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top soil for existing lawn

Discussion in 'Homeowner Assistance Forum' started by FaithfulPastor, Jan 8, 2008.

  1. FaithfulPastor

    FaithfulPastor LawnSite Member
    Messages: 4

    I am looking for some advice, so when I hire someone to bring in topsoil to my home, I am not totally ignorant.

    It's also likely that this thread is not in the right forum. But I was not able to determine which forum my question falls into. So moving it to the correct place is okay by me.

    My lawn is 4 years old and the ground has almost no topsoil, it compacted hard clay. After 4 years of hard work and pitiful results, I am ready to have topsoil brought in.

    What does that mean? To have topsoil brought in? Does the topsoil just get spread over the top of the clay? Do I need to have the contractor plow up or disk up the clay and then put the topsoil in and then mix it up?

    My home does not have a irrigation system and the yard back yard is about 1/3 of an acre. It's a bigger job than an amateur like me can take on. So I'll be hiring a pro to do it. But I've never hired professional lawn help before, and I'm really afraid of hiring someone who doesn't really know what they're doing or they know I don't know what I'm doing and I get hit a bit hard in the wallet.

    Thanks for your professional advice and education.

  2. greg1

    greg1 LawnSite Member
    Messages: 139

    1) Soil test at county extension office to determine any unusual deficiencies.
    (you can do this yourself)

    2) Strip off all vegetation and remove.
    (you can kill it first with roundup, but i believe it's not necessary)

    3) Till the soil 3-4"s in depth.
    ( Grass roots grow several inches down so a 2" top dress of soil will not be a long term correction.)

    4) Remove as much of the larger debris as possible out of soil.
    ( don't worry about the small rocks yet)

    5) Add your amendments and till in with the existing soil.
    ( Your new soil should be as loamy as possible so as to add more aeration overall )

    6) Finish grade and remove the rest of debris on the surface.
    ( Pay attention to drainage,this is also your last chance for a smooth ride on your mower )

    7) Add a starter fertilizer and preferred grass seed mix.
    ( 5-5-5, 10-10-10 etc., no need to pay the extra for the bag that says starter fertilizer.)

    8) Blow a 90% coverage of straw over ground and tack to keep in place.
    ( Mulch hay is loaded with weed seed, so i recommend straw,tacking can be professionally done with a hydro seeder (recommended) or by watering in thoroughly and hoping the wind dosn't blow it off)
  3. FaithfulPastor

    FaithfulPastor LawnSite Member
    Messages: 4

    Wow. Greg1, thank you so much for your response.
    I'm curious, (but certainly not disagreeing with you), what is the advantage or why is it necessary to remove the existing grass?

    One other question, if I were to do what Greg1 has suggested here, what price range would I be looking at for removing the existing grass, bringing in the soil, spreading it, tilling it in. (I can do the seeding and such myself.)

    I live in Central Indiana and not in a wealthy neighborhood, about 50% of the kids in our elementary school come from farming families.
    The area is about 60 feet wide by 70 feet wide x 190 feet long (does not include front yard nor house footprint.
  4. Two Seasons

    Two Seasons LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 791

    Or, another way, is to lightly start adding topsoil to the grass (don't bury or smother it) when it starts to grow.

    Screen it first and run it through your spreader across the lawn.
  5. greg1

    greg1 LawnSite Member
    Messages: 139

  6. dave k

    dave k LawnSite Bronze Member
    Messages: 1,177

    I would try topdressing your lawn and keep core aerating and dragging the topsoil or sand into the plugged holes, check out this site to see what I mean.
  7. greg1

    greg1 LawnSite Member
    Messages: 139

    This looks and sounds reasonable if your lawn is not so far gone as to be needing total reconstruction. Do you have any pictures to show its present condition?
  8. Marcos

    Marcos LawnSite Gold Member
    Messages: 3,720


    In my 25 years in the green industry I've never seen a struggling " compacted clay yard " with established turf on it that couldn't have been brought to new life...with some proper attention and some guidance like you could get here on LAWNSITE !!!

