Repairing a lawn with 'buried rock syndrome'

girlfromthegarden(z5 Indy metro)June 16, 2006

The house I bought five years ago is in a neighborhood where the original land was previously a farm, and the developers stripped much of the top soil from the lots while constructing the houses (my house is almost twelve years old). The front yard suffers from massive amounts of buried rock within a few inches of the surface, and in the heat of summer, the patches where rock is near the top of the dirt are obvious as areas that crisp up and die back unless watered like crazy. The grass itself is scanty and poor across two-thirds of the front. My son and I will probably try to dig up some of these areas, remove the embedded rocks and then try to re-seed, best done as a fall project, we're thinking. But I'm concerned as to what I'd need to add to fill in the volume of what the removed rocks had occupied, as well being leery of creating an inadvertent patchwork effect with new grass of an improved variety blending with adjoining areas of rougher turf.

Do you recommend a best way to approach this laborious effort, in order to give the lawn its best make-over? The front yard also slopes a fair degree, has two moderate-sized trees stuck on each side of lawn (separated by driveway), which have pervasive root systems trying to find moisture amongst all the rocks! and tends to have bare patches and weed cover from the poor growing conditions caused by the hostile root zone. Thanks for advice!


(central Indiana, living over what was formerly old riverbed)

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Dear Girl from the Garden,

Thank you very much for your inquiry. Wow, you are living one my worst nightmares in terms of trying to take care of a lawn. These racks are not a lot different from he septic tank situation earlier this week except that they are more numerous and will keep moving toward the surface depending on the severity of winters. The problem is that until you remove them or bury them with 6 inches of topsoil your challenge will continue.

What to do? My immediate thoughts are to take the lawn out and start over. By this I mean spend spring and summer removing rocks, and then in late summer bringing in quality topsoil layer of 3 inches (in addition to filling all holes with the same material, in this case a good sandy loam soil.). From here you can establish the lawn with all one grass. You can follow my outline for establishment on my yarddoctor web page.

Again, thanks for the question and let me know if you have more. I will be thinking about you. Perhaps I can come by and see this situation in November as my travel schedule takes me to Indianapolis.


Trey Rogers
The Yard Doctor

    Bookmark   June 22, 2006 at 7:24AM
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girlfromthegarden(z5 Indy metro)

Thanks for the confirmation on needing to re-do the whole shebang, Trey (btw, you're only the 2nd person I've met with that name, the first was a fellow student years ago at Virginia Tech - I'm thinking it has more southern roots?).

My immediate thoughts are to take the lawn out and start over. By this I mean spend spring and summer removing rocks

Are you then thinking that we'd be better to start right away on stripping off the present sod (such as it is) and doing our rock-purging over the course of June and into July, then prepare to re-seed in later August or as the days begin to cool off and lengthen? Now *that* would be grueling! Admittedly it might actually *take* that long (aarghh) - in a 3-foot diameter hole dug down approximately 8"-10" in preparation for setting a tree, I've sifted out literally buckets of rocks (at least fifty pounds-plus). So if the goal is to get the top 6"-8" of soil cleaned out for an unobstructed root zone, we might really need to spend several weeks intensively digging out sections at a time.

then in late summer bringing in quality topsoil layer of 3 inches (in addition to filling all holes with the same material, in this case a good sandy loam soil.

Okay, if we should start this process six to eight weeks in advance of re-seeding, what should be the controls to keep the original soil from washing away, doing its Indiana-clay best to resemble concrete, or becoming more weed-grown in the stripped-off areas in the meantime until the weather's more agreeable for the fresh seed? I appreciate the help thinking through this, it's a major undertaking involving at least a 30'x 20' minimum section of the front yard (which has enough slope to need erosion control if we take off the existing grass more than a week prior to adding seed/straw).

