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Fixing my lawn and my hydrophobic dirt - and a question about "Revive"

 
                            
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All,

My lawn is in bad shape.  I've had the house for about a year, and I heard from the neighbors that the old owners had a very aggressive lawn maintenance regimen which involved a local lawn care company coming out and fertilizing it a LOT, resulting in what appears to be a very chemically-dependent water-hungry lawn.

I'm trying to follow richsoil.com Organic lawncare for the cheap and lazy, but I just don't think my dirt absorbs water at all, and the summer heat has absolutely killed my lawn.  People tell me "your lawn need some water" and I respond "I refuse to water more often than every other day."  I've been mowing high, but the lawn is so stressed from heat and lack of water that it has just stopped growing alltogether, and some significant bare spots have shown up.

Recently, I made a change to my sprinkler set up to water each zone twice for 20 minutes (about two hours apart) instead of once for forty minutes hoping that will help.

I also heard about "Revive" (http://www.revive.com).

I plan to aerate, top dress with 1/4" to 1/2" of topsoil/compost blend, and overseed this fall, but in the meantime, I'm wondering what I can do to help improve the soil as much as possible between now and then.  Is "Revive" a useful tool for getting the water to where it needs to be, or a collection of scary chemicals?  What other options/tools do I have to help my dirt absorb water?

Any other advice?  I can dig holes and take pictures.  I'm also planning on getting my soil tested before I top dress and seed this fall to see if there might be anything else going on.  Dandilions like my lawn, so it's possible that the pH is off, but it might also just be that my lawn isn't very competitive right now.  Ultimately, I think the real issue is a complete lack of quality topsoil, and I'm just not sure how to fix that without add a whole bunch and making my lawn start four inches above the sidewalk.

Thanks in advance for your help!
 
Jeremy Bunag
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Posts: 231
Location: Central IL
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Well I'm guessing that "Proprietary Component A" listed in the MSDS is the wetting agent.  Not knowing what that is can be worrisome.  The fact that is claims to be organic is ok, but doesn't cinch the deal of making it safe.  But it does seem to address your primary concern.

I don't know how much the stuff costs, but judging by the ingredients (for the granular), it looks like you could replicate it with some baby shampoo (wetting agent), ironite (or similar iron-based greening agent), and chicken poo.  It's cheating though to say that the reason for the perk up is because of better water penetration given this formulation.  True, water will make it stand tall and feel good (maybe greener), but iron and nitrogen given at the same time sure does that too!  If you're happy with your fertilizing regimen, then you could get by with just the baby shampoo.

Wetting agents (IMHO) can possibly speed up soil busting/aerating on the theory of improved root vigor.  But you have to keep using them (as an added step) while that process (still running at the speed of nature, or slightly faster) executes.  Not a horrid prospect if you are so motivated and have the time for the extra step and the money to keep it going.  I've been tempted myself.  Then I decided that the extra effort and expense for the amount of dirt to treat wasn't worth it to me.

If you keep up the mowing high and try to water slowly (like it sounds like you are:  watering until just before runoff, resting, then watering again, perhaps even repeating until you get 1" in one watering) then I think you'd get the same results, since the water will penetrate eventually.  Dandelions are doing you the service of busting soil with their long taproots, so you have a negative becoming a positive, or at least a net neutral.

If you keep up the mow high and water deep (and keeping the chemicals off), worms will find your yard again and help even more with the soil busting and root penetration (and fertilization!).  Nature can heal it!

If you feel like joining the experiment, you can try digging some worm pits.  Search around and find Northeast Al (now Al Loria) on this forum to hear about his trial of worm pits.  So far a positive, from what I read!

If you want to watch your land rally, just keep up the mow & water mantra, it's a sight to behold when your lawn takes that turn for the better!  You'll get more topsoil every time you mow high and leave the clippings, or every time a worm poops in your soil, or a weed dies, or grass dies, or anything else breaks down on your lawn.  Adding the soil/compost in the fall ought to help (if you know the make-up of the delivery is better than what you already have!), but sure is a lot of work and expense to start from scratch again.

A soil test would be great, to find out what you're lacking as far the soil environment for the grass.

Whew!  Didn't mean to write so much!
 
                            
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Thanks for the quick response and taking the time to be detailed!

Jeremy Bunag wrote:I don't know how much the stuff costs, but judging by the ingredients (for the granular), it looks like you could replicate it with some baby shampoo (wetting agent), ironite (or similar iron-based greening agent), and chicken poo.


The granular is about $20 a bag (5000 square feet), the liquid stuff is $18 for 4000 square feet, or $15 for 2000 square feet with a build in hose attachment.  There's no chicken poop in the liquid stuff (apparently it's in the granular as that's how they "granulize" it).  Sounds like it won't hurt, but may very well not be worth the money.  It's interesting, though, that the local extension office recommends it.

