Soil newbie seeking help with terrible lawn....

A place to discuss soil fertility and soil amendments
Attirex
Posts: 8
Joined: Tue Oct 08, 2019 7:10 pm
Location: Northeast U.S.
Grass Type: Uknown/several
Lawn Size: 10,000 sq ft
Mower: Honda

Soil newbie seeking help with terrible lawn....

Post by Attirex » Tue Oct 08, 2019 8:10 pm

Hi, Everyone:

I guess I'm that guy who has an issue, does a Google search, finds a forum, registers, and posts a dumb question, so please accept my apologies in advance for, well, being That Guy (or for not posting in proper forum subsection).

Anyway, I live in the Northeast U.S. (Boston suburb) and own a house on a 10,000 sq ft (approx? not even sure) corner lot. I have no idea what type of grasses I have, except that there seems to be about three or four different varieties (including crab grass). Every spring, as expected, things start out great, grass grows in thick, but....inevitably....things go downhill and by the end of the summer, lawn looks like $#$@. I have an irrigation system controlled by a Rachio, and keep it on smart watering setting. I have a lawn service that does fertilization treatments a few times a season.

However, doesn't seem to help. At some point as summer progresses, the grass stops growing (especially in the front yard), lawn develops dead spots, and it looks terrible. Some years are worse than others. A few years ago before I had the irrigation system installed, we had a drought, and my entire lawn died. Completely. Looked like shredded wheat. This year, despite pretty good spring rains, irrigating, and lawn service, there were dead spots everywhere by August.

My experience with local lawn services has left me cynical about what they (don't) do--which seems to be nothing more than throw on a few fertilizer treatments, and if something goes wrong they just assure you that overseeding (for $$$) will fix everything. I'm thinking this doesn't address the larger problem, which is probably my soil. I had it tested, and came back with high lead levels (no more gardening without pots or raised beds, sadly). Will have to check other numbers, if you guys need info.

The front portion of front yard near the street seems to actively reject grass, as you can see by the photo:

Image

There's always this semi-circle dead spot, and if you look closely on the far left side of the photo, you can see bare dirt. In this small (also circular) section, the grass died all the way to the roots. The dead grass was just lying on top of the soil (you could kick it off with your foot and expose the dirt). :-(

A second large dead spot also formed around a tree we recently had cut down (assuming related). Last summer, a random, almost perfectly circular dead spot formed in the back yard. I'm starting to wonder what the heck was on this land before the housing development was built (1950s).

SO--being the lawn dummy I am, what do you guys recommend? Is something like the soil Ph the problem? What am I doing wrong? Or not doing that I should be doing to treat the soil? Is the soil the problem? Educate me! I need to learn.

Thanks so much.

Humble regards,
Andrew

Virginiagal
Posts: 436
Joined: Mon Apr 24, 2017 5:11 am
Location: Virginia
Grass Type: tttf

Re: Soil newbie seeking help with terrible lawn....

Post by Virginiagal » Wed Oct 09, 2019 4:50 am

Welcome to the forum! Sorry you’re having such a hard time keeping grass alive. Here is a general guide to cool season grass maintenance:
viewtopic.php?t=1595

I wonder if there are rocks or other debris in the areas you’re having trouble with. See if you can insert a screwdriver all the way down into the soil there. Poke in various spots. If there are obstructions they could be responsible for the grass dying.

Another possibility is disease. Grasses can be susceptible to fungal diseases and that can kill off areas. Did the lawn service use fungicides?

The lead in the soil is troubling. Not because of the grass, but because lead is such a hazard and harms children. It came from somewhere. Do your neighbors have lead in the soil too?

Can you post your soil test? That little box with a dot and blob in the line of tools will insert an image into a post.

Virginiagal
Posts: 436
Joined: Mon Apr 24, 2017 5:11 am
Location: Virginia
Grass Type: tttf

Re: Soil newbie seeking help with terrible lawn....

Post by Virginiagal » Wed Oct 09, 2019 4:55 am

If you did not remove the ground up tree stump (I’m assuming you had the stump ground up), those wood chips are decaying and robbing the soil of nitrogen. Best to get those wood chips out of there if you didn’t remove them when the tree was cut down.

Attirex
Posts: 8
Joined: Tue Oct 08, 2019 7:10 pm
Location: Northeast U.S.
Grass Type: Uknown/several
Lawn Size: 10,000 sq ft
Mower: Honda

Re: Soil newbie seeking help with terrible lawn....

Post by Attirex » Wed Oct 09, 2019 3:16 pm

Thanks for info, appreciate it.

