Monday, September 7, 2009

The Landscape Foundation - Soil Building

By Kent Higgins

No matter how carefully the garden has been planned on paper, hard practical work must be done by someone before you can see the dream break into flower.

If you moved into your new home during the fall or winter you will probably be pretty discouraged when the snow leaves in spring.

Grading - Rough Grade

Though most building contracts call for the rough grading to be complete, this may be pretty rough. As a bulldozer is used, the surface is usually packed hard, with bricks, wire and boards pressed into it. Leave it alone until the mud dries out quite well, as working it too soon could ruin the texture of the soil.

As soon as you can walk on it without getting stuck, pick up and get rid of all the rubbish. You may find that a few knolls need to be shoveled into low spots. This rough grade should be 3 to 4 inches below where you want the finished grade. Excavate shrub beds and others to 9 to 12 inches below the finished grade.

Usually poor earth, either sandy or clay fill, is used to make the rough grade. The good topsoil is either buried or scraped off and sold as topsoil to someone else.


If you can get well-rotted manure, spread it over the rough grade at 1/2 to 1 ton per 1,000 square feet. Then rent a rototiller from an equipment dealer and work this manure into the top 4 to 6 inches of the rough grade. If you cannot get manure, use five bales of granulated peat and 25 pounds of 6-9-6 fertilizer per 1,000 square feet instead. Dig manure or peat and fertilizer into the bottom of shrub beds, using the same rates as for the grade.

Finished Grade

Now you are ready to add topsoil to fill up to the finished grade. Try to get rich sandy loam or light clay loam. Avoid the woody black muck from swamps that is often sold as topsoil, and also the very light yellow sand. It takes about 3 cubic yards of topsoil to cover 1,000 square feet with a finch layer; therefore. 12 cubic yards should give you a 4-inch layer. The shrub beds and others need 9 to 12 inches to fill them up to the finished grade. You will probably find that you need 15 to 20 cubic yards of topsoil altogether.

To save a lot of shoveling, have the trucker spread the topsoil as he dumps it. You will have to do some hand work, of course. On a large lot where you can use a machine, use a plank drag hitched short on one side behind a tractor to level the earth. On a small lot, hand raking is about the only solution but you can make it simpler - though heavier work - by tying a 3-foot stick (1 x 2 inches) on the rake and using it upside down.


As soon as the ficus tree and lawn area is raked smooth , roll it until it is firm. This will show up humps and hollows that need to be raked again. Before you do this raking, scatter 20 to 25 pounds of 6-9-6 fertilizer per 1,000 square feet over the area like putting fertilizer to your ficus tree house plant so that it is worked into the surface three or four days before seeding or sodding.


Use a top-quality grass-seed mixture - it does not pay to use cheap seed. Eighty percent Kentucky bluegrass or Merion bluegrass along with 20 percent red top or Norlea ryegrass has proved most satisfactory in Canada, when sown at 3 pounds per 1,000 square feet. Seed either between May 1 and 15 or between August 20 and September 10; sodding may be done from late May to October. Water the lawn regularly until it is well established.

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