Q: The contractors who cleaned up the oil spill on our property tried three times to plant grass on the fill they brought in, but only weeds came up. I'm enclosing a packet of the fill for your inspection. What will we have to do to get a nice lawn?
—Margaret Kachur, Rahway, N.J.
A: Roger Cook replies: There's no way grass is going to grow in that rocky soil. It should have been screened before it was delivered to remove all the stones, twigs, and other debris.
Here's what to do. First, remove the top 4 inches of fill and discard it. Then dig up about 2 cups of soil and send it—without rocks and twigs—to be tested by your local cooperative extension service. They'll send you back a report letting you know what nutrients it needs.
While you're waiting for the report to come back, start by loosening up the fill with a rototiller. Then add 2 inches of sand and rototill again, followed by 2 inches of compost. Till that in, too. Now, grade the area with a rake and remove as much large debris from the surface as you can.
When you get the soil report, add the nutrients it calls for, plus a starter fertilizer for lawns, then rake in the seed. Keep the area moist, and I'll bet you'll soon be rewarded with a thick crop of grass seedlings.