Yeah, I've read through some of the other posts, and the worm pits certainly sound interesting, with mixed results as far as the area outside the pits goes.

I guess my question with the watering is this:  If my lawn is dying, and my soil doesn't appear to be holding moisture very well, which of the following is a better approach:
a - Water as much as the lawn needs until it greens up and starts growing again (even if it's nightly) and then reduce watering frequency from there as my lawn starts to come back, OR
b - Water infrequently (no more often than every three days) and expect that the grass will eventually grow deeper roots and fill back in?
 
Jeremy Bunag
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Posts: 231
Location: Central IL
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otherguy wrote:
Thanks for the quick response and taking the time to be detailed!


You're welcome!



otherguy wrote:

I guess my question with the watering is this:  If my lawn is dying, and my soil doesn't appear to be holding moisture very well, which of the following is a better approach:
a - Water as much as the lawn needs until it greens up and starts growing again (even if it's nightly) and then reduce watering frequency from there as my lawn starts to come back, OR
b - Water infrequently (no more often than every three days) and expect that the grass will eventually grow deeper roots and fill back in?


Water as infrequently as your grass will allow.  Try to get all of your watering done in a morning's time (water, rest, water [maybe more]).  Hopefully over a day's time, the grass will perk up.  Wait until it starts to falter (bends over, keeps footprints) before watering again.  Over time your grass should be able to go longer without sprinkling.

THAT SAID, many people let their lawn go into semi-dormancy in the summer, it may not be worth it to try to keep your lawn lush while fighting the sun...
 
Jeremy Bunag
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Posts: 231
Location: Central IL
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Also keep in mind that 1" of water is for ideal loam soil.

Clay may take only 1/2" before it saturates and want to run off.  But it will hold the water for a long time .
Sand will gulp down 1.5 or 2" before it says it's done.  But water moves away quickly not all the water you put in will be seen by your growies.

Most people I've talked to have somewhere between clay and loam.  So for them I say follow the "Wet the soil, rest, then water the soil to just before runoff" approach.  Note the time or amount and now you know how much to water.
 
                        
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The one thing about "Cheap and Lazy" that isn't instantly obvious is that is is also "slow and methodical"  If you want something faster, you are going to move away from either cheap or lazy or both.

Paul (the author of the article) even mentions that he spent a few $100 on new top soil, which he had to spread over his lawn seed and water to fix it.  That isn't cheap or lazy.  (In his defense, care afterward was probably cheap and lazy)

"otherguy" its really going to matter where you feel you are on this spectrum, are you down by cheap and lazy or are you willing to put in some elbow grease and probably some money to speed things up?

I don't know where you live, but right now its mid summer and your lawn seems like its a bit "tired"  Its probably browning out to save itself.  Its trying to save water and food for when it cools down and it can grow again.  You may want to wait until fall or at least when it cools down.

As far as things to do, here is a quick list going for the most work and money to less

  • [li]Add topsoil (truck loads) and reseed the whole thing (in the fall, depending on where you are seed probably isn't going to grow well now.)[/li]
    [li]Add topsoil (truck loads) and sod (I think you can do this in the summer this idea never appealed to me but that just me)[/li]
    [li]Dig Worm Pits[/li]
    [li]Top Dress with Compost[/li]
    [li]Drench with Aerated Compost Tea(ACT)[/li]
    [li]Fertilize everything[/li]
    [li]Spot Fertilize [/li]
    [li]Mow High and Water infrequently[/li]


  • A soil test isn't a bad idea as it will let you know whats going on and what kinds of changes you might need to make.

    The list isn't exclusive, some of the folks here have done several of them at the same time such as topdress, ACT, worm pits, fertilize and of course mow high and water less.

    I'm currently renting and am just mowing high and watering only as needed.  My front yard looks pretty good.  I have a neighbor that has a service take care of his lawn.  I mow about 4" high, around once a week, I've watered a few times.  His is cut at least weekly(very short too), its on an automatic irrigation so its watered daily and its look about the same, at best.

    My backyard is a disaster.  I just gave up, I just cut and water it as needed.  It been interesting watching the weeds.  the dead spots (just bare dirt) started getting things like clover and plantains.  Then after about a while of just cutting/watering I noticed other plants competing for that space.  In some areas, the grass is beginning to compete.  I just don't want bare ground anything that is growing is going to get cut adding to the organic matter, nutrients in the soil.  heh, if I did this for a few years, the backyard would come around.  Having used this approach elsewhere, I know that the front yard would get get thicker, need less water and have fewer weeds.

    Sorry for the mammoth post.  One thing I will tell you I believe in this approach.  I've seen it work in other places I've lived.  It a good feeling to have a nice lawn that doesn't take that much work or money.  Its especially nice when summer strikes and everyone's lawn is going dormant and your is still lush an green.
     
