Hard soil

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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On Thursday, June 26, 2014 6:20:58 PM UTC-4, Guv Bob wrote:

erator might also be good.

ad to use a pick to get down that far. Good news is that the pH and nutri ents for the entire yard, including this bare area, were the same. But the whole yard is dry and hard deeper than 3-4 inches.
Without knowing what the composition is of what's there, impossible to say. But if it's as hard as you describe, a core aerator isn't going to work. It's made to penetrate reasonable soil, not stuff that you need to use a pick axe on. Someone said a rototiller will just walk around, so too will the aerator. If there is non-existent decent topsoil, part of the solution might be to buy screened topsoil.
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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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On Friday, June 27, 2014 1:23:55 PM UTC-4, David E. Ross wrote:

+1
I previously said that too. If it's as hard as he's describing, it will just walk on top and not penetrate. It's essentially a weighted drum with metal tubes on it. It relies on the weight to sink the tubes into the soil, cutting out plugs of soil. If it's hard, those tubes won't penetrate.

+1

+1

I don't think it would make it worse. It doesn't go deep, all it would do is loosen the soil near the surface. But if the soil is anywhere near as hard as it sounds, IDK why he'd even be considering that manual thing. They have power versions, called an overseeder, or slit seeder, etc. But I don't think it would do any good either. At most it would rough up the top 1/2" or so, while he needs to deal with several inches deep.
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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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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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On 6/30/2014 2:50 AM, Guv Bob wrote:

Then use a minor amount of liquid soap or detergent in the water AFTER you apply gypsum. A 30 minute soak right now is excessive. It can result in wasteful runoff.
A 30 minute soak right after applying gypsum will wash away the gypsum. The initial wetting down should be less than a 5 minute sprinkle, just enough to make the gypsum damp. The next day, a 5-10 minute sprinkle will start the gypsum dissolving; do not sprinkle long enough to puddle or start rinsing the gypsum away. (Sprinkling instead of flooding will hasten the dissolving of the gypsum because of the force of the water landing on it.) Then every third day, repeat the dissolving sprinkle.
--
David E. Ross
Climate: California Mediterranean, see
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4=&wl5=pla&wl6P564546436&veh=sem

Thanks. To be clear, When I said soaking for 30 minutes, it does not run off. The yard is level and all of it soaks into the ground.
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