Hard soil

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I'm trying to get revved up for the weekend lawn job....
How's a good way to break up hard soil? Since it's all level, my first thought is to soak it good for a couple of days. I wonder if renting an aerator might also be good.
Most of the soil is fairly easy to dig down 2-3 inches, but about 1/4 of the back yard is bare & hard as a rock. When I was taking soil samples, I had to use a pick to get down that far. Good news is that the pH and nutrients for the entire yard, including this bare area, were the same. But the whole yard is dry and hard deeper than 3-4 inches.
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On Thu, 26 Jun 2014 15:22:15 -0800, Guv Bob wrote:

How did it get so hard? Vehicles, traffic? Chemical composition? How much time do you have? (Roots can do wonders) How much area? (Is hand labor out of the question) Is it worth doing?
My experience is that rototillers don't work - they just scoot over really hard soil.
Good luck!
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On 6/26/2014 4:22 PM, Guv Bob wrote:

Is your soil mostly clay? If so, try the following.
Broadcast enough gypsum over the area to coat the soil about 1/8 inch. Lightly sprinkle with water, just enough to dampen the gypsum.
On the next day, water the area lightly, enough to start dissolving the gypsum but not enough to rinse any away. Repeat every-other day until all the gypsum is dissolved and rinsed into the soil.
Wait two days. Then dig. By now, you might even be able to use a power rototiller. As you dig or till, stir a 6 inch layer of peat moss to a depth of 12 inches; this will help prevent the soil from hardening again.
Note that this process is NOT a one-weekend task.
Gypsum (calcium sulfate) reacts chemically with clay to make it porous and granular, thus breaking it up so that it can be tilled. Unfortunately, it eventually leaches away, leaving heavy, sticky clay. Thus, you will have to apply more gypsum periodically (every 2-3 years).
My lot is almost 1/5 acre, including the footprint of my house, the short driveway into my garage, and a patio. Every other year, I apply approximately 250 pounds of gypsum to my entire garden, front and back, except for the steep hill at the far back. (I do not apply gypsum to the hill because I paid a fortune to have it regraded and compacted when it failed in 2005. Gypsum would undo the compacting and create the risk of a new failure.) In the years when I do not apply gypsum throughout my garden, I still apply it to my camellias and azaleas. Here (southern California) gypsum runs about $9 for a 50-pound sack.
--
David E. Ross
Climate: California Mediterranean, see
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What about a power aerator or a slitter?
I've got one of these manual aerators, but can't use on the hard patches: http://hgtv.sndimg.com/HGTV/2012/01/10/RX-DK-LGC09502_hollow-tiner_s3x4_l g.jpg
Slitter:
http://hgtv.sndimg.com/HGTV/2012/01/10/RX-DK-LGC09505_slitter_s4x3_lg.jpg
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On 6/27/2014 8:38 AM, Guv Bob wrote:

Again, IF YOUR SOIL IS MOSTLY CLAY, you should treat it with gypsum before trying anything else to improve its tilth.
From your description, I don't think an aerator -- even a power aerator -- will work on the hardest parts of your soil without prior treatment. After using gypsum, you will find that an aerator will work very well. Just be sure you are using the kind that extracts plugs of soil (they look like dog droppings) and not the kind that merely pokes holes. The latter will cause more compaction and make things worse.
However, for a first-time treatment, I would recommend rototilling organic matter into the soil after the gypsum treatment. This will have long-lasting benefits. While I suggested peat moss, you should also consider other forms of organic matter such as manure or coarse compost. I would not add sawdust since it decomposes too quickly and absorbs too much nitrogen in the process.
The slitter might actually make things worse by compacting the soil.
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David E. Ross
Climate: California Mediterranean, see
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On 6/27/2014 10:23 AM, David E. Ross wrote:

By the way, I DO NOT have investment in any gypsum mining, processing, or marketing business. I just know that I have good results from using gypsum.
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David E. Ross
Climate: California Mediterranean, see
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Guv Bob wrote:

An aerator won't do much on hard-pack adobe like soil except break the aerator... aerators only poke holes, some extract plugs, but they are meant for reasonably soft soil that may be slightly compacted from foot traffic.

