Published Nov 7, 2017

Build soil health in your front yard

By Sarah Carlson
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The difference between a restored soil and not restored only after a couple years.

Guest Blog Post by Jonathon Gano, Director of Public Works for the City of Des Moines

Soil health is a key part of managing agricultural land with well understood benefits and a whole host of options.  Less well understood is the soil outside the front door of our homes.

Our lawns are often an afterthought when thinking about soil health but they are one of the first places a homeowner can work to improve water quality in our lakes and streams.  Healthy soil under our lawns can absorb and retain three times as much water as unhealthy soil.  Every drop of water lands somewhere – keeping that water where it lands just a little longer will slow it down, cool it off, and clean it up.

The first and best chance for a healthy lawn is careful management of Iowa’s abundant topsoil when the house is built.  Avoiding overcompaction and paying attention to the final grading to ensure adequate depth of the topsoil layer are key parts of a healthy lawn.

If, like most of us, you already live in a house with a yard, don’t give up hope – there is still a way to improve the soil without having to start all over again.

The most effective way to improve the health of the soil in our existing yards is the combination of deep core aeration with a top dressing of compost immediately following.  The compost fills in the holes left by the aerator, letting rich organic matter get deep into the soil profile.  That organic matter not only soaks up a lot of water, it helps feed the beneficial soil organisms in the ground and leaves the yard greener and more drought resistant.

Soil quality restoration can be done for around 25 cents per square foot, less if you do some of the work yourself.  The deep core aeration requires the rental of a machine not commonly available at most rental centers.

Most yards only have around two to three inches of healthy topsoil.
Most yards only have around two to three inches of healthy topsoil.

Those typically max out at 3” cores – the best results are achieved at 4” or more.

Rainscaping Iowa has excellent resources and information about how to rebuild the organic matter content of the soil under our lawns.