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Old 03-29-2010, 06:05 PM   #1
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Help with prepping backyard for sod


Hi All,

I'm a new homeowner in Atlanta, and with our new home came a fully fenced in backyard that is about 1600 sqft.

We want to put a lawn in about 1300 central sq ft. The problem is that the yard is fairly well compacted (much more so in some areas than others- could barely get a shovel in an inch) and also probably has some rocks/roots in parts based on what we've seen in our limited digging around.

We want to put some summer sod (probably bermuda) in the next month-6 weeks or so. I know my first task will be to kill all the weeds and some grass that's growing, and this will take a few weeks with roundup.

  • Is tilling and grading (there is already a pretty good grade away from the house) something I can handle on my own?
  • What kind of rototiller should I use? The backyard is only accessible through 2 gates on either side of the house, and I would have to check how wide those gates are for a fairly large piece of equipment.
  • How does a rototiller react to really compacted soil/hitting a rock/wood? Should I water the ground or are these rototillers powerful enough to handle the compacted soil?

I've been getting some quotes from contractors and it seems like a lot of money at this point.

I'll also be getting the soil tested and having amendments to add to the soil based on the test results. I also plan on checking with the utilities before digging. We did find one electrical wire sticking out the far end of the yard! No idea where it is from, its buried at least 6 inches deep.

Thanks for any help.


Last edited by nachiketkumar; 04-11-2010 at 04:58 PM. Reason: changed title slightly to reflect new related question.
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Old 03-30-2010, 10:04 AM   #2
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Help with prepping backyard for sod


popular mechanics had a good article on lawn care / new grass a few weeks ago. http://www.popularmechanics.com/home...g/4350153.html

a big tiller (16"-24") shouldnt have any issues with rocks or roots unless they are huge. anything fist size or smaller for a rock should just get kicked out, roots can go either way - just be ready with an axe or shovel if you need to remove one. a full day of running one of those things is ridiculously tiring.

i personally wouldn't use bermuda grass - but i hate the stuff. if you ever want to switch to another type of grass you will never get rid of it.

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Old 03-31-2010, 04:01 PM   #3
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Help with prepping backyard for sod


Thanks cellophane,

The article did help, but it mostly told me things I already knew. I know the list of things that need to be done, I'm just looking for some more advice on how exactly to go about doing these things.

Specific recommendations about which rototiller to use and how hard grading my backyard might be would be really helpful. I could provide any more information anyone might need to be able to answer those questions.
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Old 03-31-2010, 07:25 PM   #4
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Help with prepping backyard for sod


Your sod provider will likey only honor any warranty if their prep recommendations are followed, so be sure and check with them.

Rent the largest rear-tine rototiller you can find - it will break up the hard stuff better and be easier on your arms.

Watering to soften the ground I find is always a good idea, just don't water too much and make a mud problem. Water repeatedly over a period of several days before doing the work.

This is definitely a DIY job - it's work, but very doable, IMHO.
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Old 04-11-2010, 04:56 PM   #5
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Help with prepping backyard for sod


I have been thinking, I can rent a mini 5' excavator for a weekend for $160, and this would probably make it easier and quicker IF it is easy to learn how to use it.

Has anyone here used one before? What is the learning curve like? The 5' excavator can dig to a maximum depth of 5'2", how easy is it to make it go only 6-8" deep?

I'd appreciate any help. Thanks
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Old 04-14-2010, 07:36 PM   #6
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Help with prepping backyard for sod


Quote:
I have been thinking, I can rent a mini 5' excavator
Whoa mule! Where did you get that idea? I understand your line of thought, but an excavator is NOT the equipment to use.

How hard is "fairly well compacted?" Do you mean only an inch with my 200+ pounds standing on it or just pushing on the shovel? Not trying to be a SA, just need an accurate picture.

For comparison, I just started on a new bed the other day with an old Sears 8HP two speed. This area was graded for drainage with a JD 450 bulldozier, in standing water, in November, thirty years ago and I still can't dig in it. I had to chip away quarter sized chunks inch by inch- make that 1/2 inch. This will be a perennial border about 6 x 30 ft. It took me about 1 1/2 hours to break it up but not worth hiring a tractor- can't use the work tractor at home. Still have to work in the compost, manure, etc.

Before trying to get a decent lawn the soil absolutely needs to be loosened up. Prep work is critical or you will be fighting your lawn forever. There are several directions you can go. If this was a flower bed I would definitely use a subsoil plow and get it loosend up as deeply as possible. Not an all-purpose plow, a subsoil plow. If you want to use a regular tiller after that, at least the ground will be broken and the tilling would be much easier. A very good tilling would be adequate for a lawn. If nothing else, I would hire someone with a tractor PTO tiller to do this. Believe me, trying to break the ground with a regular tiller is not what you want to do if it is as hard as you say it is. You should be able to hire this for about $100. I would not do it by hand for that.

Back to your idea on the excavator. I have done that on smaller flower beds, particularly shrub borders and it works very well. The difference is that I turned the soil bucket deep (16-18 inches) to loosen it as I described above with a subsoil plow. Then I added several inches of amendments, raked it level, then went over it with a tiller. When I got through, you could push a shovel in all the way- maybe leaning on it a little but there was a good 18 inches for root development with 3 gallon shrubs. But I was doing a row about 6 ft wide for a double row screen,. not a lawn area.

