Hello, I have a problem with bare spots on my lawn in downtown Annapolis. Two...

Asked April 6, 2014, 10:41 AM EDT

Hello, I have a problem with bare spots on my lawn in downtown Annapolis. Two years ago, we had some renovations done on our house, and the workmen set up a "workshop" under a tent in the garden. It rained -- a LOT -- while they were working, and the foot traffic and equipment and wood they were storing on the ground turned portions of the lawn into a mud slick. Over the past two years, I've tried to renovate those areas of the lawn with little success. A neighbor's maple tree has had a growth spurt, throwing many of the areas which used to be full sun into partial share (and I expect it will be deeper shade in the years to come). Bottom line -- on most of the damaged area, I have beautiful swathes of clover with a few blades of grass thrown in here and there. I am almost willing to just give over to the clover and forget about growing grass, but even with the clover, there are areas that are simply bare dirt. I've soil tested, amended, core-aerated, patched, sprayed beneficial nematodes, overseeded and done everything except install new sod, but absolutely nothing wants to grow in these specific areas... not even the clover. In the fall last year, I permitted a few vine-like weeds to grow over the area just to see if weeds would root, and even they just grew OVER it (I pulled them before winter, so they're now just bare again this spring). I'm beginning to think that the soil in these areas has somehow been contaminated, perhaps by paint or paint thinner or other chemical the workman might have been using, but I don't want to jump to that conclusion. Would you please be able to guide me on how to diagnose the problem in these bare spots -- or if diagnosis isn't worth the effort -- fix them? At this ponit, I'd be happy if the clover grew -- at least it's green and it attracts bees to my raised vegetable beds! Many thanks. -- Susan

Anne Arundel County Maryland

1 Response

There are so many variables here that there is probably not one simple explanation for why the grass won't grow there. Yes, if the contractor spilled some chemicals (though it is not usually the case), it could take a long time to dissipate or wash away, if ever. (A spill of synthesized fertilizer--which is a type of salt--can take several years to dissolves.)

You may want to consider replacing the top inch of soil. However, you could also rototill the soil down to 6-8 inches (thus diluting any tainted soil), incorporating about 2 " of an organic amendment such as LeafGro or other composted product, which would help with compaction and feed the soil. The contractor's work undoubtedly compacted the soil horribly and it may have been too damaged for a simple core aeration to remedy the compaction.

In the long run, if this spot is destined to become dense shade, you might want to rototill, improve the soil, and plant a ground cover or make a shrub bed there. Be sure to avoid planting English ivy if you go this route. It is a terrible invasive in Maryland.