    I'm over here in Cincy, not too far to the east of you, and we have exactly the same soils here. (It would be nice to see pics, though)

    Without knowing anything about soil sample results it's hard to get specific.
    But in general it would be very easy for most any homeowner to follow the following process for a yard like yours, say mid to late next summer around September 1st or so :
    1) Buy a couple of those cheap 12 x 20 blue tarps you see at Home Depot...(I'll explain later)

    2) After a good rain, or you've watered...mow your lawn relatively short in preparation for aeration.

    3) Aerate the yard yourself, or hire someone to do it.

    Note : A good aeration job is one that you can easily discern later by looking at it from two doors away!
    There should be LOTS of cores everywhere!
    Make sure you get your $$$$'s worth !!! ( Too many people getting away with 'el-cheapo' work in this industry )

    3) Once the lawn's been cored well, call and have about a 5 to 6 yard load of STERILIZED compost delivered to your house, and dumped on the driveway, or street out of the way of traffic.
    (You would have researched the source for this prior to all the activity)

    4) Now with the help of wheelbarrow and coal shovel, distribute the compost throughout the yard into 'little piles', and then rake smooth INTO the grass with the back of a steel garden rake; all the while working to incorporate the compost in with the deposited cores.
    Obviously the goal is to try to 'connect' the piles...

    (use blue tarps on compost pile at this point, if need be)

    5) Then when you're done take a regular rotary fertilizer spreader and broadcast grass seed over the whole place.
    I'd recommend at least a rate of 5 lb / 1000 minimum ( about 200 pounds an acre ) if you're using turf type fescue, and 2 lb / 1000 ( 75 lb / acre ) if you're glutton for punishment, and have a bluegrass yard!

    6) Then about 2 to 3 weeks later apply a heavy phosphorus fertilizer, something like a 16-26-14, over the entire lawn.

    Does this sound hard? Yes.

    But really it's not.
    Bulk compost that's been sterilized and processed is almost always very loose and easy to work with (vs. the bagged stuff...which is a nightmare:cry: to work with, and MUCH more expensive, usually )
  9. topsites

    topsites LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 21,653

    omg just use gypsum to loosen up the clay, then take it from there.

    Not saying it won't need reconditioning, such as aeration / seeding / etc, but gypsum is what we use around here to bust clay soils. Way cheaper and easier to deal with, use about 150-200 pounds per 1/4 acre, do one application now, another in 6 months.
    Then recondition in fall, and keep throwing down gypsum so long the aerator pulls clay, inspecting the plugs will help.

    On average it will take 7-800 pounds per 1/4 acre, but it takes 6 months for the stuff to interact so 3-4 separate, light applications are far more cost-effective and environmentally friendly as well, in some cases it takes more, I like gypsum so much I use it on every recondition, I even use it by itself because of all the benefits, great stuff.

    Cost of gypsum is around $1 per 7 pounds or so, a 40 pound bag is like 5-6 bucks, Home Depot has it thou it's more commonly known as "clay buster."
  10. Marcos

    Marcos LawnSite Gold Member
    Messages: 3,720

    I agree, topsites.
    But you can accomplish the same thing you're talking about with dry course sand.
    The only reason to specifically use gypsum would be if there is a CALCIUM deficiency...which is essentially insignificant when you're talking about turf anyway (unless the expectation level is that of a golf course superintendent).

    And something else that's been realized through the years, since the '80s :
    When you're talking about adding either things like gysum or course sand to help ' break up ' clay soil, you've definitely got to do something to physically incorporate the materials into the clay to a degree, such as really good THOROUGH AERATION as described before.

    What happens if you don't, and you just 'broadcast' gysum / course sand over clay and leave it repeatedly; is that you create a lawn with what's known as a "washboard effect".
    This means these lawns will be more likely to 'repel' rain water and irrigation water as a result of their relatively unbroken 'silicone skin'.

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