Good luck!
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Old 04-14-2010, 08:35 PM   #7
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Well....large parts of the soil are so compacted that a shovel will go in about 1/2 an inch at first try, and not a lot more after trying to stand on it with all my body weight...maybe an inch or so with your 200 lbs!

Other areas are not so bad. The other thing is from my digging around, there seem to be quite a few root systems running across parts of the yard, and I have no idea how a rear tine tiller will deal with that or large-ish rocks. I honestly don't know a lot about what lies beneath, considering that the previous owners didn't take much care of the yard, and there also seems to be some debris buried in the far end of the yard.

Where do I find someone with a tractor RTO tiller in the Atlanta area? And you said I might be able to hire this for $100 or so?

As you can probably tell, I'm still unsure about what equipment would be best suited to thoroughly till the soil to about 6-8 inches. A tiller would certainly be used after the soil is loosened to mix in the amendments.
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Old 04-14-2010, 10:04 PM   #8
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Help with prepping backyard for sod


Quote:
Originally Posted by nachiketkumar View Post
Where do I find someone with a tractor RTO tiller in the Atlanta area? And you said I might be able to hire this for $100 or so?
Check craigslist for tilling service. (check the service category, not the forsale)

Around here, I'd get $200 +/- to till an area that big and hard as you say it is. Typically for seeding and soding, I go down to about 3". When it is 6" deep, there tends to be an issue of the are becoming uneven when people walk over the dirt before placing the sod. The area they stand on becomes compacted, while other areas arent...and once the sod is in place, simply walking on it, causes the problem to become worse.
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Old 04-15-2010, 06:38 AM   #9
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Hmmm, I have heard that the area should be rolled after all tilling and amendments are done. Any uneven spots would show up and should be fixed, and I assumed this would take care of problems down the road?
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Old 04-15-2010, 04:23 PM   #10
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Quote:
I have heard that the area should be rolled after all tilling and amendments are done.
Rake it smooth and look from ground level. You will see where you need to fill in. Rolling (if you choose to do so) is done after the sod is installed to help with getting good contact between the sod roots and the soil- and it will help a little with smoothing. I never have rolled, never have had any trouble. I do roll sometimes after seeding to make sure they are pressed into the soil for good contact but that depends on when, where, the job particulars, etc.

Quote:
Where do I find someone with a tractor RTO tiller in the Atlanta area?
United Rental in the Atlanta area has tractors, not sure if they have a rototiller with it. A number of others. Try Home Depot. No endorsement intended for any of these. I was thinking any full-service landscape contractor. Ask you local nursery or check with Pike's. BTW- that's PTO, not RTO.
You say your quotes seemed like a lot of money. May we ask how much job you were bidding and what the quotes were? Was it just for tilling or for the entire sod job?

AF- the $ for a tractor job was just a guess with the current economy. If all goes well, that should only be about a thirty minute job. At least the one I did Tuesday was.

Quote:
there tends to be an issue of the are becoming uneven when people walk over the dirt before placing the sod.
NOT ON MY JOB SITE!
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Old 04-15-2010, 07:56 PM   #11
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Help with prepping backyard for sod


Well, I was bidding for having the site tilled and graded, with any major debris removed.

I got a couple of quotes on the phone from contractors who never looked at the yard, and the one who did, gave the following quote:

1. 15 cu. yd mushroom compost: $824
2. Leveling and spread soil amendments: $425
3. Spread lime/fertilizer as recommended and till to 6", remove debris: $1500
4. Roll and level (roller and rake): $395
For a grand total of $3144

Plus cost of lime and fertilizer/sod and installation. Seems really high to me! This is from a highly rated contractor on Angie's list. One other that gave me a phone quote was around the same.

Downunder- are you a landscape contractor?
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Old 04-16-2010, 10:44 AM   #12
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Help with prepping backyard for sod


Not a contractor. I work for a govt parks department- mostly ornamental beds and whatever misc the day brings.

I might can help you further if you want to PM me.
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Old 04-16-2010, 11:02 AM   #13
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DU- I'm not allowed to send or reply to PMs yet, I guess I haven't posted enough. So I'm not quite sure how best to contact you. Ideas?
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Old 04-16-2010, 04:08 PM   #14
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Help with prepping backyard for sod


I can weigh in on the grading aspect, as I've tried it with our yard several times with a mixture of success. It is a lot more complicated than it seems and you have to have an eye for what is level (and then sloping it every so gradually away from the foundation). It can be pricey to have it graded professionally, but I would decide based on how picky you are. If you don't mind a few slopes in the wrong direction, try it yourself, but if you want a fabulously even yard, try a landscaper. You could always have them do that portion and you lay out and plant bushes yourself. (Still need some finesse and knowledge there, but that's another topic).

Here's one link I found on the basic soil prep stuff.
http://www.oldhouseweb.com/gardening...paration.shtml
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Old 04-16-2010, 06:22 PM   #15
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Help with prepping backyard for sod


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