Southern clay soil. ugh.

freedhardwoods

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You will have to enrich the soil with some sort of compost to break the clay down. Cotton gins or sawmills will have an abundance of rotten cotton hulls or seeds and sawmills will have piles of rotten sawdust. Each will either give it away or sell it at a reasonable price. Tip the loader after he's loaded you and the next trip you'll see larger loads than you paid for. Disc it into your soil well. Bermuda or zoysia is a good southern grass.
I will second the sawdust recommendation. When I built my house 40 years ago, I spread out the basement subsoil (nasty grayish yellow clay) behind the house. For 2 years even weeds would not grow. I was working at a sawmill at the time, so I decided to try adding sawdust. I added it at about 5 or 6 inches deep and tilled it in. Within 2 years, it was better soil than in my garden. I have been adding sawdust to my garden every few years ever since.
About 10 years ago, I bought a second Troybilt tiller. I got it really cheap because the tine and main shaft bearings and seals were completely shot and I took a gamble hoping that was all it needed. After tearing it down and replacing the bearings and seals (Yay. That was all it needed:D), I tried it out in the cornfield 30 feet from my garden with the exact same soil minus the sawdust. The difference was night and day.
The dirt in the field was HARD compared to my garden.
The moral of this story is if you add enough sawdust, it becomes more of a loamy soil than clay. Much easier to work and plants grow better.
@ Mark Abby Your soil might need other things mentioned in this thread, but I would definitely add sawdust to the clay.
 
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Sean OM

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Plus, all the grass turns brown in the winter around here...never had that issue up north. I've thatched, aerated, put lime down, fertilizers, nitrogen, you name it. I get very little results.

You have a soil issue. I have a similar issue in Michigan where it is a clay pan, and all the organic matter is gone.

Have a soil analysis done, or even a kit, and check the pH. Chances are you have acidic soil, and what happens to clay is in acidic conditions it tightens up, and air and water doesn't reach the root zone. If you are too cheap.. You can get an idea if you have acidic soil, if you end up growing a lot of dandelions, and when the soil is dry, it starts to crack. Add pelletized lime, preferably before a gentler rain so it soaks in instead of washes off. It will take a lot and you really can't add too much. It helps balance the pH especially of grass clippings which turn acidic so it speeds up the breakdown of thatch. You can also use wood ash, but you have to be careful with how much you add, you can add too much of that. :)

You need organic matter. The bacteria, fungus and other micro-organisms are your friends. But generally the aerobic micro-organisms are 'good' and anaerobic bacteria are 'bad'. You can -add- mycorrhyzal fungus and they attach to the grass roots, and can increase the root surface area by 20x. They trade carbon for nutrients and water with the plant. You can buy it. but they need air.

You can make a 'compost tea' and add it to your lawn as well, where you aerate compost water for like a day or so to let aerobic bacteria multiply. Then spray it on your lawn. Dr. Laura Ingham has a way to do it. Once you have some aerobic conditions, you can probably just spray the 'food' part directly on the lawn. It is stuff like yeast extract which you can make with yeast and sugar like what settles out at the bottom of making beer.

And while we are at it, later, you will probably want some beneficial nematodes that attack grubs in the soil which eat plant roots and host other bugs, but they are expensive and prefer oxygenated soil.

Adding a light dusting of sawdust will help as well, which is the browns in the compost.
If you have lots of wood, you can make biochar as well.

The carbon in the soil hosts the bacteria, holds water and nutrients, and keeps the clay from sticking together. Sand can work to some extent as well. you can add like 1/8" a year to the grass without killing it.

In general, think what is best for worms, and it will take a few years, but it will work and even better then the chemicals because you fixed the underlying problem. Let them do the work, but you have to pay them with sources of food and air to breathe.

I am not some weird organic person, I just have compacted clay soil to deal with as well and it is the cheapest, easiest solution for 4 acres.
 