                                
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    FWIW, I'm in Denver, Colorado.

    My results this summer, is even watering more than I'd like, I have some spots in the front that are going from "yellow and dead looking" to "bare dirt".  Certainly, most of my lawn looks "tired" or "weedy" but other spots are just going to dirt, or "dead."

    I think that I am going to stick with my plan to invest some effort and money and top dress with compost and seed this fall, to give it a jump start for next year.

    I guess really my problem in the meantime is the whole "water as needed" thing.  To look at my lawn, "as needed" is every day.  People say to water when the footsteps get left behind.  If I water my lawn one day, there's not noticeable improvement the day after.  Should I just keep watering the crap out of it now until it really starts to come back, or should I wait until the weather cools down a bit and it starts to grow better with less water?
     
    Al Loria
    Posts: 395
    Location: New York
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    Otherguy, live soil is where it is at.  If the soil is dead the only thing that works is more chemical fertilizers. 

    It has been a brutal year for heat here in the northeast.  My lawn started out as the most promising I could have wished for using Paul's method of mowing high and infrequent watering.  Once the heat set in it all went down the crapper.  Not the fault of the plan, just plain overstressed situation.  I started to water and the dirt is so hard it won't accept much water.  Yesterday, I forgot I had left the sprinkler on and the only place that took the water was the worm pit that I show in the thread I started.  I was able to sink my hand in it up to my wrist.  It was almost a muddy swamp.], but I was happy.  By the way, that is one of the few spots that looked good this summer, heat and all with only two previous waterings.  I was trying desperately not to water, and only once a week if it did not rain.  I had to give in and soak it yesterday because it had gone down to where I thought it was all going to die.  this was beyond dormant.  I went from the best looking lawn on the block to the worst.

    Right now I am figuring out how to get the rest of the soil to be like the pit.  I don't know if I should topsoil the whole thing or not, or finish making all the pits in the fall.  I've been waffling the past week on what to do, and I really want to stick with the pits and topdressing.  In fact, I just started another load of compost in the tumbler yesterday to use in the fall.

    Cheap and lazy is a tough plan to follow when your lawn looks like crap and you are looking at a couple of years to get it right.  sooner or later the worms will come, and the biologics will too.  Then it almost takes care of itself.  Or so I'm told.

    Today is sticking with the plan day.  Tomorrow might be truckload of topsoil day.  Day after that it might be something different.  Mostly depends on how it starts to look in a few weeks.  It has started to cool off at night this week and I should see a turnaround (if it is going to happen) by next week.

    If you have the patience, stick with cheap and lazy.  Sooner or later you will be able to sit outside and sip a beer while your neighbors are busting their butts or paying to have their lawn serviced.

    Best of luck to the both of us.


    Al
     
                                
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    Thanks for all the feedback. It's just tough to know what to do when I haven't had to mow my lawn almost four weeks because it's simply not growing. Can't multch what isn't there.

    I'm going to hope it comes back q bit as the weather cools down, and top dress and seed this fall. Maybe even dig a worm pit it two in the real trouble spots. We'll see what happens.

    Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions. I know it feels like the same stuff fits asked over and over again.  I guess it's just hard to tell what to do from the article when you've got nothing to moe high and the ground won't take eater.

    Looking forward to a better each year from here on out.
     
    Al Loria
    Posts: 395
    Location: New York
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    I know what you are talking about right now.  We mowed last week and I think we cut off 1/4", maybe, and that was on only half the lawn.  Now it is just flat, lifeless straw on the side of the house with huge bare spots in it.  The center of the lawn is straw with small bare spots.  Looks worse than it did in my first pics in the spring.

    It'll get better.  Hang in there.


    Al
     
    Jeremy Bunag
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    Location: Central IL
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    I know it can be really frustrating...  It's hard to sit back and wait.  I still have plenty of areas that aren't pretty, got some ankle turners and rough and solid soil.  But the good stuff's spreading!

    If you want to help recover from chems, compost and/or compost tea will definitely give you a great head start.

    Al's got it right, temper your patience with your plan!
     
                            
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    Sorry about that, I misunderstood your concern.  As far as the watering, if its not doing much.  Cut back or maybe even stop. 

    Are weeds growing?  Depending on how you look at it, that could be a reason to cutback/stop.  If you encourage weeds now, that's more you'll have to deal with later.

    [Soapbox rant]
    (you can stop reading if you don't like weeds)
    Alternatively, if you don't mind weeds, then by all means water away and encourage them to grow.  That's what I've done in my backyard.  I had a lot of bare patches.  When I watered what little I had, I noticed weeds (like clover, plantains, crabgrass etc...) filling in the bare spots and encroaching on the good spots.  At first it bothered me, but then I thought about it... I'd rather weeds than bare spots. 

