My turf is as hard as a rock. What do I do???

sugarlandtexanMay 12, 2008

I moved into a new home in November (new construction). I have St. Aug's (laid down in November). I put corn meal down in Nov, and Texas Tee in April along with compost.

My grass looks beautiful (green, thick), but my sod(clay) is as hard as a rock. I can't even stick my finger 1/2 inch down in the ground. When the heat of summer comes, I fear that my lawn will die out. What can I do to soften up the soil and help with water retention?


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Not knowing anything about your soil, I would say start watering, right away, and regularly, making sure you get one inch of water down once a week, ideally all at one time. If that doesn't seem to work after a few weeks (you still get runoff), I imagine you have a problem soil (mostly clay?). If that is the case I don't have any good ideas, but am sure others here will.

Good luck!

    Bookmark   May 13, 2008 at 12:54AM
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Perhaps David can cut and paste his fungi encouragement method? That'll help.

They do need something to eat, so feeding organically with just about anything will help. Organics also soften the soil. I started 3 years ago with rock hard clay that cracked in summer, now it's smooth and easy to dig to at least 8" (as deep as I dug last weekend to put a border in).

    Bookmark   May 13, 2008 at 7:17AM
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I would also add when you water, make sure it isn't just running off. If you could, on that day you water an inch or so try to "prime" the clay by giving it a soaking and then wait a while before continuing. If you have a multi-zone sprinkler system you could divvy it up into 2 or 3 rounds. That clay is a killer, but stick to the system and the fungi will provide the cure.

    Bookmark   May 13, 2008 at 10:00AM
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lou_midlothian_tx(z8 DFW, Tx)

Pull out a soaker hose and lay it in the straight line. Leave it on at trickling flow (turn the faucet a quarter turn only) and leave it there for a couple weeks then move down 18 inches. Repeat till you've reached to the other side of the lawn. It has to be SLOW drip drip drip....

Spraying molasses will also help speed it up. You can buy unsulfured molasses at grocery stores (by where pancake syrup is) and use ortho dial end hose sprayer to spray it around at the rate of 2oz. Make sure to dilute molasses with water 50/50 before spraying. Molasses is pretty thick. Do this every time you fertilize (soybean meal if you can find them). Hopefully, it will speed up the process. Soybean meal is great fungal food and has high amount of protein as well to help microbes multiply more and improve soil more quickly.

    Bookmark   May 13, 2008 at 10:06AM
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rcnaylor(z7 Tex)

Apply a layer of compost as top dressing, water as suggested above, feed regularly with organic fertilizers, and mulch mow.

You'll see a difference soon.

Especially make sure you are getting it watered slowly and deeply. Its water holding capacity should increase slowly as you do the above practices more.

    Bookmark   May 13, 2008 at 12:33PM
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Stop at Starbucks and get some free Used Coffee Grounds, and scatter those about the lawn. Earthworms love coffee grounds. It's not a great fertilizer, but there's nothing like it for attracting the worms into your soil.

Carla in Rowlett

    Bookmark   May 13, 2008 at 3:50PM
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rcnaylor(z7 Tex)

Excellent suggestion Carla.

    Bookmark   May 13, 2008 at 4:11PM
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You can always try adding dish soap @ 3-6oz/1000ft^2 monthly. An organic program will relieve compaction over time, but if the compaction is severe (new construction, lots of heavy machines), water will not penetrate into the compacted soil and the microherd can't get to work. The soap is a surfactant and help water penetrate deeper into the soil. The soap will reach further and further with each application.

    Bookmark   May 13, 2008 at 11:34PM
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dchall_san_antonio(8 San Antonio)

Is your soil softer when it is moist, say from a few days of rain? Soil is supposed to be hard when it is dry and soft when it is wet. It's supposed to be like a sponge. What Lou said is what I would have said had I been able to post messages here earlier today - something about a 403 error with my network.

    Bookmark   May 14, 2008 at 12:43AM
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Regarding the soap suggestion: I'm sure it goes without saying to NOT use one of the now popular antibacterial varieties.

    Bookmark   May 14, 2008 at 10:01AM
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dchall_san_antonio(8 San Antonio)

Johnson's baby shampoo is good. Minimal ingredients with relatively neutral pH.

    Bookmark   May 14, 2008 at 6:20PM
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Agreed no antibacterial varieties!! They are not good for me nor my septic!!

    Bookmark   May 14, 2008 at 8:23PM
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I keep hearing about people using soap. If you want to use a safe anionic surfactant buy one specifiacally for turf. If you want to risk kiling your grass then use soap.

Here is a example:

    Bookmark   March 27, 2013 at 5:44PM
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While soaps, or similar products, might reduce the surface tension of soils temporarily they are not the long term solution. Poor soils can be corrected by the addition of organic matter, repeatedly, annually, because the organic matter is digested by the Soil Food Web.
In clay soils organic matter seperates the clay soil particles so water, nutrients, anad the Soil Food Web, can move around in the soil easier as would plant roots.
In sand organic matter fills in the pore spaces so moisture and nutrients can be held in the soil and be available to the plants.

    Bookmark   March 28, 2013 at 7:12AM
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Go to the bestlawn/around the yard website under soil or organic lawn forum and search BL Soil Conditioner and Kelp Help. Some good recipes developed by Morph.

I had non-organic, compacted soil that was disgusting. Used these at 2oz each per 1K sq. ft. every 2 weeks through the summer last year and was amazed. Driving a screwdriver into the earth 6" after no rain for weeks is exhilarating.

I thought it was a joke until I did it, but was so amazed that it has driven me to go organic with the feedings this year. As kimmsr stated, it's a great way to kick start the soil transformation while you are going organic.

    Bookmark   March 29, 2013 at 3:06PM
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