Unfortunately, we didn't have the stump ground up. Long story short, it's propping up the iron fence on the side of the yard (there's actually a metal armature extending from the fence post into the stump). The tree service cut the stump only down to fence height as a result,, so the stump is a good 3ft high. I'm assuming this is why a large portion of the grass died around the stump and out into the yard.

New England definitely has rocky soil, including my town, but not sure if that's the culprit (esp front yard). I'll do the screwdriver test, though.

I don't know if lawn service used fungicides. Hm. I'd have to check.

According to the results letter we received, the lead levels aren't high enough for loose soil to be hazardous to children, but we can't grow leafy vegetables. I don't know if the neighbors have high lead content, too. I'd be surprised if any of them have ever had their soil tested.

Why the lead is there, I don't know. I wouldn't be surprised if there was heavy industry here at one point (bc we're near Boston). But also thinking that because my neighborhood is tucked into the corner/intersection of two major highways/interstates, could be 50 years of nearby car emissions have settled into the soil.

In any event, here's a screenshot of test results from back in July (the sample was taken from the back yard):


Image
Last edited by Attirex on Wed Oct 09, 2019 3:20 pm, edited 1 time in total.

Virginiagal
Posts: 436
Joined: Mon Apr 24, 2017 5:11 am
Location: Virginia
Grass Type: tttf

Re: Soil newbie seeking help with terrible lawn....

Post by Virginiagal » Wed Oct 09, 2019 4:12 pm

Nothing really jumps out at me from the soil test as a serious problem for the grass. Your pH is somewhat low and you need some lime. Did they make a lime recommendation? Your cation exchange capacity is quite good (your soil holds nutrients well). Your organic matter percentage is unusually large. I’m tagging @Ridgerunner and @g-man in case they have some comments. What is the lab?

The tree stump should not be affecting the grass. The decaying roots may be part of the problem. That area may need more nitrogen to make up for the nitrogen being lost to the decaying roots. But the roots would not be as big of a problem as a pit of decaying wood chips from the stump. The stump is above ground and not robbing nitrogen and will take years to decay.

If you’re near highways, it could be lead from the leaded gas in cars years ago. Lead paint may have been on the house in the 1950s.

Hope you don’t find rocks, though if you do, you will know the reason why the grass dies.

User avatar
g-man
Moderator
Posts: 8450
Joined: Wed Jun 14, 2017 10:32 pm
Location: Fishers, IN
Grass Type: Front: Northern Mix Back: Bewi
Lawn Size: 5678
Mower: John Deere 220E

Re: Soil newbie seeking help with terrible lawn....

Post by g-man » Wed Oct 09, 2019 4:37 pm

Can you get a close up of the grass that is green in the middle of that dead area? Do you have images from spring and how it progress to the current state? Have you apply seeds?

Attirex
Posts: 8
Joined: Tue Oct 08, 2019 7:10 pm
Location: Northeast U.S.
Grass Type: Uknown/several
Lawn Size: 10,000 sq ft
Mower: Honda

Re: Soil newbie seeking help with terrible lawn....

Post by Attirex » Wed Oct 09, 2019 4:41 pm

The test was done by U. Mass Extension, specifically Soil and Plant Nutrient Testing Laboratory/Paige Laboratory in Amherst.

I have a feeling the front yard dead spot isn't bc of rocks, but will find a moment when it isn't raining next four days and stick a screwdriver in and see what I find.

For whatever reason, the grass in the front yard isn't hardy. If it doesn't rain gallons a day in the summer or we have even a short hot, dry spell, the portion near the street dies rapidly. It can't handle life! If I were rich, I'd just rip all of it up and put in sod. But that would probably die, too. Sigh.

I think at one point the lawn service recommended lime and/or Ph treatments (for extra $, of course).

Pic of front yard during mini-drought three years ago, taken at end of July. Completely and utterly dead. :-(

Image

Attirex
Posts: 8
Joined: Tue Oct 08, 2019 7:10 pm
Location: Northeast U.S.
Grass Type: Uknown/several
Lawn Size: 10,000 sq ft
Mower: Honda

Re: Soil newbie seeking help with terrible lawn....

Post by Attirex » Wed Oct 09, 2019 5:02 pm

g-man wrote:
Wed Oct 09, 2019 4:37 pm
Can you get a close up of the grass that is green in the middle of that dead area? Do you have images from spring and how it progress to the current state? Have you apply seeds?
Here you go.....

