutrients and moisture. Clay gets very soft when wet--but it gets really hard when dry--it shrinks and big cracks form when fully dry.
As you said crabgrass is major. Apply a post emergent crabgrass control. Then seed now--hurry--so you can get your new grass up and strong.
Not sure-I think you can vertical mow over the crabgrass--then apply seed--then vertical mow again to mix the seed into the soil. New grass will sprout as the crabgrass is dying from the cool nights. Then you can have crabgrass control applied in spring. Two crabgrass controls 6 weeks apart are better.

https://extension.umd.edu/hgic/topics/seedingsodding-lawns
Seed mixture that was used last year was tall fescue mix designed for this area - 33% Leonardo tall fescue,33% Rockwell tall fescue, 33%Valkyrie LS tall fescue. No built in irrigation but we did water with sprinklers according to lawn contractor instructions. Seems from my soil analysis CEC results that we don't have clay soil but rather sandy soil which is compacted.
 

Top