Grasses with "long roots"

Discussion in 'HortForum' started by Mir, Mar 18, 2007.

  1. Mir

    Mir Member

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    Vancouver, Canada
    I am planting a lawn in a yard that has a clay subsoil and tends towards dampness. The difficulity with trying to establish subsoil drainage is that the clay starts at about 16", and only God knows where it stops! I do not have a backhoe, nor an hydraulic auger for exploration. I pretty much have to work with what I've got, and I want a lawn so we can walk and sit on the area.
    One suggestion I read for helping with soil percolation is to plant "Native, long-rooted grasses". I have done some searching, but I haven't been able to find any names for these grasses, or local sources of seed. The grass seed at Rona looks like a catch-all mix.
    Any shared knowledge or recommendation would be greatly appreciated.
    Thanks!
     
    Last edited: Mar 18, 2007
  2. Dunc

    Dunc Active Member

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    I had the same problem here on the Island trying to work with red clay. We covered the whole lawn with about 4" of sand and then planted Kentucky Blue grass seed. The grass plants drop roots, easily. through the sand and root into the clay, which is quite rich in nutrients. We can now walk on the lawn and have one of the few lawns in the area that doesn't brown out in the summer.
     
  3. Don Ho

    Don Ho Active Member

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    Is the depth of the topsoil 16"? Does the topsoil remain moist or does it dry out somewhat in nice weather? Do you have standing water after it rains, and if so, for how long? Different grass species do have different root depth potential. Watering regimes, weather and your soil play a large roll in how deep the plants will send their roots.
     
  4. Mir

    Mir Member

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    Thanks for your interest Don.
    The topsoil depth varies a bit - its between about 16" and 20" for most of the garden. Underneath it is solid clay. When we have dug into that, it shows no sign of dwindling out (we've gone about 2' or 3' down). I am planning to thouroughly dig in more high grade "soil ammender" (a compost/fertilizer mix from Fraser Richmond soil) to the topsoil. As it stands now, yes, there are pools of waterj when it rains, wherever there is a depression of any kind. If you dig in to the soil after a day or two without rain, the water table sits at about 1' (that is, if you dig a hole, water will seep in and sit there at 1' or less below the surface. In the summer, it does dry out.
    The seed I am looking at getting has been suggested to me by "Quality Seed West".
    Here is what they said in an email:
    "We do have a mix that will work for you in this application, TurfStar EnviroStar is made up of three fescues and a small amount of Rye. Hard, Chewings and Sheep fescue are naturalized in coastal BC and require less light and fertility and can handle the excessive moisture you describe. The small amount of rye provides a quick germinating cover crop for the slow germinating fescues."
    I am probably looking at late summer now - it's better for planting, and gives me ample time to prep the yard.
    -Miranda
     
  5. Don Ho

    Don Ho Active Member

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    16-20" of topsoil is plenty to grow a great lawn. The compost/fertilizer mix (hopefully it is organic fertilizer) is a great thing to do for the soil before seeding. You could add just good-quality compost as well with good results. Have you done a soil test and a soil food-web assay? Without the tests is is hard to know what fertilizers should be added. Good-quality compost is always a good thing to use.

    It does not sound like your water table is sitting too high at all. If you would like, you can install some drainage tile directed to a [GOOGLE]french drain[/GOOGLE] situated on an unused part of your landscape. That would help water drain from the surface soil a little quicker.

    You will need to pay attention to your watering regime when the lawn is established. If the lawn will be maintained organically, you may only need to water infrequently depending on the weather. Soil microbes and other soil organisms do a great job of keeping the soil pores open.

    With the yard situation as you describe, you could grow any turfgrass species that is suitable for the area. The seed mixture you described sounds like a low-maintenance mixture, and will make an adequate lawn. If the lawn is going to be used a lot, you would perhaps choose another mixture with mostly good ryegrass cultivars. What use do you intend for the lawn?

    Don
     
  6. Mir

    Mir Member

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    Hi again Don!
    Thank you so much in working on this with me - I am a complete novice when it comes to creating a garden. I have never had the opportunity. Thankfully, I have dicovered, much to my surprise, that I love gardening. There's nothing like having your own little corner of God's green earth, eh?
    I would be happy to go with plain compost - I just have to source some out. I will ask this supplier what the fertilizer is.
    I have considered installing some french drains - its just a bit of work. There is no way we can do a dry well - the water simply does not drain away, but we have already dug a pond, to take the water that drains from the roof, gutters, and perimeter drain (its a long story - let me know if you want to hear it). So I could drain the french drains into the pond. How close do they have to be? (the yard has about a 5 deg. slope downward). I would of course rather do without them.
    As for use... sitting on, lying on, walking a bit - no kids, no sports. I would like something comfortable. I'm wide open to suggestions.
    As for soil tests, so far I have done a home PH test - its high, around 7. Would you use sulfur, or just keep up with the organics?
    Thanks again!
     
    Last edited: Mar 29, 2007
  7. Don Ho

    Don Ho Active Member

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    Everybody should garden. It is an excellent way of connecting with Mother Earth and to ground your beingness. Life in a city is often hectic, and gardening is a wonderful way to escape. When I am in my garden, nothing else in the world matters.

    I do not add any amendments other than compost without a soil test done by a qualified lab. Let the lab know you are growing a lawn and they will make recommendations based on that. It is also good to get a soil food web assay done to see what kind of life is present in the soil. They can also make recommendations that will be organically based. Home test kits and not the most accurate. Sulfur is good for lowering the pH of a soil, but it can take awhile and should only be added based on what a soil test recommends. A pH of 7 is considered neutral, and will be okay for growing a lawn. A little lower is better, but 7 is okay. Compost will help. Mixing in some mycorrhizal fungi for lawn grasses into the top inch of the soil just before seeding will also help.

    You might want to research information on [GOOGLE]rain gardens[/GOOGLE], which are gardens specifically designed to deal with runoff from roofs and landscapes. With the pond alread dug, installing a rain garden would merely a matter of choosing appropriate plants. A french drain would allow the surface soil to dry out a little quicker than without, but is usually used in areas where the soil drains very poorly and/or water tends to stand. With a 5 degree slope, runoff appears to be a more important issue. Is the issue poorly drained soil or water runoff? If it is runoff, you are well on your way too a grand solution with the pond, and subsurface drainage might not be required. With a little creative grading, you could direct runoff water to the pond using a well placed swale or two.

    The fescue mixture you have mentioned may be a little prickly to sit on. Even the fine fescues can be a little prickly to walk and sit on. My front lawn is fine fescue and I usually do not walk on it without something on my feet. Fescues also have low water requirements when compared to other lawn grasses. I would definitely lean towards a mostly ryegrass mixture that contians good cultivars for the coast. Ryegrass can thrive in your environment. I would suggest Kentucky bluegrass, but it does not seem to perform as well as other lawn grasses in the lower mainland. The sod growers in your neck of the woods use a little KB in their mixtures to help hold the sod pieces together. I hope this helps. :o)
     

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