might build a home on old horse farm - lawn planting questions...

Sarah80July 11, 2013

My husband and I recently looked at a lot for sale in Central Ohio. It's a former horse pasture that was subdivided - the lot we're looking at is 4.3 acres. While we just bought a home recently, the layout of this land is so beautiful we're giving it some serious thought to building our dream home there.

Anyway, here's the situation. Right now, the land is abandoned pasture - per the realtor the horses have been gone for several years. It's mostly overgrown pasture grass (I'm guessing K31 Tall Fescue) & some scattered weeds, tree saplings, etc.

I'm also concerned about compacted soil from years of horse hooves and the damage they do.

So, starting off, after the house is done, what's the best way to go about it? Should we just hire a local farmer to come in with his cultivator and just turn it all over as-is, or would we be better off to Roundup the entire thing (4 acres is a lot to do!)

The whole thing won't be lawn - part of it I might just do some native groundcover, but my husband wants lawn at least in the front for "curb appeal" haha.

How would you lawn warriors go about this? Also, if any of the little trees turn out to be worth saving, is there a rule of thumb on how far from the tree we need to keep any tillage equipment to not damage roots?

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dchall_san_antonio(8 San Antonio)

Livestock do not damage soil. Lack of livestock damages soil by stopping the nutrient cycle, allowing weeds to move in, and by not providing enough disturbance. Most tree huggers and even many ranchers do not understand that disturbance of the soil is a necessary requirement for continual renewal of the soil. It is required at least annually to keep a pasture in good condition for grazing. I would be much more concerned about the prolonged lack of animals than any possibility that a horse, or even a large herd of horses, might damage the soil.

Livestock grazing and even stampeding is one of the best things you can do to plant seed. Mother Nature uses that as Her preferred method for replanting the prairies of the world. Farmers are learning the method, too. One rancher here in Texas borrowed a neighbor's 800 head of cattle to eat down an overgrown pasture of about 50 acres. If you know anything about cattle, it took about 24 hours before the land looked like the surface of the moon. Every plant was gone either eaten down or trampled down. He didn't do anything else and the grass started growing immediately. The next season started out with an abundance of fresh grass where once stood a mess of grass and browse.

But anyway, if you do not have a ready supply of livestock located conveniently on the other side of one of your fences, then you will need some equipment to grade for your house and then regrade, after the builders leave, for your garden. The tool the graders will use is called a box blade and it sits on the back of a tractor. A good grader could grade 4 acres of pastureland in a morning if there are no obstacles. If there are buildings, concrete, sprinklers, roots, or other things in the way, it could take as long as 2 days to get the last details.

Rule of thumb for trees: the roots will extend to the edge of the tree canopy. Some smaller roots may continue beyond the edge of the canopy.

Do not turn the soil over. Mother Nature never turns the soil over. That is the worst thing you can do in preparation for anything you have planned. Definitely don't do it for under the house, and don't do it for the lawn. The box blade is all you need. If the driver feels the need to use the ripper bars on the box blade, at least that tool is under control. Other tools that dig or till the soil will cause an increasing bumpiness problem for three years. After that the soil will have settled and you can level it.

Thank you for writing before you made any mistakes.

    Bookmark   July 11, 2013 at 8:44PM
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So, basically, if I understand it right, the box blade and rippers are more like a big rake, i.e., the box blade "cuts" the dirt smooth, like a paring knife, and the ripper bars will "break up" the soil without mixing the layers that have developed naturally, vs tillage, which mixes subsoil, humus layers, and topsoil, etc...

Am I right?

My concern is the same as if you're building around existing trees, you see trees die years later because the construction equipment compacted the soil...& even new trees don't grow well that are planted because of the damage...you're saying livestock can't do that?

    Bookmark   July 12, 2013 at 9:43AM
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dchall_san_antonio(8 San Antonio)

You see trees die because the owners like to topdress and b bury the trees too deep in the soil. This is a properly planted tree showing how the roots should be exposed.

This is an improperly planted tree showing no exposed roots.

This is excellent photo because it shows the fungus growing on the bark of the tree. After a few years that fungus will eat into the tree, cut off the upward flow of nutrients, thin the tree, and kill it.

Here is a picture of what a box blade does.

The rippers are only used to dislodge difficult soils.

What heavy equipment are you expecting in constructing a home? The worst part would be if the workers park their trucks on soggy soil. THAT will compact the soil. If the soil is fairly dry, it will not compact even under a thundering herd of bison.

I'm less concerned about mixing layers with a rototiller than I am about fluffing the soil unevenly. It is impossible to hold a hand held rototiller steady enough to achieve a flat subsurface. The tiller churns the soil down to the subsurface. When you allow it to dig down, your new subsurface is uneven. When you level off the surface of the fluffy soil, the depth of the fluffy soil will vary according to the depth of the subsurface you left with the tiller. Then when it settles, it settles down to match the shape of the subsurface leaving a very bumpy surface. Most owners are more unhappy with a bumpy surface than anything else. Putting greens can be mowed down to 1/16 inch because they are perfectly profiled. You can't get to that level of perfection with a rototiller.

    Bookmark   July 12, 2013 at 2:34PM
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hairmetal4ever(Z7 MD)

Interesting subject.

What long-term effects does maintaining pasture have on the overall soil properties like pH, nutrients, etc compared to the forest that would normally exist in most areas in Eastern North America?

I would assume the manure (fresh from the grazing animals), grasses, etc would make for a somewhat different soil than forest over time.

    Bookmark   March 21, 2014 at 9:33AM
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