7394

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I have been adding sawdust to my garden every few years ever since.
A neighbor regularly blows his saw dust from his wood working into his lawn. I recently saw the Termite exterminator truck there treating for termites.. Coincidence ? IDK..
 

freedhardwoods

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A neighbor regularly blows his saw dust from his wood working into his lawn. I recently saw the Termite exterminator truck there treating for termites.. Coincidence ? IDK..
Is there supposed to be a connection between someone blowing sawdust ON the ground near his house with tilling it in the dirt a good distance from the house?
 

Stokdgs

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I have lived on my first ever river bed, which is all clay as far down as 6 feet, and I stopped there.. Have found that a lot of Gypsum powder in 50lb bags or more is really great at keeping this clay separated from itself, along with adding some good compost, to help with drainage, and future food for the grass.. My way of dealing with this clay and then planting over 75 different plants, trees, shrubs, and lawns has been this --- For all the planted things, I dug 3' by 3' holes, took all that compacted clay out, and then with a sharpened flat blade shovel, cut the clay into smallest pieces I could make.. Then, to all these clay pieces, into the wheel barrow, throw in about 1/4 bag of Gypsum, a lot of compost, some chicken manure, mix it well, so the clay was now broken down even more into almost a soil like consistency, put it all back into the hole, put the tree,shrub.plant,etc., into the hole, water carefully, and let it go until I put in a 1gph drip emitter or 2 around the trees, and watered every other day, enough water to not flood the holes, but keep them moist on top... After a few years, I had really great results from all the plantings, and most are way ahead of all the things people in this area have had in the ground for years, but without doing what I did to the holes... Every one of them... Yes, it is really hard work, and I have to use a 6 ft long digging bar, that weighs around 15-20 lbs to help me get the hole going deeper when the pick is no longer working... I figured, if these things get a 3 foot head start with good, amended, fertilized, soil, by the time they get to the bottom, their roots will be tough enough, and all the water that has since passed through the bottom of those holes will bring more nutrient rich water down farther, and away they will go through that hard lake bottom clay here.. And it has worked great !!! I have no access to major earth moving power tools, etc., and I don't really care about that either...I DO have an amazing backyard that is way, way, ahead of everyone who lived here before me for sure... Good luck with your project !
 

Stokdgs

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I work large estate properties in south louisiana.

eventually, you find areas where the clay, sand, and nutrients, or water table just can't sustain normal grass growth. There are just so many factors involved. Ultimately, in problem areas, I take the long term approach...plant test plots with multiple different varieties of grass and see which will grow and endure. In areas, where I need grass to grow quickly in order to fill in exposed soil and prevent erosion, my go to is perennial rye. eventually the zoysia and augustine will overtake it, but it works well to "patch" areas, where we have done dirt work.

another technique is to locate the closest area on the surrounding lawn where the grass is living well and then take a plugs from that and transfer them to the problem areas.. If that doesn't work, then you know pretty much that you are dealing with some kind of nutrient starved soil and it's unlikely anything is going to grow there unless you address that first. I'll give you an example: we have a few places that are near surface springs...always wet just inches below the soil. The bacterial and fungal and mold growth is too toxic for grass growth. For that area, we had to come up with a completely different way to landscape and eventually decided to simple grow bushes and small trees. Some areas we learned could not support growth at all, no matter what we planted and transplanted and we concluded that at some point that area was contaminated or contained naturally occuring heavy metals, toxins, domestic animal runoff, old sewer/septic systems, and even industrial waste. There can also be infestation of nematodes that will destroy new grass growth which can be hard to detect (and yet, pretty easy to control..I use dawn liquid soap!).

You can have the soil chemically diagnosed, yes, but ultimately you are going to have to test what grass and what treatment and what conditions are best to establish new lawn grass. That just takes experimenting. I would go with perennial rye because it is very hardy, grows quickly and is a cheap and will not break the bank if you find even rye isn't going to grow there.
Yes, I also have used a lot of Perennial Rye grass seeds and had the best results with them.. Perennial = they will always grow and not go dormant, etc...There are a lot of hybrid Perennial Rye grass seeds out too, that perhaps will work better too... I just stick to Scotts Brand seeds and have had great success... You have to, of course, do the work on the bare ground first, for me I used, Gypsum, a good compost, humic acid pellets, Scotts starter fertilizer, their seeds, and a good prep job on the soil that included hand Aerating every square inch of the area, so that the good stuff on top would fall into those holes and start improving it, for long term success... It does not ever happen "overnight" with clay soil, that is for sure... But keep aerating especially, and feeding it, every year, and in a little time, you will see great results that will keep on going way better than doing nothing, but throwing stuff on top of that soil - especially my river bed clay soil... Good luck with this !
 

