This is a topic near and dear to my heart. Ask my wife and she will tell you I was obsessive over my lawn for the last two years… I can’t disagree.
It all started with a new house. Typically a good thing right? Our first new house on a new cul-de-sac with 5 other new houses. We got the pick the colors and flooring and had some input in other things.
I came out to my front porch every morning and coached the little grasslings to grow up through the straw the contractors laid down. I looked through my bedroom window one morning and Woo Hoo, I could see green. Well the rest of that summer taught me that construction is hell on lawns and trees.
As I cleared away the straw, it revealed there were more bald spots than grass spots. And most of the bald spots had weeds already! The ground was terribly un-even and there were rocks everywhere! Big rocks, small rocks, medium rocks… lots of rocks!
Further investigation revealed that the construction crews took the fertile top layer of dirt for fill in other parts of the cul-de-sac. As we will discuss later, that top layer of dirt is very hard to replace and took decades to form. Now mine was probably under the black top of my neighbors’ driveway.
We would learn later how much trees don’t like the entire construction ruckus. They toughed it out for the first year and half like the tough five stories high pillars of rock you would expect. But then one by one, they made less leaves until it was obvious they were dead. We lost about ten trees. Of course every one of them directly around the house including the big majestic ones on the front lawn that defined the curb appeal of the house.
So here we are with a barren waste land of dead trees and a mange lawn filled with rocks and weeds.
The first mistake I made was the classic, "try to do as little as possible until you realize its taking more time and money than if you just started from scratch in the first place".
Little by little
I brought in dump truck loads of dirt to try and level small sections. I bought little bags of lawn patch pellets for the bald spots. I bought tree spike nutrient things for the trees. I should have just hired a bulldozer to level the whole thing and then spread seed and straw.
So as I tried to patch and pick up rocks I started to do some research. My wife told me we had "clay soil". So I looked it up and found that Clay is like concrete. Its very dense, doesn’t hold water, doesn’t allow roots to breath or move.
The site said to add Gypsum. Little tiny pebbles that look like those volcanic rocks in your gas grill. The site said to put truck loads on your lawn with a spreader each year for about 3 years. The idea was they would work their way into the soil and create little pockets in the dense clay thus allowing the clay to breathe and hold moisture more like a sponge. Sounded great but most people I told what I was doing said it’s a lie and the only thing you need is top soil (that stuff the contractors took away).
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