Soil becomes harder to plant on when it becomes compacted and dry. It’s harder to plant on, to till, and the grass or plant goods start to wither. Underneath the dry and leathery top lies the dead soil which has almost turned into clay. If the soil becomes too compacted, the pore space minimizes, creating little to no room for air and movement for roots to grow.
A healthy soil would contain different minerals, particles, earthworms, and microbes that help produce matters that are beneficial to the plants. Roots are not going to be the only thing that will be affected by the lack of pore space, but the earthworms that move around as well. As they move around, they create more space, allowing plant roots to grow thicker and spread over more ground.
To grow grass on hard-packed dirt quickly, you should loosen the hard-packed dirt with proper gardening tools. Opening up hard-packed soil allows air and moisture into the soil to help roots get the nutrients they need. Then remove any dead roots that might be in the hard-packed soil; these roots could be drying the soil. Finally, add grass seed with some topsoil or apply sods on the top surface.
Now let’s get into the 5 steps in more detail below.
Table of Contents
5 Steps to Grow Grass on Hard Packed Dirt
Hard packed dirt happens when the soil becomes too compressed due to over-tilling, watering excessively or flood, long drought, or heavy traffic. Loosening hard-packed dirt does not have to be so expensive but could cost you in terms of energy, time, and patience. Before you can start growing grass on hard-packed dirt, you will need to follow these steps until the dirt is in perfect growing condition.
1. Get rid of the remaining grass on top
Before you start loosening the compacted ground, try to get rid of the plants above them whether they’re green or withered. This will greatly help you later on! These plants could be a reason why your lawn is dried up, better safe than sorry, right? However, if you do not have any available grass/plants, you may proceed to the next step.
2. Break the hardened soil cap
To get through the hard surface, you will need to use a garden fork. Not only will the sharp ends penetrate the top, but it will start breaking the compressed soil apart and add air inside. Make sure to add force when you loosen the surface cap as old hard-packed dirt could get hard as a rock depending on how long it has been compressed.
Once the forks are in through the surface, rock it back and forth as you push deeper to break a bigger portion of the ground. The looser the soil is the better pore space. Remember that a better pore space not only helps the nutrients flow easily to the roots but also helps earthworms and microbes crawl through the spaces.
3. Get rid of dead roots
As you dig, you will potentially come across a lot of dead roots. You can try pulling them, but if they start getting too much of a work, snip them out using pruning shears. Save yourself from using too much force on pulling them out and just cut them. Don’t feel disappointed, you’ll find the rest of the roots as you dig.
4. Mix grass cuttings with soil
If you have followed the first step because there was withered grass to be cut, mix them with the loose dirt you dug. If there are no available grass cuttings, you can purchase them from a gardening shop. In the future, remember you can keep grass cuttings in case you will need them to loosen hard pack dirt again. These clippings are the natural and cheapest way to fertilize the soil and prepare them for planting. As they break down and decay, they release nitrogen and water content that are beneficial to the soil. Earthworm and microbes can also feed on these clippings, excreting nutritious matters for the plants to be absorbed once they’re planted.
5. Add grass sods or spread grass seeds of your choice
After you ensure that the soil is loose and filled with the nutrients it needs, it’s ready to be planted on and you will be confident that the grass you’ll plant will live at its most and the greenest it could get with proper care and maintenance.
If you are wondering what grass seeds are best and fastest, check out our Fastest-Growing Grass Seeds article. You will find grass seeds perfect for warm or cold climates.
Planting grass over rocks?
Aside from roots, one of the nuisances you will encounter as you loosen hard-packed dirt are rocks. Some can be picked up while some are too troublesome to be pick up one by one. Is it possible to plant over them? How can I plant grass over rocks?
Yes, it is possible to plant grass over rocks. However planting grass over rocks isn’t always easy, the more and bigger the rocks you will cover, the more soil you’ll need. Before we answer “how” we can plant over rocks, we need to know how man rocks you need to plant over and what size they are. Are we talking about pebbles or a cemented ground?
If we are talking about mixing several pieces of medium to small-sized rocks, then they can definitely be added to the soil as long as there are fewer of them compared to the amount of dirt, double up the soil if there is a lot of pebbles. However, if you want to completely remove the rocks from the soil, you may use a sifter.
There is no downside to having them mixed with the soil. As long as the ground is perfectly loose and cultivated, the roots will find a way to grow around them. However, if you’re talking about planting grass over concrete slabs on the soil that can’t be taken out, you will need to add at least 6 inches of loosened soil mixed with compost and add sod or spread grass seeds on top.
Turning hard-packed dirt into a healthy and usable planting ground is very easy when you give it your dedication. You may want to avoid your lawn from becoming compacted by watching the amount of water you sprinkle, avoid tilling too much during cultivation season, and avoid wheel traffic.
Remember to check if the soil is starting to look like clay as this is a sign that you watered them too much. It’s important to note that the soil needs to have pore spaces and loose soil with compost is a great alternative to using fertilizers as its natural decay attracts earthworms and microorganisms that contribute to a healthier growth of plants.
Good luck planting grass on your hard-packed soil lawn. I hope we answered the question of how to grow grass on hard packed dirt. Please ask any questions below if you need any assistance!
Jamie is the founder of The Backyard Pros. When he was 15 years old he started working at a garden centre helping people buy plants, gardening products, and lawn care products. He has real estate experience and he is a home owner. Jamie loves backyard projects, refinishing furniture, and enjoys sharing his knowledge online.