    I look at it this way, bare spots only get worse.  They erode, wind blows them, they don't hold moisture the ground gets harder and harder; there is no soil life.  Weeds try and grow there (some seems to thrive surprisingly) they do a lot for you.  They till the soil with their tap roots creating passages for water.  Many are Dynamic Accumulators, which bring up or add nutrients like Nitrogen (clover) and trace minerals (dandelions and plantains).  When I cut them they feed the soil, encourage soil biology, worms, bugs... 

    It may not be pretty but its alive and recovering.  As they help replenish the soil, eventually I'll be able to encourage grass to grow and replace them.  The techniques in the article, tell you how to give turfgrass the upper hand allowing it to take over the lawn.
    [/Soapbox rant]
     
                                
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    Well, with the weather cooled down, my lawn definitely looks better.  It came back much better than I would've thought (it's amazing how similar "dormant" and "dead" look).  I also just sent in a soil sample for testing, and I was surprised that the soil seemed to be in fairly good condition down to 6-8", though the lawn roots were only an inch or so down.  I think one problem is that the soil is mostly clay and pretty compacted.

    The spots that aren't doing well at all right now are the spots that don't get very good coverage from the sprinklers.  My long-term plan is to encourage deeper roots and better soil so that this isn't as much of a problem, but I might have to mess with the sprinklers a bit in the mean time.

    The other major issue I have is that spotted spurge is taking over my lawn... more than a little.  I'm hoping that if I can make my soil favorable to the lawn - based on the results of the soil test - then the lawn can start to take some ground back.  If not, then there will be a lot of manual weed pulling next year.

    Depending upon the results of the soil test, I still plan to add a layer of compost and appropriate fertilizer.  I'm anticipating also having to fix some pH issues, but we'll see.  I'll post an update once I get the results back, which will hopefully be this week.
     
                                
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    Just in case anyone is interested, I got my soil test results back (below).  Looks like I'm really in pretty great shape except that I desperately need some fertilizer.

    I've been researching a little bit in an effort to stay organic and cheap.  Triple superphosphate is certainly cheap.  Should I spend almost 10x as much on the bone meal instead of this?

    Same question for potassium sulfate - is there any reason I should try to find an alternative source of potassium?


    pH 6.6
    The optimal pH range for growing turfgrass is 6.5 - 7.0.

    E. C. OR SALTS (Electrical Conductivity): 0.5
    Low. When E.C. is less than 2.0, salinity is not a problem for plant growth. 

    Lime Estimate: Low
    Low: indicates less than 1% CaCO3 (lime). 


    Texture Estimate: Sandy Clay Loam
    Sandy clay loam  soils drain at moderate rates, about 0.5 inch per hour.


    SAR 0.1 SAR is low; sodium is not a problem
       (Sodium adsorption ratio)

    O. M. 6.9%   (Organic Matter)
    Very high; no additional OM e.g. compost is needed.



    NO3-N 7 ppm
    N is low.  For high maintenance bluegrass/ryegrass turf: add 1 lb N/1000 sq.ft in each of 4 applications:
    (1) mid-April, (2) May-to-mid-June, (3) mid-Aug to mid-Sept., (4) and early Oct. to early Nov.
    For low maintenance bluegrass or tall fescue: reduce applications (1) and (2) to 1/2 lb N/1000 sq.ft;
    application (4) is optional.  For fine fescue: 1/2 lb N/1000 sq.ft in seasons (1), (2), and (3)
    For each 1 lb of N needed, apply 10 lb of (10-2-6), or  8 lb bloodmeal, or 11 lb corn gluten meal, or 50 lb alfalfa meal/pellets, per 1000 sq.ft..

    P 2.8 ppm (ppm Available Phosphorus)
    Very low; add 4 lb P2O5/1000 sq.ft.  The (10-2-6) fertilizer you plan to use is very low in P (only 2%), so it would take 200 lb of (10-2-6)/1000 sq.ft to supply the needed P. Consider using instead either 9 lb triple super phosphate, or 27 lb bonemeal, per 1000 sq.ft.

    K 85 ppm (ppm Available Potassium)
    Low; add 1 lb K2O/1000 sq.ft.  Organic fertilizers tend to be very low in potassium.  Consider adding the needed K2O as potassium sulfate.  Add 2 lb potassium sulfate per 1000 sq.ft.

    Zn 3.8 ppm Adequate; no additional Zn is needed

    Fe 41.8 ppm Adequate; no additional Fe is needed

    Mn 0.5 ppm Adequate; no additional Mn is needed

    Cu 3.4 ppm Adequate; no additional Cu is needed.

    B 1.1 ppm Adequate.  No additional B is needed.

     
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    http://richsoil.com/pdc
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