Would there be any advantage to some "temporary" patching or re-seeding after working out the rocks, with a good quality grass-seed blend, and then doing a heavy over-seed toward fall? Or is that simply wasting grass seed? Maybe buy some bales of pine shavings (pet bedding) to toss down as a mulch and add some OM if it'd benefit at all (watered with green Koolade for that avante-garde designer look :))? I'm trying to avoid the Barren Wasteland-scape and a mudslide effect over the sidewalk, between steps in this process! thanks!


    Bookmark   June 22, 2006 at 9:20PM
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Dear Sherry,

Thank you very much for your follow up inquiry. I donÂt think we need to have the topsoil down for 6-8 weeks before we seed. Just have it delivered and filled and smoothed right before you are ready to go in September.

If you are going to have a temporary seeding, I would recommend just annual ryegrass. Make sure it is annual and not perennial. Annual ryegrass will come up quick but you will not have to worry about it being a rogue plant when you get to the actual job.

With the adding of OM now, my thoughts are that you would just bury it with the additional topsoil, rendering it useless in the future. I think Annual ryegrass will anchor your soil fine.

Again, thanks for the question and let me know if you have more.


Trey Rogers
The Yard Doctor

    Bookmark   June 23, 2006 at 5:47AM
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girlfromthegarden(z5 Indy metro)

Hi Trey, appreciate the early reply here - maybe something in my question was phrased obliquely, but I think we crossed signals about what I was trying to verify. Let me re-ask it, kind of linearly:

In your first answer to me, you said we should spend spring and summer getting out the rocks, then in late summer (September) get the new topsoil brought in and put down quality seed (because that's a good time of year to re-start a lawn fresh). So I'd asked if that meant that:

a.) my son and I would start *now* (June) by removing all the existing grass (leaving naked dirt), then

b.) would use the time between now and September digging into that dirt to sift out the rocks (these aren't necessarily large rocks, just a LOT of them, palm-sized or smaller)

c.) the front yard would be essentially bare for the months of July and August, and therefore vulnerable to erosion, weed infestation, and having the clay compacted by any traffic on it (kids would not stay off the yard, that's pretty much guaranteed), so

d.) if we have an open-dirt front yard in this process of taking out rocks, should something protective (pine shavings, other organic material, or a re-seed of a temporary grass) be used over the areas where the rocks are removed, but there's no new topsoil brought in yet in advance of the September seeding?

That was my main point of questioning in my follow-up, was the concern for going from a front yard that has grass *now*, to leaving it stripped and open all summer, as opposed to my thought that my son and I would wait to strip the existing sod, dig out the rocks, then refill or whatever with soil and then re-seed, *in the fall*, and not actually starting with this process now, precisely because it would mean leaving the front yard barren of any grass for two months during the heat of the season. I was trying to confirm that you thought the digging-out should begin now as opposed to later on toward fall. I'm not exactly sure how long it would take to do this digging-out, but would rather start the stripping/digging stuff closer to when the new topsoil and seed would go down, unless there was an advantage to having it done by July and then letting the yard "rest" for six weeks or more as you'd seemed to propose, maybe to let the soil settle after the rocks were removed??? Did I ask this more clearly, I hope? :) Thanks!


    Bookmark   June 23, 2006 at 8:16AM
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I remove a Rainbow playset and need to repair the holes. Any advice.

    Bookmark   May 22, 2008 at 2:01PM
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Our very large rocks are buried about 2 feet down. We did remove all poor topsoil and put all new in. We are now again faced with brown patches of grass...obviously where the rocks are! Please HELP! Removing these BOULDERS in not an option.

Thanks so much,

    Bookmark   August 19, 2008 at 1:17PM
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We had our cesspool replaced a year ago and our entire backyard is dirt and rocks now. We've been trying to hand remove all of the rocks so we can reseed but it seems never ending. Is there a machine that can rake up all of the rocks so that we can do topsoil and then seed so we have something this summer besides dirt?

    Bookmark   May 11, 2011 at 10:56AM
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