jsflynn603

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We live in south Kentucky, we moved here from Rochester in NYS. Back up north we had a fabulous lawn, but, down here we have tried just about every grass seed on the market (including zoysia pods) but nothing actually grows, and if it does, it looks like crap. We even tried True Green (mistake) and there was no difference. Plus, all the grass turns brown in the winter around here...never had that issue up north. I've thatched, aerated, put lime down, fertilizers, nitrogen, you name it. I get very little results.

My question is what is the best grass seed for this clay soil?

And, our other problem is it's hard to find real good top soil here in south Kentucky. I'd have to drive like 75 miles just to get a trailer full. What is offered as top soil around here is questionable.
Soil analysis may not help at all. You may have wonderful, nutritious, balanced soil, except for one thing--it's full of clay.

When damp, take some mix it up, then grab a fistful and squeeze it tightly. Then let go--does it crumble apart? I'll bet not. Poke it, does it crumble? Not likely. Therein (at least for some) lies the issue--the clay. Clay binds the soil tightly, too tightly, water gets "stuck," roots are not happy it can turn into a sort of concrete. In my state of NH I had clay garden soil and asked a agri-agent and he said: "squeeze it."

He suggested, and I did what he suggested: By ground agricultural gypsum. I did, though I can't remember how many bags for my 60x100 garden and like magic, tilled it to a depth of about 7" and *poof* Grab a handful and squeeze... open at it falls apart.

That stayed that way for the future, now well past 20 years. If I remember correctly, clay is made of plate like particles and the plates have an ionic charge that is like having two magnets, they stick tightly to each other. The gypsum neutralizes the ionic charge so the particles do not "stick" to its neighbor.

Most soil analysis does not look at friability (looseness) and that may be your issue.

See: https://s3.wp.wsu.edu/uploads/sites/403/2015/03/gypsum.pdf

From the above: "With the exception of arid and coastal regions (where soil salts are high) and the southeastern United States (where heavy clay soils are common), gypsum amendment is just not necessary" Note: you live in the "exception."
areas. G'luck.
 

bertsmobile1

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I will second the sawdust recommendation. When I built my house 40 years ago, I spread out the basement subsoil (nasty grayish yellow clay) behind the house. For 2 years even weeds would not grow. I was working at a sawmill at the time, so I decided to try adding sawdust. I added it at about 5 or 6 inches deep and tilled it in. Within 2 years, it was better soil than in my garden. I have been adding sawdust to my garden every few years ever since.
About 10 years ago, I bought a second Troybilt tiller. I got it really cheap because the tine and main shaft bearings and seals were completely shot and I took a gamble hoping that was all it needed. After tearing it down and replacing the bearings and seals (Yay. That was all it needed:D), I tried it out in the cornfield 30 feet from my garden with the exact same soil minus the sawdust. The difference was night and day.
The dirt in the field was HARD compared to my garden.
The moral of this story is if you add enough sawdust, it becomes more of a loamy soil than clay. Much easier to work and plants grow better.
@ Mark Abby Your soil might need other things mentioned in this thread, but I would definitely add sawdust to the clay.
If you are adding saw dust you should add some nitrogen as the wood decomposing consumes a lot of nitrogen
 

7394

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Is there supposed to be a connection between someone blowing sawdust ON the ground near his house with tilling it in the dirt a good distance from the house?
You decide..
 

Shadowca

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Dealing with tricky southern clay soil can be a real challenge, right? It's a whole different ball game compared to the conditions up north. Have you considered consulting with local gardening experts or nurseries in south Kentucky? They might have insights into the best grass seed varieties that thrive in your specific clay soil. As for topsoil, it's a bummer that quality is hard to come by locally. Maybe exploring nearby areas or seeking advice from fellow gardeners could help?
 
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