starting grass in sandy soil

jerseybob_gwFebruary 10, 2009

I'm in central NJ with extremely sandy soil.

I have composted horse manure and uncomposted shredded oak leaves. I plan on tilling them in and then covering with screened top soil.

The question is should I put the shredded leaves down first, till that in and then put the manure over it and till that in or put the manure down first?

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dchall_san_antonio(8 San Antonio)

Forget about tilling anything in, in my singular opinion. I've been reading here and on many other forums for years. If you want to do what the professionals do, don't till.

But I can see you are going to till anyway because you read about it in virtually every guide to starting a new lawn, so with that in mind...put it all down and then till. Till it in all directions. Just get it out of the way. Then in 3 years after your sand has settled back down, you will have a very uneven surface and you will wonder why. It was the tilling.

Are your drainage and your contours perfect? If not then really don't till. Hire a landscaper to fix that for you. They will use a tractor and box blade to amend your sand and contour it at the same time.

What kind of grass are you planning to use? Are you seeding (best done in the fall) or sodding (done any time of year)? Since you are writing in the pre-spring, I'm assuming you are going to seed in the spring. The worst thing about that is that crabgrass seed is sitting there waiting (or will be tilled up when you till). Crabgrass seed needs exactly the same moisture as your grass seed in order to germinate. Thus you will likely have a yard of your preferred seed mixed with crabgrass until next fall. I would suggest you get used to that idea now and not belabor it all summer. You can get rid of the crabgrass next fall. If you plant some Kentucky bluegrass with fescue, you will have a pretty good chance of beating the crabgrass without doing much of anything next fall. If you only plant fescue, then you will have to so some more work as the summer heat breaks.

I like sand as my top soil. I bring it in. My normal soil is white, crushed limestone with a pH of about 8. Sand is at least neutral so I bring that in to cover and fill when I need to.

    Bookmark   February 10, 2009 at 7:22PM
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why not spread the good stuff on top, it will incorporate into the native soil naturally. You no doubt will have to add more amendments in the future as the good soil works its way through the sandy stuff.

    Bookmark   February 10, 2009 at 7:47PM
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andy10917(NY 6a)

DCHALL already covered the tilling thing. I'm going to cover Oak leaves. The stuff about them making the soil acidic is bogus. The tannic acid acts more as a preservative than a soil acidifier. It's the preservative part that bothers me - these leaves break down s-l-o-w-l-y, and you're saying they're uncomposted. Working them into the soil in the Fall works for a lot of people, but the Spring can be challenging, especially if there isn't tons of moisture available like in a sandy soil. I did it in a Garden one year and found them still pretty intact when I pulled out the tomato vines in the Fall. Tricky....

    Bookmark   February 10, 2009 at 8:35PM
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garycinchicago(Z5 Chicago IL.)

To quote (link below)

"Scientists have found that fallen maple and oak leaves release natural phenols during the first 6 to 8 months of the rotting period. These phenols INHIBIT growth of (all) seedling roots, but rot and disappear from soil and mulch within 9 months of weathering".
(Other research shows that oak leaves lose their phenol in well-heated compost faster than 9 months [depending on highest temperature and temperature duration], due to more rapid cellulose breakdown).
"Better to keep (ALL) dead leaves and leaf compost (under 9 months old) OUT of an area where seeds will be sprouting until after plants are up and growing well".

Here is a link that might be useful: Autumn Leaves: Myth & Reality

    Bookmark   February 10, 2009 at 11:10PM
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How do you amend with a box blade? I have tried and just can't get it right. I need to break up my front yard of about 6000 sq feet and am willing to try something other than tilling but I also want good incorporation of compost.

    Bookmark   February 16, 2009 at 8:31AM
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andy10917(NY 6a)

My method may be too slow for what you're trying to achieve, but what I do is a serious core aeration and dethatching, then throw down a good amount of compost, then mow the lawn SLOWLY (without a catcher to pick it all up). A fair amount of the grass (green material) and compost (brown material) plus the chopped up cores find their way to the core holes with the next good rain. A molasses treatment speeds the process up a bit (but too much molasses is bad). I do this in late April in lower NY, when the rains are pretty frequent, and in mid-September if I'm not doing any heavy seeding. Over time, the material makes the organic material in the soil go up, and more of the material finds the low spots than the high spots, very slowly leveling the overall lawn. It will take 2-3 years to become noticeable, but it works.

    Bookmark   February 16, 2009 at 10:32AM
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dchall_san_antonio(8 San Antonio)

How do you amend with a box blade? I have tried and just can't get it right. I need to break up my front yard of about 6000 sq feet and am willing to try something other than tilling but I also want good incorporation of compost.

Most box blades come with rippers (or tines). If you have the amendments, spread them evenly with the blade, then come through with the tines, finally level with the blade again. The ripper tines will incorporate the amendments while they rip. The difference between the rippers and a tiller is that the rippers are attached to something that is driving on relatively solid ground. The tiller gets engulfed in its own mess and will till at different profiles all across the lawn. Still I'm not thrilled with incorporating compost. I think it makes a better top dressing after the soil is leveled/profiled. [for those of you who have followed my objections to compost in the past, I recently read something that changed my mind on the subject. I'm not exactly going to encourage it but I will no longer discourage it for anyone who thinks they want to do it.]

Be sure your compost is really finished cooking. It should smell like a forest floor after a rainstorm. If it has woody pieces in it, don't till it in. The woody parts still need to decompose and they will use up all the nitrogen in the soil (including any fertilizer you apply) until the woody parts are gone. You can screen the woody parts out first if you want.

    Bookmark   February 17, 2009 at 10:24AM
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I'm guessing one of the issues you will have with the sandy soil will be watering. You will need to water very frequently to get that stuff to germinate well. Then once its up, it will be tough to gauge how to back it off and promote deep root growth to make it more drought tolerant. Lightly dressing with topsoil once in a while might be a good idea. Using organic fertilizers will help add to the organic matter in the soil. Using previously composted products such as Sustane fertilizer (their 4-6-4 product would be perfect for a new lawn) will help build the soil up quickly.

    Bookmark   February 23, 2009 at 10:13PM
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dchall_san_antonio(8 San Antonio)

Good points, denverdude. Sand is tricky.

    Bookmark   February 23, 2009 at 10:22PM
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Ok, so I shouldn't till. Not a problem, that means less work, and I certainly don't have a problem with less work.

That being said, should I spread the shredded leaves first and cover with the manure or do it the other way around?

Either way, I will be covering this with topsoil.
I would have preferred to do this last fall, but I had to wait until after the inground propane tank was removed.
I did install sprinkler system, so watering will not be an issue for start-up.
I do plan to overseed in the fall.

    Bookmark   February 27, 2009 at 2:11PM
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I don't think it will matter which way you do it - manure or leaves - maybe the manure will hold the leaves down better?

    Bookmark   March 1, 2009 at 2:06PM
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dchall_san_antonio(8 San Antonio)

Manure? When did manure enter the discussion?

Okay I found it in the original post. Please, once manure is composted it becomes compost, not manure. The difference is huge.

I would not put compost down until the very last thing. Compost should all be on the surface of the soil, not anywhere else.

    Bookmark   March 1, 2009 at 6:00PM
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