I took this picture of a new housing sub-division being built in the Broken Arrow area as I drove home yesterday. What was once a cow pasture with some scattered trees and such, has been scaped down with huge dirt graders in an effort to prepare the land for streets and houses soon. To get the area all graded out and somewhat level, it looks like over a foot of the topsoil was removed, as you can see where the natural grade was at before at the top of the little dirt piles. So what is at the surface now is sub-soil, mainly Oklahoma clay, with almost no organic matter in the “soil”.
So in a few months, construction will begin on the new home. In about 9 months or so, as the home is almost done, a tractor will simply smooth out the front and back lawn areas, mixing in a few bricks, concrete blobs, nails, wood scraps, even an empty QT cup or something into the coming lawn. Workers will lay out bermudagrass sod, shoot some water on it, and turn the lawn over to the homeowner.
If the new homeowner is smart, they’ll then contact LawnAmerica, we’ll come out for the estimate, and start our service a day later. The problem is that we are then expected to provide a thick, healthy, green lawn on turf that is actually growing on sub-soil! This can be a challenge, to say the least. But it happens way too frequently with new home construction.
What should have happened is for the builder to haul in the topsoil that was there and/or bring in new sandy loam topsoil before final grading and sod installation. While some may do this, my experience is that many do not. Then it’s expected for the lawncare company to maintain this to the satisfaction of the homeowner, and that’s very tough. Sub-soil is not intended to be able to support plant growth, with almost zero organic matter and compacted clay.
So what can a homeowner do in this case, short of hauling in loads of good topsoil and starting over? These are not ideal, but the following will help, and it will take some time to see improvement:
- Aerate the lawn annually, and topdress with good sandy-loam soil.
- Mulch grass clippings back into the soil to increase organic content.
- Apply organic soil ammendments, such as our Soil Builder product, to increase soil biology.
- Fertilize lawn consistently, even using a blend of organic fertilizers.
Plants were meant to be grown in topsoil, not sub-soil. A lawn established in a situation like this will never be as healthy and look as nice as one growing in good topsoil, plain and simple. Time and money invested on the front end, during establishment, will payoff big time for years to come if done properly.