What would work for sandy soils?

Discussion in 'Organic Lawn Care' started by CSRA Landscaping, Oct 28, 2003.

  1. CSRA Landscaping

    CSRA Landscaping LawnSite Bronze Member
    Messages: 1,232

    We have a lot of yards in this area that are thin and get scorched in the summer time due to the amount of sand in them ... I've been toying with the notion of offering some sort of service to help correct this. Here's what I'm wondering:

    Would a humic acid alone do well?

    Would topdressing alone do well? (And what formulation?)

    Or would it be a combo of these two?

    ... or something else?

    Bear in mind that what would be the ideal thing would be to get a service that gets great results with low costs but any views are welcome ... if you need to, you can PM or e-mail me if you have info that you don't want just anybody to have.

    Thanks in advance.
  2. Grassmechanic

    Grassmechanic LawnSite Silver Member
    Messages: 2,697

    You can improve the water holding capacities in sandy soils by adding organic matter. This could be accomplished by topdressing with OM after aeration. This isn't a one time cure, as it will take many applications over time to achieve the desired results.
  3. CSRA Landscaping

    CSRA Landscaping LawnSite Bronze Member
    Messages: 1,232

    What about sustane or milorganite? I've heard folks saying they've gotten good results with these.
  4. yardmonkey

    yardmonkey LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 341

    Probably the best way to fix the problem would be to till in a LOT of compost. I mean like dumping about 3 inches on and tilling it in to 6 inches or so. Of course that is truckoads of compost even on a small lawn and would be a big project. If the grass happened to be bermuda (or maybe some other types?) it could just be tilled in and should grow back quickly. Otherwise it would have to be reseeded. And this also depends on availability of compost. Here you can get it free from the city (whenever they release it a few times a year). But it really needs to be screened since it has a lot of wood in it. Some cities screen theirs. If none is availabe, then other types of organic matter could be used, but they would probably have to be purchased by the bag, or bulk sources hunted down.

    While this would be the "best way", it would be cost-prohibitive for most people. The next best thing would be to top-dress with organic matter, such as compost. Which would need to be done a little bit at a time for many years. Hopefully earthworms would be helping to integrate in into the soil. The idea of applying OM after aerating is also a good way to gradually get it worked in deeper.

    As far as the cost though, you can look at the cost of the one-time fix (tilling in LOTS of organic matter) versus top-dressing many times. And also factoring in the cost of watering sand versus watering a soil rich in OM, which will retain water much longer. And also factor in the health of the lawn and the reduced need to reseed or otherwise baby the scorched grasss.

    But of course it is not easy to convince people.....

    The soil is always STEP ONE. And everyone always skips it.
  5. Grassmechanic

    Grassmechanic LawnSite Silver Member
    Messages: 2,697

    They are both good sources of OM.
  6. GroundKprs

    GroundKprs LawnSite Bronze Member
    Messages: 1,969

    Compost is partially decayed organic matter. To till in a truckload of compost will net you probably a few cups of organic matter within 2-4 years. Compost is a great way to enhance the vegetable garden, or the annual beds, but is a poor way to try to enhance soil for turf growth.

    If one has a chance to start a lawn from scratch in a sandy medium, the best addition is finely ground, aged wood chips. Green wood can be used, but care must be taken to add enough nitrogen to initiate decay and not rob N from the new turf you are trying to grow.

    Wood is composed mostly of lignin. The microscopic structure of lignin is basically hollow open-ended tubes, and lignin takes a very long time to decay. By using woody material to enrich a lawn area, you will create a prime environment for turf growth in any soil. The OM within lignin tubules will decay, providing food for microscopic root hairs of the grass. After using up this food, the root hair dies, and soil microbes consume that dead OM of the root hair. Then the dying microbes provide food for more root hairs. A simple cycle of life is established, and will be continued because as the original lignin is being eventually decayed, it is being replaced by the lignin of the dying roots and stems of the actively growing turfgrass.

    A lawn I built in a pure sand subdivision in this manner 11 years ago still stands out from other lawns on the block.
  7. Green in Idaho

    Green in Idaho LawnSite Senior Member
    from Idaho
    Messages: 833

    "they get scorched during the summertime due to the amount of sand"

    It's not exactly the amount of the sand, but rather the sand (quick drain soil) requires the irrigations right?

    Instead of trying to change the soil profile I would try to alter the other practices in the turf.

    1) Mow long height if possible due to the grass species
    2) If the grass type does not allow tall mowing consider new grass type.
    3) More more frequently.

    As a last resort I have seen a new method of plug a turf with polymers that act as water retentions molecules... the guy posted on here a couple times... I'll see if I can find it....
  8. Green in Idaho

    Green in Idaho LawnSite Senior Member
    from Idaho
    Messages: 833

    Not exactly organic but


    The side would be that by compromise here it may allow a fullfilled organic program in the other areas of lawn care.

    They do have one branch office here in my area, but I NOT affiliated with them and have no first hand experience with it. The locations are a coincidence.
  9. Grassmechanic

    Grassmechanic LawnSite Silver Member
    Messages: 2,697

    Gee Jim, generally I agree with your views on turf, but I think you are a little off base on this one. CSRA was asking about growing grass in sandy soil. The first thing that would come to my mind is the water holding capacity of the sand to support turf growth. Grass can be grown on pure sand soils without modification. Golf course greens are an example. The limiting factor would be water. By introducing compost, you will be adding to the water holding capacity of a sand based soil (although I will agree that wood chips will accomplish the same result). More and more courses are going to a 90/10 or 80/20 topdressing mix to address water holding capacity of sand based soil in light of recent water restrictions throughout the country. Anyways, I always enjoy your comments regarding turf. Your assessments are generally right on the money.
  10. GroundKprs

    GroundKprs LawnSite Bronze Member
    Messages: 1,969

    Mike, I was referring to the suggestion to till in compost in a renovation mode. Adding compost will function as a regular maintenance on sand, but the wood chips are a one time long term alternative when renovating a sand based ornamental lawn.

    I'm always looking at long term. My first question to a new prospective client is "Are we going to just make this lawn look good while you live here, or are you living here until you die?"

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