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I hired a landscaper to spread 30 yards of top soil prior to laying sod. He insisted on dragging his bobcat scoop across the soil to give it a nice compaction. It seems to have worked well in all areas other than the side yard where most of the landscaping traffic was(including concrete bobcat and loader traffic). He laid 4" of soil on the side yard towards the end but because of all this traffic it is just rock hard. It has been really dry since this was laid, which doesn't help.

  • He ran his bobcat over it to provide compaction? Don't pay this guy. You're supposed to role new soil for a lawn, not destroy its tilth. A roller doesn't weight 1000+ pounds. Please tell me that the soil was very, very dry when he "compacted" it. And - has it rained yet? – Jurp May 12 at 12:39
  • Thanks Jurp. 80% of the yard seems to be in good condition(compaction-wise). It's just this high traffic area that is really hard. The soil was pretty dry when he worked on it. It has been a week since the soil was laid. It rained 1 day, about 1". I have been trying to lightly water the soil, but I probably need to do more. I am thinking I need to rent a tiller and just loosen it up. I just don't know how deep. A lot of opinions out there. – Zach Boxrud May 12 at 16:37
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The problem with compaction by vehicle is that it can easily destroy the ability of the soil to drain well. It also makes it more difficult for any plant's roots to move through the soil as they normally wood because it destroys the pore structure of the soil; it also reduces the ability of the soil to hold water. Your "landscaper" (using the term VERY loosely) does not seem to know his trade. If he ran the bobcat over tree roots he actually damaged the tree.

If your land slopes towards a neighbor's house, and if the landscaper damaged the soil bad enough, any heavy rain will run off onto the neighbor's land and possibly into their house. Saw it happen about 2 blocks from my own house. He needs to replace at least the top six inches (top foot would be better) of the soil he laid in the heavily trafficked area and then PROPERLY compact it. Tell him to leave the damn bobcat on the trailer after it removes your soi- er, brown cement. This will more than likely leave you with hardpan under good soil, but the drainage should be much improved.

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  • Thanks again, Jurp. Having this guy back out is not an option, so I am going to have to do it myself. Ultimately I have about a 10' wide by 40' long high traffic section from all the work(not all from my landscaper). Is it possible to use a rented hydraulic tiller to break it up and till it? Or do I need heavier equipment? Rain runoff to the neighbors is not a problem. There is a natural swale between the yards with enough space to drain properly still, and it is at the high point so it actually drains in 2 different directions. Actually contemplating artificial grass with some rock beds – Zach Boxrud May 13 at 2:01
  • Sorry I didn't get back to you sooner... I think your only hope is a very heavy duty tiller or, if you can get one, a deep-tine aerator (they go down about a foot, IIRC, and are sometimes used on sports fields). Maybe try the aerator first to initially break up the soil, then till it to a decent consistency. The soil structure is already gone, so you have nothing to lose at this point. – Jurp May 18 at 0:24
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Soil type is going to be a major consideration. The finer the soil, the harder it will be to use a tiller. You may be able to scuff up the top layer of soil to an inch or two but likely in the hard area not much past that. One of the issues is penetration by water to get to deep layers to ensure that grass will survive. Even in an agricultural context it is often necessary to run a plow to open up the ground before trying to use a tiller. Tillers are more for frequently worked soil with high organic matter.

An alternate approach would be with a broadfork. Broadforks are designed to penetrate very deeply and force a channel from surface to about 10 inches down. They come in various sizes and heavy duty weights for treatment of hard pan, and leave the layers of soil pretty much intact, where a tiller would mix everything up. So they are appropriate if you have good soil on top and want to leave it there, but dramatically improve drainage and relieve compaction. They are often available at rental outlets.

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  • Thanks Colin! I checked and none of my local rental shops have a broadfork. Seems worth while to try, but might not be an option for me. Appreciate the advice on the tiller. More I read on that, it doesn't seem like it is worth it. At a loss still.... – Zach Boxrud May 14 at 4:11

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