Last year I added several bags of topsoil to my small front lawn, re-seeded, and cut high. This spring- my lawn looks just as bare and patchy as it did last year (though by fall last year, I did get it looking fairly lush when I kept it growing high).
If I dig down with as hovel, I have about 3" of soil before I hit a hard clay/several rocks substance. My lawn has VERY poor drainage. I live in BC< and when it rains- we have a small pool in our front yard. Seriously, the water puddles on the top when it rains hard.
Is the best option here to get a digger and remove 6-8" of soil, replace with proper soil, and reseed? Our neighbours did it and it looks great, but a lot of work. I see some people try digging worm holes every 10 feet or so first. Does that actually help turn the clay into soil? Will it work, or does it take years?
I want a near maintenance free lawn, ASAP. I know, I'm lazy. But if that meas pulling it all out and starting from scratch I can do that.
Clay can be very good soil for growing in, if it has sufficient organic matter. Most companies that sell 'topsoil' don't have a very good organic content.
I grow under very different circumstances than you, but the very first thing I would do is aerate. I prefer doing this by hand with a garden fork, but there are machines that remove plugs and leave them on top of the soil. After that I'd spread at least 1/4 an inch of manure across the whole yard. I trust that in addition to mowing high, you are already leaving all your trimmings to nourish the soil life.
I successfully brought plants back into the barren (not even weeds) third of my front yard with just aerating and lightly scattering some excess wood chips that I was working with. Manure or compost would have been even better. Every year the ratio of grass to mixed greens shifts further to the grass side.
Not sure what part of BC you're in, but they're a lot more accepting of alternative ideas. With that in mind, how would you feel about planting some root crops, like diacon radish? I'd aerate, plant and mulch. They're pretty good at penetrating the clay and then you'll have organic matter in the clay, which will decompose. It can make a big difference in a year. I'm also adverse to going to the lengths your neighbours did when you can let nature do it for you.
Having said that, I just got back in from turning several yards of compost because I'm impatient, but that's got more to do with using it for planting asap. At least my chickens appreciate it, even though a couple almost got buried.
A piece of land is worth as much as the person farming it.
-Le Livre du Colon, 1902
Thanks- I did fertilize (I think it was ringer?) and spread coffee grounds last year from starbucks. We also aerated twice. It may just be that the lawn is still hibernating, but I highly suspect the soil is too shallow to allow it to root deeply enough.
I'll try digging a larger hold to see if there are a lot of rocks later this afternoon- if not, I would certainly consider using a root crop. Is daikon radish the best one? I'm slightly hesitant about doing anything too far out in my front yard, as we're on a cul de sac with matching houses. It might look funny. That being said, the daikon appears to look like a weed from what I can tell, and we have lots of those already. Definitely an option for the back (which has a shady section growing a lot more moss than grass right now). Should I get the soil tested as well, to see if I need add lime or anything?