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Help! Lawn preparation with clay soil

Discussion in 'Lawns' started by srkeevil, May 14, 2011.

  1. srkeevil

    srkeevil Apprentice Gardener

    Joined:
    May 9, 2011
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    Hi All,

    I'm glad i've found this forum!
    Thought i'd best seek some advice before i get myself in any deeper into a project i'm starting to regret!! :scratch:

    I have a back garden approx 10m x 12m, which, until i hired a mini-jcb over the Easter break, was one third raised flower bed. This was created by the previous owners and had gone to waste land over 12 months since we're not avid gardeners. So, decision was made to remove the retaining railway sleepers and drag the top soil over the existing lawn (which was lumpy and patchy anyway) and make a nice new large flat lawn. Easy, i thought! And much better for the kids to play outside!

    Soil was dug out over Easter weekend and the JCB had a handy bulldozer attachment which I used to level the soil across the entire garden and old lawn.

    There is a lot of stone and roots to tease out of the soil so I'm currently trying to turn the soil over with a hired rotavator, which is going reasonably well, but in many areas the blades are just skipping and bouncing on the heavily compacted clay soil, which has now hardened in the sun. So i'm now having to dig with fork and spade to try and break up clumps prior to ploughing with rotavator. I haven't got a problem with this, but i'm starting to think i'm going about this the wrong way...

    My intention is to lay turf, but i want to do this once only, and do it right!

    I'm guessing this clay soil isn't going to be ideal for laying a lawn on (bad drainage etc). So, should I look at buying a few tons of top soil to cover it with, or should i be looking to treat the clay with sharp sand and work through once some moisture has been reintroduced into the clay? Ideally i'd like to have a useable lawn within a couple of months - is this realistic? Or should i abandon that idea in favour of putting the effort in this year for the benefit of a proper job next year?

    I've considered watering the area to introduce some moisture, but i'm worried i may just create a clay mud bath!

    Any offers of idea's as to what to do next will be warmly appreciated!
    And i'm open to frank observations/bad news if you think i'm creating a recipe for disaster!

    Hit me with it!! Thanks in advance...
     
  2. smoo

    smoo Apprentice Gardener

    Joined:
    Mar 6, 2011
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    36
    Location:
    East Anglia
    Ratings:
    +2
    Hi srkeevil :) Im not sure im the most qualified person to give you advice but i can tell you what im currently doing to improve my clay soil :)
    Same problem as you, compacted clay soil, bad drainage etc... So far we've completely dug over the garden, and tried as best we could to break it up a bit, I've heard its bad to work on heavy soil when its wet as it ruins the structure? :scratch: I'm not sure if that's true or not but we haven't touched it while its been wet just in case.

    Next we've got some well rotted horse manure sitting in the garden waiting to be forked in :D I've heard this is good for nutrients and improving the soil as it breaks down, hopefully it will encourage more worms etc into the soil to help improve drainage as well, then i think we will chuck a load of top soil and hopefully, seed our new lawn in the autumn :)

    As for the sand, I think im right in saying that although this helps with drainage, you need LOADS to make it worthwhile? Hopefully someone can help you a bit better than I can, but just thought id share :D
     
  3. Lad

    Lad Apprentice Gardener

    Joined:
    May 10, 2011
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    Occupation:
    Senior Consultant
    Location:
    Suffolk
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    Rake lawn surface, fork into soil up to the hilt, rake over lawn with sharp sand, and fresh seed. water thoroughly, and repeat in autumn.
     
  4. srkeevil

    srkeevil Apprentice Gardener

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    Thanks for taking the time to reply Smoo. Appreciate your comments.
    I live in a fairly rural area so i will look into trying to source a delivery of manure to dig into the clay soil. I think this is going to take more than a few weeks to get the land ready for a decent lawn. :scratch: Might have to accept no lawn for this year...

    I'm currently out in the garden with a pick axe to lift and break the dry clay soil, and then using the rotavator to break it up further.

    Lad, thanks for the reply, but there is no lawn at present just clay soil which i would ultimately like to turf over.

    Could anyone comment if they think I might get away with adding a couple of inches of top soil to my broken up clay soil?
     
  5. ArcticFox1977

    ArcticFox1977 Gardener

    Joined:
    Jun 9, 2010
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    Occupation:
    Firefighter/Driving Instructor
    Location:
    Scotland
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    Our area is really bad for clay soil.

    I would assume the advice given is the way forward.
    Turn it over, break up the larger clumps.
    If you have top soil or well rotted compost spread that across your area.
    Also throw down loads of sharp sand. I've done this to my front garden and it seems to have helped.

    Rake over, throw down a mix of grass seed/sharp sand/top soil.

    Water in really well.

    Clay soil is a nightmare to work with. Once you get going, you will see a difference right away.
     
  6. Jo Sara

    Jo Sara Gardener

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    Occupation:
    I make mosaics for the home and garden.
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    East Yorkshire
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    I'm at exactly the same stage as you, srkeevil. I've cleared the part of the garden I want to put the lawn onto, but when I've dug it over after winter to break up the compacted soil, and with no rain since then, I ended up with big clumps of clay. I keep going back to it to try and break them down further by bashing them with a fork. I'm now at the small to large pebble stage. I don't think I can add soil improver to this. Aren't you supposed to get rid of large stones from a lawn area? That's exactly what my lumps of clay are like. I feel like if I get some nice soil and chuck that on top, as soon as I rake it I'll lose it all down the gaps between the baked hard clay 'pebbles' and the pebbles will be on top again. Blinking clay soil. :rolleyespink:
     
  7. Jo Sara

    Jo Sara Gardener

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    Occupation:
    I make mosaics for the home and garden.
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    Update on my post above - After spending some of today having another go at my sun-baked clods of clay, I'm making progress. I've bashed away at them with the back of my fork. I then roped my non-gardening other half in to walk around on the lumps for a bit to break them up a bit more. I then found some pots where plants haven't survived last winter and I chucked the compost onto the clay. I didn't want to spend out on proper soil improver in case what I thought was going to happen (that it would just sink underneath the clods and disappear) happened. But, with a bit of forking over, the compost (and a bit of grit that I had lying around), seems to have combined with the soil and it's looking a lot finer texture. So, I think a soil improver could be the way forward. :dbgrtmb:
     
  8. eatonsatcantas

    eatonsatcantas Apprentice Gardener

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    This is all probably a little too late but.....we have very heavy clay soil here in France. It really depends on the time of year as to when you should work it. Too wet and you cannot do a thing. Too dry and it is like working with concrete. There is a point that it begins to dry out and then it can be worked pretty well. I have found a rotovator doesn't break the clay up well enough to seed and bought a Mantis, which is an amazing little machine and leaves the earth ready for raking and seeding. The best time to do your lawn is in the fall...October probably. You can get a beautiful lawn by rotovating the area then using (hiring?) a Mantis-like mini rotovator, raking smooth (ish), spreading your grass seed heavily and then covering the whole area with a layer of straw. Water really well for the first week or so....try not to let it dry out. The straw acts as an initial thatch, prevents the tender shoots from being damaged, holds the moisture in and prevents you from mowing too soon, which is such a temptation. I have used this method many times with brilliant results and is a lot cheaper than sod. I have made a lawn successfully on an old gravel drive without the need to bring in top soil.
     

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