Forum home Problem solving

Dry Lawn

Hello, despite all the rain we've had of late, I went out yesterday to dig a hole for a new shrub and the ground was completely dry. We've had days and days of heavy rain lately, I've no idea where it is all going if it isn't going down into the soil. Once I dug up the grass (which was wet), just below that by about 2 or 3 inches, the ground was so dry and compacted I struggled to dig the hole. This is in an 'untouched' area of my lawn that has been mowed for years but never dug. I finally got the hole dug and shrub planted and gave it all a good soaking, but I'm concerned that the roots will not find enough water as the plant grows because the ground seems so compacted and dry. What can I do to help the shrub and my lawn? Thanks.


  • FairygirlFairygirl west central ScotlandPosts: 49,201
    edited October 2019
    Hi @SwanLake. The problem is that if you've had generally dry weather, it can still take a long time for moisture to really penetrate the ground. The grass will recover over winter. 
    When you dug the hole [I assume it's in the lawn? ] did you clear a good area round it too? That will help in a couple of ways. It helps prevent competition from the grass for moisture, and it helps avoid damaging the trunk of the shrub when grass cutting. Once watered really thoroughly, you can then add a mulch to preserve moisture.
    It's always better to thoroughly soak a couple of times a week, rather than a sprinkle every day. That gives it a good chance to get it's roots down, and it will then seek out moisture lower down.  :)
    I should have said too - if your ground was dry and hard before the rain, the water will possibly have run off  a fair bit, before getting into the soil properly. 
    It's a place where beautiful isn't enough of a word....

  • LoxleyLoxley NottinghamPosts: 4,978
    You should go out with a fork, drive it in as far as it will go and wiggle it about to loosen the soil. Will take a while to do the whole lawn, try and do it so you don't have to walk across the areas you've just decompacted! Then keep off it as much as possible.
  • NollieNollie Girona, Catalunya, Northen Spain.Posts: 6,559
    After a hot summer with little rain, my ground is really dry under the surface and virgin land is always very compacted. If I were to be planting shrubs now, which I will be doing shortly, this is what I will do:

    - dig a hole, ideally twice the width and depth of the potted shrub, or as near as possible
    - loosen the soil at the bottom and sides of the hole by whacking my fork in and wriggling it around
    - pour a several cans of water into the empty hole and leave it overnight to absorb the water
    - lightly fork over the soil in the hole again, mix in lots of compost with the original soil and back-fill with this looser material around the shrub, firming it in well
    - then water in deeply and mulch in a good circle around

    If you simply popped the shrub into a dry, compacted planting hole, backfilled and then watered, I would be tempted to carefully dig it up - if you have only just planted it it will still be in it’s pot shape and should slide easily back into the original pot temporarily. Water the pot if the roots still look dry, do more prep as above and and replant the following day.

    Do as Will says for your lawn!
  • Thanks for the very helpful advice everyone. I was off work yesterday, so I dug quite a large, deep hole compared to the plant pot with a good clearing left around the plant itself, but I did not put water in the hole before planting. So I will dig it up tomorrow and try again. I only planted it yesterday, so it should still be pot shaped. I was hoping to dig up the lawn in that area and plant several shrubs (I thought it would be a 'few hours' job due to all the rain), but the ground was so hard it took me ages to just dig one hole. I was hoping to do at least a couple more holes this weekend. Perhaps if I dig them Saturday, fill them with water and let it sit, then compost, it will be ready for planting on Sunday? I will get mulch this or next weekend to put around the plants once they're all in. There are about 7 in total.
    I will also take a fork to the lawn this weekend (if I still have the stregth after digging into what feels like concrete!! :s ). Is the forking something I will need to do every year or several times per year?
  • NollieNollie Girona, Catalunya, Northen Spain.Posts: 6,559
    It sounds as if you have done a decent job of preparing the ground, so you may get away with leaving the first one in situ if you water deeply. The pre-watering of the hole the day before planting is something that works for me, so try it with the others and see. Useful too, to see how well your soil drains if you watch how long it takes to absorb the water. Not that I am suggesting you sit up all night!
  • FairygirlFairygirl west central ScotlandPosts: 49,201
    I think it might have been better to strip off the turf, prep it well- ie adding lots of organic matter- and soak it well, or wait until there's been significant rainfall, before planting anything.
    If you have dry ground, and/or live in a dry area, another month would make a difference. I'm assuming your soil is possibly clay, if it's so hard. Well rotted manure would help enormously to break it up and improve the structure. You can do that and leave it over winter, which would make all the planting much easier.   
    Do you have a photo of the area you wnat to plant up? Other surrounding planting can also have an effect on the condition of the ground. 
    It's a place where beautiful isn't enough of a word....

  • I've spent the better part of this weekend taking the grass off and digging up the entire area. I've only managed to go down a few inches as the soil is so dry and compacted. I'm not sure if it's clay or not. I should have taken a photo. I can't believe we've had weeks of heavy rain and the soil is completely dry just below the grass. I watered the area thoroughly and also it has poured down with rain again last night and today, more expected tomorrow, so hopefully that will help the 'exposed' area now. I'll try to get ahold of manure this week and hopefully that will help as well. I think the shrubs will last another few weeks in their pots, so hopefully that will allow time for the soil to break up a bit to make planting easier.
  • FairygirlFairygirl west central ScotlandPosts: 49,201
    I think you need to look at the reason your ground is so dry and compacted @SwanLake. Normally, excessively dry ground is due to it's composition - ie sandy, or a think layer of soil over rock etc.
    If that's the case, you have to either plant accordingly, or create raised beds or similar for planting into.
    Clay soil is present if you take a handful when it's damp,  and squeeze it, and it remains in a solid lump.  :)
    It's a place where beautiful isn't enough of a word....

  • Dave HumbyDave Humby HampshirePosts: 1,142
    It sounds like a classic case of thatch to me. A proper scarification should help along with the other recommendations you have received. 
  • NollieNollie Girona, Catalunya, Northen Spain.Posts: 6,559
    Oh dear, it does sound as if you have a problem there and a bit more investigation is required.

    My soil is a thin layer of heavy, stony clay on rock so has little depth to it and raised beds are a necessity for me. It does take weeks for rain to penetrate even the prepared and improved areas. An inherited plant I have just dug out of grass was dry as dust at the stunted roots, that were trying and failing to penetrate rock and builders rubble.

    It’s amazing what rubbish can be found under lawns, often the dumping ground for all sorts of stuff that is then compacted and a thin layer of topsoil thrown on top. Happens in much older houses as well as new builds, as I have just discovered...
Sign In or Register to comment.