You can see surrounding dead area:

Image

Close-up of green grass:

Image

Dead area around stump:

Image

Another dead area in back yard, near hemlock bushes:

Image

Here's back yard (don't have pic of back yard, but looks equally good) from early May. We had a lot of rain this spring, so came in thick:

Image

That's as good as it looked all summer season.

We've done overseeding a couple of times, but not sure it helped much. I don't think I watered enough.

Ridgerunner
Posts: 1294
Joined: Tue May 16, 2017 4:35 pm
Location: E. Ohio
Grass Type: KBG
Lawn Size: 6500
Mower: Steiner 420, Honda

Re: Soil newbie seeking help with terrible lawn....

Post by Ridgerunner » Wed Oct 09, 2019 6:49 pm

That looks like UMASS, Becky.
Levels look adequate.
Although pH is low and Al higher, I doubt there would be much of a Al toxicity issue. Raise the pH to eliminate the possibility. Any calcitic lime at max bag rate.
My guesses in order:
Water
Grubs (based on what you said about kicking the grass off and the time of summer it happened.)
Disease
Last edited by Ridgerunner on Wed Oct 09, 2019 6:49 pm, edited 1 time in total.

User avatar
g-man
Moderator
Posts: 8450
Joined: Wed Jun 14, 2017 10:32 pm
Location: Fishers, IN
Grass Type: Front: Northern Mix Back: Bewi
Lawn Size: 5678
Mower: John Deere 220E

Re: Soil newbie seeking help with terrible lawn....

Post by g-man » Wed Oct 09, 2019 7:06 pm

Grubs does sound like a possibility. Do you have images of just when it started to go bad?

Around the lead, no inground gardens. I doubt it is from cars fumes. I know here in Indy there are zones with high lead from some industry years ago. The local university does soil testing for free.

@Ridgerunner what are your thoughts on base saturation for calcium at 38%?

Ridgerunner
Posts: 1294
Joined: Tue May 16, 2017 4:35 pm
Location: E. Ohio
Grass Type: KBG
Lawn Size: 6500
Mower: Steiner 420, Honda

Re: Soil newbie seeking help with terrible lawn....

Post by Ridgerunner » Wed Oct 09, 2019 7:15 pm

@g-man The lime should help remedy that.
Last edited by Ridgerunner on Wed Oct 09, 2019 7:19 pm, edited 1 time in total.

Virginiagal
Posts: 436
Joined: Mon Apr 24, 2017 5:11 am
Location: Virginia
Grass Type: tttf

Re: Soil newbie seeking help with terrible lawn....

Post by Virginiagal » Thu Oct 10, 2019 5:11 am

If the lab did not make a lime recommendation, I agree with Ridgerunner to just use a calcitic lime at the maximum bag rate. Do an application this fall, another in the spring, retest next year. You will probably need to add lime for awhile. But don’t do it indefinitely as you can over lime. Ask the lab for a lime recommendation (and fertilizer recommendations) next time.

Decaying tree roots did not cause that much damage. It’s something else.

Here are two articles on grubs. The Michigan one shows how to check for grubs.
https://www.canr.msu.edu/news/how_to_ch ... _your_lawn
https://ag.umass.edu/turf/fact-sheets/c ... ub-control

Virginiagal
Posts: 436
Joined: Mon Apr 24, 2017 5:11 am
Location: Virginia
Grass Type: tttf

Re: Soil newbie seeking help with terrible lawn....

Post by Virginiagal » Thu Oct 10, 2019 5:33 am

Your tree stump has potential to be a support for climbing or vining plants if you might want to turn that area into a flower bed. It looks like it’s rather difficult to mow there where the other fence comes in. Instead of en eyesore you could turn it into a vertical focal point. Maybe a clematis over the stump? Surrounded by hostas?

Attirex
Posts: 8
Joined: Tue Oct 08, 2019 7:10 pm
Location: Northeast U.S.
Grass Type: Uknown/several
Lawn Size: 10,000 sq ft
Mower: Honda

Re: Soil newbie seeking help with terrible lawn....

Post by Attirex » Thu Oct 10, 2019 10:13 pm

Thanks for all the good info and tips. Unfortunately, I don't have a photo of how the lawn looked just as it started to go bad.

And I suspect that grubs could be the culprit. When we still used the garden (before we found out about lead), I remember seeing quite a few grubs. :-( Can they be eradicated? I suppose something I'd have to contact my lawn service about.

Will add lime treatment to the list.

