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Old 02-07-2019, 09:34 AM   #1
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Softening hard clay soil


Hi

Every winter this part of my back yard becomes very soggy and water take forever to drain. In summer during the hottest time that same area becomes hard as a rock. There is no grass there anymore



The picket fence is on higher ground.

I need some ideas on what I can do to get the grass grow again or just make it better.

I thought about digging a trench going left - right and placing landscape drains but I have sprinkler pipes between the sprinkler heads (circled in red) that will get in the way.

I believe the soil type is clay. Would it make sense to remove the top layer of the existing soil and add new top soil?

I found some stuff on YouTube where they used wood chips to make the soil softer but that takes years and there is no grass there.

I have seen on the web that lots of people used an organic solution to break up the clay soil so it accepts nutrients - http://Raw Organic Humic Fulvic Acid..._vZexCb7F02K7X.

There is also a soil loosener- http://Liquid Aerating Soil Loosener..._U2exCbEMM8BNP

Looking for suggestions before I go out and dump some $$$.

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Last edited by 007noob; 02-07-2019 at 09:37 AM.
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Old 02-07-2019, 10:15 AM   #2
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Re: Softening hard clay soil


I had a house like that. The house was actually lower than the surrounding properties.


I'd start composting the leaves & garden debris that you have. Or you can buy amendments to add to your soil. It's actually much simpler than all those expensive additives make it seem.


If I had it to do over & probably will, since Calif has a lot of ground like that, I'd have rototilled it initially, adding organic amendments & fertilizer. That way the soil is no longer just clay.


I've learned a lot about French drains on here. Hopefully someone will make some suggestions.
And no it doesn't help to just add soil on top.
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Old 02-07-2019, 10:20 AM   #3
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Re: Softening hard clay soil


I have clay as well and it foes at least 5' deep and is pure and impervious to any water.

Digging out the surface risks creating a pond that fills up and a bigger mess. You need to do some exploratory digging to determine what is below your surface issues. If the water can't go down then you need to plan on surface drainage plus a subsurface path. Both of those can be very difficult.

Next would be finding a soil below your problem area that will drain. If you get lucky you could create a drainage pit to handle that surface water.

Last would be a large sump pit to collect the surface water and pump it somewhere?

Bud
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Old 02-07-2019, 10:28 AM   #4
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Re: Softening hard clay soil


Consider taking a soil sample of the soil in question and consulting with your local extension service if you have one and I'm thinking you probably do. In general those folks are familiar with the local areas and are very willing to assist.
At one time I thought our soil was pure sand but was pleasantly surprised by sampling. All needed is a jar, soil, water then vigorously shake a couple of minutes and allow to set over night. Your extension service people may be pleasantly surprised when they see how considerate you are by bringing in a sample.
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Old 02-07-2019, 10:48 AM   #5
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Re: Softening hard clay soil


Tilling in organic material is the best advice .

This gives the clay something to be transformed by into a soil that can support the desired grass.

Till it several times with more and more organics ( straw, leaves, cow poop, etc.) then allow it to disintegrate thoroughly.

Plant grass next year.

While you wait install a catch basin and a drain pipe to drain any future flooding away to the closest storm drain.


ED
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Old 02-08-2019, 08:56 AM   #6
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Re: Softening hard clay soil


@007noob , the advice given so far is sound.

Except, I'd go further; Instead of rototilling a few inches, I'd dig down two feet and bury small mountains of cut up organics in there, then wait till it rots. A lot of work, oh yeah, I've done it. If it's practical, you can use a Bobcat, though that's usually a lot tougher than it's worth, because they pack the soil you drive them over.

You don't have to spend a lot of money. Do like I did and bury anything suitable you can find; dead leaves, grass clippings, wood chips, straw, small branches, wood ashes, nasty food tossed from the fridge, kitty and doggie, er, byproducts, even dead animals. DON'T bury big tree trunks, they take too long to rot.

You should dump so much in the hole that it makes a mountain that sticks above the top, about a foot. Then, throw half the dirt back in and make another mound of more stuff, then toss the rest of the dirt over the top, like a giant dirt layer cake. It'll look like this giant mass grave for awhile, till all that stuff starts to rot and settle. 2 -3 feet of dead leaves will rot down to about an inch. Also, the act of getting in there and digging will help a lot to break up the clay.

The best way to think of soil is like a crop in an of itself. It's the end result of rot and decay of organic stuff, mixed with inorganic stuff. Take care of your soil and it will take care of you, with a great garden and bountiful yields.

Is your house a brand-new house, or at least built within the last 20 years or so?
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Old 02-08-2019, 10:06 AM   #7
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Re: Softening hard clay soil


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You should dump so much in the hole that it makes a mountain
Ayuh,..... I get where yer going with this,..... But,......

In the Op's situation, that will cause water under the house,......

In the picture above, it appears the area is rather flat, 'n level, except,.....
It appears that the far corner of the fence is, "Downhill",......
That said,....

I think what I would do is,....
Rototill the area to full tine depth, 'bout 8" to break up the clay as much as possible, throughout the area,.....
After removin' the salvageable bit of the springlers, they need to be reinstalled later,....

Once the area is well ground up, guessin', I'd spread, say 5 bales of peat, 'n 'bout 1/2 ton of sand,......
Then go back to rototillin', til it's all mixed up,......