That kind of soil won't let you grow much, let alone a lawn. First where are you located? Geographical location plays a large part in soil conditions. In many parts of the US southwest the soil is indeed like cured concrete, breaking it up will will only result in it going back to hard after the first couple of heavy rains... then the best tack to take is to haul in lots of good top soil and do your planting in that... it would cost too much to amend the type of soil you describe and it won't be long any organic amendment will decompose like it was never there.
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Thanks. So Cal. According to a county site report for a shopping center in the area, it has a base of older alluvial interbedded silty clay and clay, overlain by interlayered sandy gravel and silty clay.
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On 6/27/2014 2:47 PM, Guv Bob wrote:

Thus, you likely have enough clay that gypsum would be appropriate.
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David E. Ross
Climate: California Mediterranean, see
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The charts say all the grasses I have required 6-7pH. Soil is 6.5-7.0 more or less. I thought gypsum would make it alkaline.
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On Fri, 27 Jun 2014 16:10:37 -0800, "Guv Bob"

Gypsom is a crap shoot for loosening compacted soil regardless but for certain it will make your soil extremely alkaline and once there will be near impossible to remediate. Were it me I'd break up the existing soil as best I can and then find a source for good top soil and calculate how many cubic yards to put in a six inch depth. I'd be sure to place landscaping blocks at the down hill perimeters to retain your topsoil in heavy downpours... it doesn't rain often in So Cal but when it does it could easily be a deluge that washes away soil, and that's why the soil there is so piss poor. I lived in So Cal for several years, I know of what I speak. I had a Greek neighbor when I lived in Pasadena who would instruct all his visitors to bring as much top soil as they could from his home state of Ohio for his fig and olive trees. Where I live now (in the Hudson River valley) I have some of the best top soil on the planet, I can dig down six feet and still be into rich black earth.
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On Friday, June 27, 2014 5:04:38 PM UTC-7, Brooklyn1 wrote:

Er...generalization about So. Cal soil. Sure, it's adobe, but can be and n o doubt has been modified by conscientious homeowners. When I bought my pl antation [censored] years ago, the soil was already good, because the old f olks who had been there forevah had been consistently modifying it. I took over & continued to do so.
Congrats on your wonderful loam and may it continue to produce good food an d beautiful flowers.
HB
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Guv Bob wrote:

No it will not alter the pH. As others have said you have a choice.
Quick: bring in topsoil, re-seed or turf in one go, more expensive and more hard work in a short period, still not a bad solution if you can afford it.
Slow: fix what you have. Gypsum or other clay breaker treatments, adding organic matter, re-seed progressively. This will work in the long run and be cheaper but it will take perseverance and a sustained effort.
Which is better depends on you and your situation.
David
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If your soil is like mine, there's a very narrow range of moisure levels at which it's workable. I understand local farmers refer to it as "36 hour soil", which is the schedule window for plowing.
Too wet and it's like warm tar, too dry and it's extremely hard. In the middle, it's rather crumbly. I'd soak a patch and poke it each day after. _Maybe_ you'll find a day when it's workable.
HTH,
bob prohaska
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User Bp wrote:

Hereabouts this is called "Sunday soil", too wet to work on Saturday and too dry by Monday. The problem with working it on Sunday is that it will always stay the same, you haven't addressed the problem of why it is so hard on Monday.
D
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Appreciate all the good info. For breaking up the soil, what about adding a weak solution of detergent as a wetting agent in one of these hose attachments?
http://www.walmart.com/ip/21065376?wmlspartner=wlpa&selectedSellerId0&adid "222222227016782715&wl0=&wl1=g&wl2=c&wl35585526156&wl 4=&wl5=pla&wl6P564546436&veh=sem
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On 6/28/2014 12:22 AM, Guv Bob wrote:

When you sprinkle just a small amount of water, does it soak in or bead up? If it beads up, then yes you need a wetting agent. However, detergent or soap are alkaline, which can further harden the soil structure; so make it very weak. Use it on the gypsum. Trying to wet the soil before applying gypsum will merely waste water.
--
David E. Ross
Climate: California Mediterranean, see
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Guv Bob wrote:

If that is all you do it will not achieve much. Yes you do need to wet the soil but then you need to alter the texture and enable to hold a good amount of water by itself in future.
Gypsum and other clay breakers cause the clay to clump rather than stay plastic. Organic matter lightens and loosens and allows organisms from algae and bacteria up to worms and arthropods to live in it and assist. Good soil is living soil not a bunch of minerals. You are aiming in the long run for a good balance of particle size and particle type. If you don't address the issues of the soils composition, texture and balance then all the watering and physical breaking are just temporary measures. Good soil neither needs nor benefits from frequent major cultivation although that may speed up the improvement process at the start, doing it without cultivation at all is quite possible but takes longer.
D
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On Fri, 27 Jun 2014 13:47:06 -0800, "Guv Bob"

clay, overlain by interlayered sandy gravel and silty clay.
I am familiar with that stuff having amended that stuff before. I like the use of gypsum to make rototilling tractable. But then the real problem comes, remove and haul away about 2 inches worth (out of 18 inch rototilling depth), it will be replaced with amendments. Next add organics and a good dose of sand, maybe even pea gravel. Don't forget a little of vermiculite. Then smooth it and plant whatever you want.
?-)
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4=&wl5=pla&wl6P564546436&veh=sem

I have been soaking the yard once a month for about 30 minutes. Mostly it stays on the surface but soaks in after an hour or so.
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