Should I burn everything and start over?

sallydraperMay 2, 2011

I recently moved into a house with about 1200 sf of backyard. That is, extremely neglected back yard. When I looked at the house there were weeds EVERYWHERE. The seller had them cut back and the guys did a great job, but now that it's spring they are reappearing with a vengeance. What I have are: japanese honeysuckle, english ivy, creeping charlie, morning glory, poinson ivy, dandelions, and other unidentifiable things. The vine roots snake through the top layer of soil and have created a thick mat of nastiness on the top. Only in the very center is a small patch of grass trying to survive. I've suppressed all by spraying Roundup and cutting back in the hopes that I would be able to seed this season but I am quickly losing hope. My yard gets plenty of sun with a tree-shaded area in the back. I would like to have a clover and thyme ground cover and don't mind the english ivy in back under the trees but it obvs wants to take over everything including my shed.

My question is: can I rototill and apply lime and peat moss (I live in Philly acidic clay soil) and seed clover this season, or do I have to chem burn the whole lot and rototill next year? I've already bought Ortho GroundClear but I'm hesitant to just start laying it down. But won't a rototiller cut up all the vine roots into little pieces and create more of a root problem? I've already pulled most of the jap. honeysuckle by hand but don't have the back to do it all...

I would like to add that the neglected property on the other side of emy fence isn't helping. The landlord is giving me cart blanche, should I spray the bejeezus out of it? There are ailanthus on that side as well. Sigh.

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Before doing anything, especially spreading lime, talk with the people at your counties Pennsylvania state University Cooperative Extension Service office about having a good, reliable soil test done so you know what your soils pH is and how much, as well as what kind, of lime might be needed, if any. What you have sprayed is not very environmentally friendly so if more is to be sprayed be sure to follow the labels directions carefully.
To have a lawn this summer you will need to lay sod, but good soil preparation is still necessary. Beside knowing your soils pH you need to know whether the major nutrients are in balance, and the soil test from PSU will tell you that. You also want to know the level of organic matter in that soil and these simple soil tests can help with that.
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 drains� 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.

Here is a link that might be useful: PSU CES

    Bookmark   May 3, 2011 at 7:32AM
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