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I recently bought a house where the previous owners let the backyard go and the 11 pine trees they had in the backyard wrecked havoc. I got the pine trees removed and am now tending to the yard itself which has a layer of pine straw, a layer of dirt, then another layer of pine straw. I put my trusty pitchfork to work and have cleared out a portion of it. The ground is about 3-4" lower where I cleared which brings it about even to the rest of the yard, so the results are what I'm looking for. I have about 20'x100' left to go.

backyard

You'll notice on the left and bottom of the above photo that the ground is pretty smooth and level. The left is where I've already started clearing the pine straw\dirt combo and the top (plus a lot more) is what is left to go. Hopefully, you can see how uneven it is.

From the comments, it sounds like I have three options:

  1. Continue clearing out the pine straw\dirt combo
  2. Cover everything with a layer of soil
  3. Give up & hire a professional...

Any thoughts or other options?

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    I would stop the excavations there. Let the pine straw stay in the soil; it will stabilize it. – Jim Stewart Jan 28 '17 at 23:21
  • I'd just add dirt if you need more thickness for growing grass. Either way ... Adding dirt or removing pine watch altering drainage in a manner that will direct water toward your foundation. Drainage is a critical thing that the unexpexerinced frequently doesn't understand just how significant the effects are. – Tyson Jan 28 '17 at 23:49
  • @JimStewart - I'm actually noticing the opposite. The ground is spongy when I walk on it due to the pine straw. After removing it, there's firm pack underneath. To be honest, the reason I started was that the ground was mounded up where the trees use to be. I'm more interested in leveling the ground. – jt000 Jan 29 '17 at 2:13
  • @Tyson - Good advice about the drainage. I might get a landscaper's advice before I go any further. – jt000 Jan 29 '17 at 2:14
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    Spongy ground does not mean unstable. It means it has a high organic content which is beneficial to sandy or clayey soils. Pine needles take a long time to decompose. – Jim Stewart Jan 29 '17 at 2:55
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I'd suggest you hire a good professional, even if its only for a consultation regarding the issues and how to manage them. Otherwise, I suggest you rake off the top layers of pine straw, then till the whole lot, turning it over to mix in the remaining pine straw as well as is possible. The drawback with this is you shouldn't attempt to grow plants which only like alkaline soil conditions - the ph of your soil with a high content of pine needles is likely to be between 6 and 6.5 or thereabouts, but this is fine for most plants, just not acid haters. You'll need to till it all because pine straw has a tendency to form a solid mat, so mixing it in well with existing soil, as well as adding composted materials (leafmould, composted manures, etc) and possibly some additional new topsoil, should help to obviate the risk. Then level the area and allow it to settle for a week or two before attempting to plant anything.

If you want to lay any hard surfacing, its also quite important to remove that 'spongy' effect prior to doing so, if not by digging it all in as described above, then by attempting to extract the pine straw when preparing the area for paving or whatever surface you choose.

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  • Good point about the hard surfacing. I was indeed looking to lay some pavers down for a patio\firepit and would've definitely run into some difficulty w/ the sponginess (hadn't considered that). – jt000 Jan 29 '17 at 19:01
  • I think bamboo has it nailed. I only want to add two things. One is that you have the opportunity to fix problems now, such as yard drainage, burying sprinkler hoses, etc... so take advantage of it. It's much harder to change an established lawn. Second, Bamboo is right about the professional, it's probably worth it for their experience. Tell them what you want and listen when they tell you why it will or won't work. You may really like a grass, tree, shrub, but you might have to fight to keep it alive an healthy in your conditions. They'll tell you which will thrive with little maintenance. – Dalton Jan 30 '17 at 13:41
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Man, I woulda left it... You had a no-maintenance backyard forest!

Regardless, you need more people or more power. Get a coupla friends, or hire a bobcat.

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  • Unfortunately, the trees had to go. They were a risk to the houses around me & I needed a nice area to play badminton :) – jt000 Jan 28 '17 at 22:14
  • I love trees, but I must admit the trees we planted 38 years ago on our 10,000 sq ft urban lot when we moved in are dropping "widow makers" and it's expensive to deal with them. If one of my large Mondell pines or red oaks would fall on our house or the neighbours' it could cause extreme destruction and maybe injury. They shade the house and yard reducing electric bills in our hot bright climate, and they are habitat for birds including hawks and owls which I spend endless hours watching from the kitchen table. We even once had a bobcat in the yard (I mean Lynx rufus.) – Jim Stewart Jan 28 '17 at 23:14
  • Of the 11 pines, 3 of them had a 10-30 degree lean to them. One of them after taking it down we saw the trunk was split from the inside (one more big storm & it was going). 2 others had split trunks & were over 200' tall. And one had a rotted out base. The others were tiny and weren't adding much to the lawn. I'm planning on planting a red maple once I get the lawn in order. – jt000 Jan 29 '17 at 2:18
  • Red maple fall color is attractive, and where I am small native bees feed on the flowers, but these are not necessarily long lived. Baldcypress has an attractive fluted trunk, is long lived and doesn't drop killer branches. Where are you? – Jim Stewart Jan 29 '17 at 2:24
  • Near Charleston, SC. The other option (a little more traditional for the area) is an Oak of some kind – jt000 Jan 29 '17 at 13:20

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