Newbie qs about clumps, clover, etc.

MuyinMay 29, 2013

Hi all,

I'm new to organic lawn care and have much appreciated the FAQ and posts on this forum. But I had some questions I couldn't find answers to in other posts. First some background: we moved into our home two years ago, had sod out front and hydroseed on the side and backyard. We seeded the bare spots with Scotts starter seed and used some chemical fertilizer last year. I'm not sure what kind of grass the sod is but the Scotts mix I think was a mix of KBG, ryegrass and fescue.

1) The grass in the back has grown up in clumps. Should I try to put more seed down in the bare areas between the clumps, or let the grass grow into them naturally?

2) Those bare areas between clumps are being occupied by weeds. We want a mix of grass and clover for our lawn, and we have some clover growing already. Is there a way to take some of the clover that's there and grow it in other parts of the lawn? (clover is not a weed in my mind, btw)

3) There is a lot of black medic growing in the backyard (some in front as well). I was thinking of making that a low priority and get rid of it only after other things like trying to improve soil quality. Is that advisable or should I get rid of it soon? I thought they're related to clover and so might help with nitrogen after they die but I'm not sure.

4) It seems much of the sod out front has died; when I look closely at the front lawn, I can't see the soil; I have to dig through the dead sod to get to the soil underneath. Is that the same as "thatch"? If so, I gather that I should put some material on it to eat it up (I've seen other posts on de-thatching). But if it's not thatch, how should I look at it? Should I try to get rid of it, and if so, how?

Thank you for any help!

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Start with a good reliable soil test. As I understand it Purdue CES does not do them but they can direct you to labs that will.
What is that soils pH?
How much organic matter is in that soil?
What are the nutrient levels in that soil?
What kind of life is in that soil?
Thatch is that layer of dead and living plant material between the grass and soil. A 1/2 inch layer of thatch is not a problem while more can be. In a good healthy soil thatch can contribute to the necessary organic matter in the soil, but in a soil that is fed with synthetic fertilizers thatch can be a home for insect pests and plant diseases because the Soil Food Web is not very active in those soils.

Here is a link that might be useful: About thatch

    Bookmark   May 30, 2013 at 7:18AM
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Thanks for the tips. I plan to do the soil test over the summer. I figure I'll put a thin layer of compost down to try to eat away at the dead sod/thatch. I don't think the soil has much nutrition or life in it, both from observation and from discussions with neighbors--we agree the soil is not very good. It seems to have a lot of clay in it and is not usefully porous. I haven't seen many worms in it.

While I'm trying to improve the soil quality, I'm trying to figure out what to do in the meantime with the clover, black medic, grass, etc.

    Bookmark   May 30, 2013 at 8:59PM
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Depending on where you are in Indiana your soil will be either clay or sand. Clover can be good in the lawn since it can fix Nitrogen and it will add organic matter which will benefit the grass you are trying to grow. Black Medic, also a legume that fixes Nitrogen, seems to grow better in compacted soils then clover will, and adding organic matter to that soil, which helps with soil compaction, seems to help eliminate this "weed".
Since turf grasses much prefer a soil with a pH in the 6.2 to 6.8 range a soil test for soil pH and major nutrients is necessary to start. In addition these simple soil tests might be of some use.
1) Soil test for organic matter. From that soil sample put enough of the rest to make a 4 inch level in a clear 1 quart jar, with a tight fitting lid. Fill that jar with water and replace the lid, tightly. Shake the jar vigorously and then let it stand for 24 hours. Your soil will settle out according to soil particle size and weight. For example, a good loam will have about 1-3/4 inch (about 45%) of sand on the bottom. about 1 inch (about 25%) of silt next, about 1 inch (25%) of clay above that, and about 1/4 inch (about 5%) of organic matter on the top.

2) Drainage. Dig a hole 1 foot square and 1 foot deep and fill that with water. After that water drains away refill the hole with more water and time how long it takes that to drain away. Anything less than 2 hours and your soil drainsâ too quickly and needs more organic matter to slow that drainage down. Anything over 6 hours and the soil drains too slowly and needs lots of organic matter to speed it up.

3) Tilth. Take a handful of your slightly damp soil and squeeze it tightly. When the pressure is released the soil should hold together in that clump, but when poked with a finger that clump should fall apart.

4) Smell. What does your soil smell like? A pleasant, rich earthy odor? Putrid, offensive, repugnant odor? The more organic matter in your soil the more active the soil bacteria will be and the nicer your soil will smell.

5) Life. How many earthworms per shovel full were there? 5 or more indicates a pretty healthy soil. Fewer than 5, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service, indicates a soil that is not healthy.

    Bookmark   May 31, 2013 at 7:18AM
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