And yep, that spot where the two fences meet near the stump is a pain to mow, but in the list of things I have to Deal With in Life, not so bad. Turning that area into a flower bed is a good idea. Hm. Although the real solution is to get rid of that awful wrought iron fence, which would mean I could remove the stump, too. As the wife likes to say..."20 year plan!"

Factor
Posts: 45
Joined: Thu Oct 10, 2019 10:47 am
Location: Murfreesboro
Grass Type: TTTF
Lawn Size: 13000
Mower: None

Re: Soil newbie seeking help with terrible lawn....

Post by Factor » Fri Oct 11, 2019 7:53 pm

FYI you mower blade need sharpening. If you look at the close ups the grass is torn not cut..
Thanks,
Factor
Just a regular guy from Tennessee.
Tier 2. It just grass... it's not a hobby for me.

Attirex
Posts: 8
Joined: Tue Oct 08, 2019 7:10 pm
Location: Northeast U.S.
Grass Type: Uknown/several
Lawn Size: 10,000 sq ft
Mower: Honda

Re: Soil newbie seeking help with terrible lawn....

Post by Attirex » Sat Oct 12, 2019 8:27 am

Yeah.....one of those things I never got around to doing this summer.

User avatar
LawnOrder
Posts: 23
Joined: Sun Sep 29, 2019 11:57 am
Location: Olcott Beach, NY
Grass Type: Manhattan 5 Perennial Ryegrass
Lawn Size: 300,000
Mower: Kubota B-3030

Re: Soil newbie seeking help with terrible lawn....

Post by LawnOrder » Sat Oct 12, 2019 10:17 am

Factor wrote:
Fri Oct 11, 2019 7:53 pm
FYI you mower blade need sharpening. If you look at the close ups the grass is torn not cut..

Attirex wrote:
Sat Oct 12, 2019 8:27 am
Yeah.....one of those things I never got around to doing this summer.


@Attirex - Although it's seldom mentioned, a sharp blade will give you much better looking - and much healthier - lawn. Grass which is torn, shredded or cut roughly serves as a vector for disease. The cut is an open wound, and presenting the smallest surface will reduce the probability of the entry of disease.

Grass is roughly 85% water for all intents and purposes, and water is the enemy of lawnmower blades, reels and bed knives. Best practises: be sure the mower is absolutely dry when you've finished, to reduce rust. Wipe the cutting surfaces with a little machine oil, to create a barrier between condensation and the steel cutting surfaces, and teach yourself to hone the cutting edges with a slip stone. Your lawn with thank you for it.
.

Attirex
Posts: 8
Joined: Tue Oct 08, 2019 7:10 pm
Location: Northeast U.S.
Grass Type: Uknown/several
Lawn Size: 10,000 sq ft
Mower: Honda

Re: Soil newbie seeking help with terrible lawn....

Post by Attirex » Mon Oct 14, 2019 10:02 am

Thanks for info! I have read that sharp mower blades = healthier lawn, but just slacked off this past season. I'm sure it didn't help my grass. :-(

r7k
Posts: 44
Joined: Fri Jan 25, 2019 10:21 am
Location: CT
Grass Type: dead
Lawn Size: 0.25
Mower: honda

Re: Soil newbie seeking help with terrible lawn....

Post by r7k » Mon Oct 14, 2019 4:50 pm

your around the stump and near hemlock pic, reminds me of what happened to me last year

viewtopic.php?f=9&t=7351&p=125411#p125411

I got similar looking dead grass like in your pic... i was always good on fertilizing but neglected insecticide. My dead grass seemed to just show up in the course of a week the end of August and Sept. last year.
I wasn't sure if it was fungus or insect (and I would get mushrooms popping up in the yard every year every so often)

this year i tried to plan an insecticide treatment, but ended up winging it kinda. Didn't do granule but instead sprayed 7.9% bifenthrin and cyonara lambda-cyhalothrin insecticide from my 1 gal sprayer (bifen mid june, cyonara on 7/4, bifen again in august). so fwiw don't overlook insect control.
Last edited by r7k on Mon Oct 14, 2019 4:56 pm, edited 2 times in total.

GreenerAcre
Posts: 1
Joined: Mon Oct 14, 2019 6:13 pm
Location: Central VA
Grass Type: Valkarie, Rowdy, Firecracker
Lawn Size: 48000
Mower: Wright SportX 52"

Re: Soil newbie seeking help with terrible lawn....

Post by GreenerAcre » Mon Oct 14, 2019 7:13 pm

The area around the stump could be a shade type of grass that can't handle the direct sunlight that it is getting now.

Post Reply