After the soil is mixed, rake off a grade that drains the entire area, to a swale if necessary, so that ya got 1" every 10', all the way away,....

There'll be excess of this new top dirt you just built, so stock-pile it to fix settlement later, or use it to shim out other areas of yer lawn,.....
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Old 02-08-2019, 11:10 AM   #8
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Softening hard clay soil


Thanks of all the suggestions!! The house is old, built in the mid 90s. I am not the original owner but neighbors told me the area had very nice top soil before houses were built. The builders sold the soil.

If I dig a little may be a few inches down some places have lots of gravel and some places have just more of the same stuff. When I see gravel or large rocks I tend to remove them.

Does it help if I dig a hole in the ground where the water pools most? I would fill up the hole with compost, manure, leaves, top soil , etc.... Would this create a natural channel for the water to drain?


Unfortunately I canít dig two feet down. I may end up bleeding myself if I exert too much pressure. I do have an electric tiller and I can use that to turn the soil probably 10Ē deep. So should I sift the gravel and rocks out from under?


In a month when the weather is a bit warmer Iím going to get the soil tested so I know exactly what it is.




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Old 02-08-2019, 11:19 AM   #9
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Re: Softening hard clay soil


Nothing but clay here. I feel your pain. We tried sod a couple of times. Seed as well. What actually worked was tilling up the area and adding organic like mentioned above. Also had someone test the soil and we had to add lime. When I first built the house I spent $1200 on plants for landscaping in the front back in the early 90's. Every bit of it died. What happened was we tilled it deep and added nursery soil (mixture I got from landscaper) but with the clay soil all around we actually wound up drowning the plants. Gutters afterwards and redid everything, diverted as much water away from the house as I could.
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Old 02-08-2019, 12:05 PM   #10
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Re: Softening hard clay soil


Quote:
So should I sift the gravel and rocks out from under?
Naw,.... just rake out the rocks big enough that the lawnmower could fling into yer window,......
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Old 02-08-2019, 12:15 PM   #11
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Re: Softening hard clay soil


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Originally Posted by Bud9051 View Post
I have clay as well and it foes at least 5' deep and is pure and impervious to any water.

Digging out the surface risks creating a pond that fills up and a bigger mess. You need to do some exploratory digging to determine what is below your surface issues. If the water can't go down then you need to plan on surface drainage plus a subsurface path. Both of those can be very difficult.

Next would be finding a soil below your problem area that will drain. If you get lucky you could create a drainage pit to handle that surface water.

Last would be a large sump pit to collect the surface water and pump it somewhere?

Bud
That's a tough, but rare situation. More often I've found that tract houses at least have layers of dirt of different kinds from the use of fill, and grading, packing, etc.

Egad, a sump pit! Lots of horror stories of those. No one keeps up the maintenance till there's a flood. My experience is that water will tend to drain on sloping land, though sometimes it does slope the wrong way.
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Old 02-08-2019, 12:24 PM   #12
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Re: Softening hard clay soil


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Originally Posted by 007noob View Post
Thanks of all the suggestions!! The house is old, built in the mid 90s. I am not the original owner but neighbors told me the area had very nice top soil before houses were built. The builders sold the soil.

If I dig a little may be a few inches down some places have lots of gravel and some places have just more of the same stuff. When I see gravel or large rocks I tend to remove them.

Does it help if I dig a hole in the ground where the water pools most? I would fill up the hole with compost, manure, leaves, top soil , etc.... Would this create a natural channel for the water to drain?


Unfortunately I can’t dig two feet down. I may end up bleeding myself if I exert too much pressure. I do have an electric tiller and I can use that to turn the soil probably 10” deep. So should I sift the gravel and rocks out from under?


In a month when the weather is a bit warmer I’m going to get the soil tested so I know exactly what it is.




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I assume you mean the 1990s, which makes it a new house.

Sounds like you have the typical builder raping the land situation, and it will require a lot of TLC to bring it back. We had the same problem in Moreno Valley, California back in the 1980s. Now, all the homes in [email protected] Valley have nice gardens, where the people did the work.

Sounds like you might have to get some picks, etc., or even augers and the like to break up your Hell-Substrate. Bad news is that the harder it is to do that, the more important it is. Might be worth the expense to hire some masochists to get out there and do it if you're not able to.

Good luck!
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Old 02-08-2019, 03:06 PM   #13
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Re: Softening hard clay soil


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Originally Posted by DoomsDave View Post
I assume you mean the 1990s, which makes it a new house.

Sounds like you have the typical builder raping the land situation, and it will require a lot of TLC to bring it back. We had the same problem in Moreno Valley, California back in the 1980s. Now, all the homes in [email protected] Valley have nice gardens, where the people did the work.

Sounds like you might have to get some picks, etc., or even augers and the like to break up your Hell-Substrate. Bad news is that the harder it is to do that, the more important it is. Might be worth the expense to hire some masochists to get out there and do it if you're not able to.

Good luck!

San Fernando Valley?
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Old 02-08-2019, 03:19 PM   #14
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Re: Softening hard clay soil


Add Perlite to existing soil.
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Old 02-08-2019, 03:23 PM   #15
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Re: Softening hard clay soil


But wonít perlite cause it to more water?


Quote:
Originally Posted by ClarenceBauer View Post
Add Perlite to existing soil.





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