How to renovate your yard's existing soil in fall
Many of my clients have been asking me how to improve their existing poor, tired soil. October is the perfect time to do this. I would suggest aerating your lawn and, here in the Seattle area, bringing in Cedar Grove's original compost product. For Seattle-area residents, this is available by the bag or by the truckload. Make sure that when you order the compost from the delivery company you let them know this is to be put on your lawn.
The compost should be fine to medium in size and should not be moldy or rotten. It is ready to use when it is dark, brown, and crumbly with an earthy odor. If there are large pieces of wood this will take a long time to break down and could cause mushrooms. After aeration, rake this material into the aeration holes. When the compost breaks down it will actually help to change your soil profile. Compost encourages healthy root systems and makes any soil easier to work with.
Compost makes a great fertilizer, because in addition to having important nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, it often has trace elements you don't ordinarily find in commercial fertilizers. It creates a slow release of plant nutrients, stimulates root growth and balances the pH levels of most soils. Compost buffers the soil, neutralizing both acid & alkaline soils, bringing pH levels to the optimum range for nutrient availability. It also attracts beneficial insects, worms, and other organisms.
Clay soils appear heavy and dense. The soil particles are small and tightly bound together. When wet, clay is sticky and easily holds together when squeezed in your hand. When compost is mixed with clay soils, it binds to the clay particles forming larger particles that now have larger air spaces between them which alter the soil structure, making it less likely to erode and thus preventing erosion of precious topsoil. These spaces also allow better air penetration and improve surface water drainage in clay and sandy soils.
Whether your lawn is newer or older you may experience the same types of problems. Older lawns have been bombarded with foot traffic, mowing and other compaction issues. Houses built in the last 20 years have heavier soil compaction because of bulldozers, backhoes and big lifts used in the construction process. Most newly-constructed properties have little or no soil preparation. In new construction, the lawn is graded (all soil scraped and taken away) then covered again with 1 or 2 inches of soil. If you live on a property like this, add compost annually and aerate your lawn twice a year, then rake fine compost into the aeration holes.
With a flexible, garden rake, spread the compost out over your lawn to about 1/4 -1/2 inch thick. You want a fairly thin and even layer, not any thicker or it may smother your grass. A thin layer will break down quickly releasing its nutrients into the lawn. If you have not had any rain two days after you have spread the compost mix, give it a good watering to make sure the compost penetrates the soil and to incorporate the compost into the soil under the grass. Your lawn will look untidy for three weeks or so – this is completely normal. Over the following weeks and months you should see a superior quality of grass and below the surface the soil structure will be much improved for months to come.
Stewart Armour is the owner and operator of Aerating Thatching Co. in Seattle. Armour has extensive education in turf management in Western Washington. The first turf class he attended was Golf Course Construction and Design in 1981, taught by Jerry Mackie at Bellevue Community College. In 1994, he majored in turf management at South Seattle Community College. After several years, he advanced to Clover Park Technical College and studied under a local golf course superintendent, John Ford.
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