Code Brown!

EasternPAJuly 29, 2014

I live in Eastern PA, where the soil is generally rocky and has a high clay content. Last fall I had the soil renovated, which consisted of having a landscaper come in with a "rock hound", removing any rocks over 1" at a depth of 4", then adding topsoil to amend the soil, and re-seeding the entire lawn with tall fescue.

The results were fantastic - within a month we had a lush green lawn. A proper pre-emergent, weed-killer, and fertilizer schedule was continued after the winter, and we were impressed with the lawn.

Then, suddenly, as it began to get warmer during the summer, the lawn turned brown within a week. (See the attached photo). I realize that it has been hot in Eastern PA, and lawns go dormant in the heat, however my lawn seems much browner then any other in the area, all of which seem to be doing ok.

Here is the run down on the lawn:

Tall fescue
Mostly sun, sections shaded
No irrigation, but heavy watering is done at least once a week
Proper treatments have been applied on schedule (pre-emergent, weed & feed).
PH is normal

The big mystery is why is the lawn so brown in comparison with others? Perhaps there is still too much clay/rocks in the soil? Does the lawn need more organic material (ex: top dressing)? Or is the lawn simply starving for nutrients and need better fertilizer? Is it just a "new lawn" (around 1 year now) that still needs time to root?

I am of the opinion that the browning is too severe for it to be related to heat, and that there us an underlying issue. The neighbor's lawns have the same conditions but are much greener and are growing great. Obviously, seeing how green the lawn finally was in the Spring was amazing, however the sudden and ongoing decline is discouraging.

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FYI, here is the lawn in the spring

    Bookmark   July 29, 2014 at 7:12AM
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hairmetal4ever(Z7 MD)

Possibly just that they haven't rooted as deeply as established lawns yet.

    Bookmark   July 29, 2014 at 7:15AM
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Eastern PA as well here, the Lehigh Valley.

That looks like water shortage. One year old fescue doesn't have the roots that it will in the future, and it'll water shock a lot more easily than older fescue will.

Our weather is about to break for late summer, so for the next two or three weeks you can step up the watering to twice a week, and half the amount you put down once a week (so it works out the same). While technically not optimal watering, it's fine--and in your case, required!

Our soil around here is actually very, very good for raising just about anything! I attached a link to my Saturday lawn photos, which show an extremely healthy Kentucky bluegrass (short-rooted, in other words) lawn.

If you look, you'll see a touch of browning in the front photo. That mostly reversed out in our rainfall day before yesterday, but it won't completely go away until September.

I've only watered twice this season, but I have the soil prepped from eight years of applying organic material at this point.

I love your landscaping, by the way! The flowers are lovely.

Here is a link that might be useful: Photos, eastern PA lawn

    Bookmark   July 29, 2014 at 1:32PM
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Thanks for the response. Hopefully it is just due to the lack of water. Unfortunately, on well water (lower pressure) it is very hard to get a good watering in often.

Do you have any recommendations to increase organic content in the soil? Even if the lawn is simply suffering from a water shortage, it is still extremely hard and high in clay content. Although the area has great soil, the prior owners dug 10+ feet down to install septic tanks and seems to have spread a lot of the clay and rocks they dug out on the top of the ground. We took care of that issue by using the rock hound, to remove rocks and adding topsoil, but the soil still isn't perfect.

For example, would Topdressing be a good idea, or does it need to be mixed in with a tiller?

    Bookmark   July 29, 2014 at 2:55PM
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>>Hopefully it is just due to the lack of water.

If it doesn't come back in fall, it's time to think about a full soil test. While our soils are beautiful, they do tend to have some shortages--but which ones and how much are highly variable.

From the look of it? It's going to come back in fall or before.

>>For example, would Topdressing be a good idea, or does it need to be mixed in with a tiller?

I'm not a fan of topdressing with anything other than pure organic material because adding or changing soil creates altered soil zones. It's not a good idea to do that as roots tend to be hesitant to enter a different zone than they're in. I've seen plenty of people kill perfectly lovely trees doing that.

Tilling is rarely a good idea, but does have its place sometimes. In most cases, it simply injects oxygen into layers where it isn't native, kills micro-organisms that are native (and healthy) to the soil, burns off organic material (from the added oxygen), and brings up dormant weed seeds. Not to mention destroying the natural water channels in the soil, which can take a year to restore themselves.

Increasing organic material is, fortunately, pretty easy. Stop feeding synthetically and start feeding organically. As the soil life increases, it works it in for you.

This is not a fast process (on the order of years), but you don't want it to be that fast.

I'm not sure of your county or nearest town so I'm not sure what your options will be in this area. From the LV, I drive out to Kempton and buy stuff at Kempton Mill.

Oh--you'd have to do a jar test at home, but our soils are generally dominated by silt. Under many circumstances, it's indistinguishable in density and solidity from clay,

I'm actually rare in having 60% silt, 40% clay, no sand to speak of. Mom, a mile away, has 50% silt, 30% sand, 20% clay.

    Bookmark   July 29, 2014 at 3:15PM
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