One of the most common problems homeowners face in the Virginia Beach, VA area is dry, poor, sandy soil. Fortunately for you, if sandy soil is your problem, getting your soil into good shape shouldn’t be too painful of a headache.
Once you’ve improved your sandy soil you’ll realize that these soils be very productive, producing prolific vegetables and robust trees, shrubs and flowers—and grass!
Root of the problem
Photo: Flickr / Earthe Organics
Most lawn care professionals recommend a soil test every three years to equip yourself with the information in order to maintain a healthy lawn. However, most homeowners are prone to apply fertilizers loaded with chemicals before stepping back and evaluating the root of the problem and analyzing what’s going on underground.
Soil serves as the foundation for grass, providing both moisture and nutrients vital for healthy growth.
There are three main problems with sandy soils when it comes to proper lawn care.
Problem #1: Sand particles are relatively large and coarse, with an abundance of air pockets between them. This allows water to enter the soil as quickly as it drains, leaving grass high dried out just a few days after a good rainfall.
Sandy soils cannot provide the consistent moisture most grass types need to foster healthy growth because the soil simply doesn’t retain adequate amounts of water.
Problem #2: Similarly to the first problem, sandy soils cannot store nutrients and have very few nutrients of their own. Sandy soil lacks the particles clay soil has that are responsible for grabbing and holding on to nutrients to use. So, fertilizer is a fruitless effort. The roots can’t properly hold onto the nutrients either because of this, causing nutrient deficiency symptoms like stunting, yellow leaves and sparse flowering or poor fruit production.
Problem #3: Healthy soils are filled with billions of tiny, microscopic organisms that help plants and grass grow by cycling nutrients and suppressing plant diseases. However, sandy soils lack the presence of such organisms and therefore the grass suffers the consequences.
Fixing sandy soils
Good news is there’s an easy and inexpensive solution – compost! Compost is decomposed organic material that’s used as a plant fertilizer and soil. It’s dark and crumbly, provides sandy soils with nutrients, increases their ability to hold water and nutrients, and creates the perfect habitat for microorganisms that are essential for healthy soil.
You can either purchase compost from your local nursery or you can make it yourself. Though if you’re amending the compost into your existing lawn soil you’re probably going to want to purchase it from the nursery, for scale.
There are two major options for fixing your sandy soil; either topdressing once or twice per year in the spring and fall and slowing amending the soil or completely renovating your entire lawn.
Photo: Flickr / normanack
Top-dressing can be broken down into 5 simple steps:
Step #1: Aerate the lawn
Lawns should be aerated every 2 – 3 years (some experts even recommend annually) so if your lawn is due for aeration start with a nice core aeration. Core aeration is a process which involves perforating the lawn with tiny holes by removing plugs from the lawn in order to alleviate soil compaction. Aeration allows air, water, nutrients, and our top-dressing mixture to better penetrate the surface.
Step #2: Prepare your top-dressing
You can make your own top-dressing using a mixture of:
- Sharp sand (avoid sea sand which contains lime)
- Loam or topsoil (a fine crumbly soil that is neither clay nor sandy)
- Peat (or compost if your soil needs a nutritional punch, but be prepared for sprouting weeds!)
Of course in our case we would significantly reduce the amount of sand in our blend. The top-dressing ingredients need to be dry and sifted until there are no clumps larger than ¼”.
Step #3: Apply top-dressing
Now you’re ready to spread the top-dressing. Shovel out a small mound (just a few shovels at a time) of the mixture onto the lawn.
Using a metal rake, gently massage the top dressing into the aeration holes and between the grass plants. Make sure the top-dressing doesn’t cover the grass more than 1” (preferably ½” or less) over the existing grass.
Step #4: Water and adjust
At this point you’re technically finished, but in our experience a good top-dressing does some settling. We recommend watering the area well and letting the mixture sit for a couple days and then go back with a metal rake again and smoothing out any little hollows or bumps that may develop.
Step #5: Plant grass if needed
Now you can fill in the bare spots with plugs of grass or grass seed. Existing grass should be able to grow through an inch of top-dressing.
Photo: Flickr / Marcy Leigh
Honestly, renovating your lawn could be an entire post of its own so we’ll keep it simple (and hopefully we’ll have a lawn renovation post very soon).
You’re going to want enough compost to be able to blend the soil a good 3” to 4” down at least. However, this will require removing the existing lawn and tilling the soil about 6” down for a proper blend.
Sandy soils are a simple problem to solve it just requires making the difficult decision between slowly amending top-dressing or completely renovating the lawn. After that it’s all about execution.
It’s important to test your soil once every 3 years to be sure of its nutrient make up. And if you notice your grass is starting to fade, start with the quality of the soil.
Have questions about lawn care? Visit our Virginia Beach, VA lawn care page or share your thoughts in the comments section below.