Where to Start? Soil Amendment Questions

Hi, I have big plans for my backyard, but am not sure where to begin. I don't want to compromise the health of my plants for the sake of speediness / ease.
My yard is 30 x 50 feet. Right now it is heavy clay (mixed with chunks of brick and other crap left behind by my friendly neighbourhood builder) and covered with a layer of extremely unhappy sod. In the spring it is a mudhole, but seems to be drying up now (finally.)
These are my current plans... I plan to put in a hardscape area (flagstone), a border garden along the whole of the fence perimeter, a small pond in the back corner and a covered seating area opposite.
I was thinking of putting down a thick layer of wood chip / mulch from the recycling yard, and tilling the whole mess under (including the sod.) If I do this, what kind of results / problems can I expect? Any better ideas? Is this a poor idea for the area under the hardscape? (I plan to put in a decent gravel bed under the flags...)
Thanks for your ideas, Andrea
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snipped-for-privacy@hotmail.com wrote:

My general rule of thumbs.
a) Anything once alive is good. e.g. Wood chips
b) Anything that pasted though a digestive system is better.
Energy or time is needed with "A" so we pave our walks and walk on it ;)).
Bill
PS
c) Plants can grow and 30 X 50 may benefit by a less is more vision. Consider Japanese response to space. Sculpture?
Have fun and I hope you never consider gardening work!
--
S Jersey USA Zone 5 Shade
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Some people here swear by some sort of gypsum product that helps loosen soil. I've never used it, but at least 3 garden centers here stock it. Might be time to open the yellow pages and see if you can find it.
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Less is more?!?! Honey, I am just getting started!! ;)
Thanks for the good advice! Andrea
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I posted a similar question last autumn, on behalf of a friend who's got garden soil that thinks it's concrete. Lots of votes for the gypsum stuff, and for piling on layers of dried leaves in the fall.
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I would start by doing soil tests from multiple areas, as the builder may have dumped soil from different sources, so you might have to treat different areas differently. Once you know what you have, you can start to remediate it.
If you have long-standing water, you may want to consider installing drainage.
Gypsum is fine for breaking up clay, but usually you also need a lot of organic matter to get good soil. Peat moss is good but expensive; humus from compost is usually cheap and very good. Wood chip mulch takes forever to decompose; I'm sure the recycling area has a more suitable product.
If the rocks bother you, the best way to remove them is to rototill deeply, then screen. You can build your own screen from chicken wire, etc.
I would not treat the area where you will be laying flagstone, as a good firm base is needed there. Just dig deep enough to allow placement of a crushed stone base and the flagstones; a rototiller is good for this, just don't go as deep as the other areas.
For the areas where you want good soil, spread what you will be adding (gypsum, humus, lime, etc.) then rent a large rototiller. You want one that can cut through the clay and mix everything very deeply; I would say at least a foot. After the rototilling, rent a heavy roller (something like a barrel with a handle; you put in water to get the weight) and compact what you just rototilled to get a firm flat surface (without this step, assuming you have winters, you will suffer frost heaving and end up with a lumpy lawn).
You might also consider self installation of sprinkler systems while you have the yard torn up. The parts are fairly inexpensive, and a good system can keep your whole yard happy and actually save water.
I don't know where you are, but in Ohio it is almost too late for spring seeding of a lawn; you might want to consider doing a fall seeding instead.
snipped-for-privacy@hotmail.com wrote:

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snipped-for-privacy@hotmail.com wrote:

Wood chips decompose slowly and use soil nitrogen to do so. They are good for mulch but do not mix them into the soil. Finished compost is a better material and is sometimes available for cheap or free.

There is no need to amend the soil underneath your flags. Just excavate the area to the necessary depth, add stone and compact well.

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wrote:

Are you going to pave/landcape the whole and remove all grass? If so, you don't need to put anything in to the soil to improve it. For the paving you will need to prepare a proper base for it that will drain well. If you are putting in gardens you can raise them up and dig compost and manure in to the soil you are going to use in the gardens. This will take care of many problems. The pond won't care what the soil underneath is like.
If you are going to reseed a lawn or grow anything at ground level then I agree that good finished compost or animal manure is far better than wood chips. Depending what you mean by mulch, compost can be used as a mulch. Anything woody and raw should be avoided, anything formerly woody that is now well rotted will be ok (apart from treated timbers). Rotten wood shavings/sawdust, rotten leaves, finished mushroom compost, used potting mix, rotted animal poop can all be combined and dug in to the soil.
rob
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