help for a lawn newbie

mdgirl09(7MD)March 29, 2013

My small townhouse lawn has suffered from (my) ignorance and inattention. I live in MD z7 with what seems to be rather clayey soil. I took some pictures of it today as well.

From reading some posts and faqs, this weekend I am planning to do the following in this order:
1. weed then water the lawn lightly
2. core-aerate the soil with manual aerator*.
3. hoe up the bald patches
4. mix grass seed** and topsoil/compost*** and spread by hand.
5. water
So my questions are:
* Manual aerator - is this done randomly or every few inches?

**grass seed - i dont know what kind of grass i have (not sure if you can tell from the pics). What kind of seed /brand should i get for my southwest-facing completely un-shaded lawn.

***which is better topsoil or compost? mix or spread seed first then the topsoil?

Is my plan ok? I would be grateful for any suggestions. :)

Last year, I hand-hoe'd the bald patches and hand sowed some grass seed, it didnt help. I have never fertilized my lawn (ignorance). I would water it for about 10 minutes every day in summer, twice a day on the crazy hot days.

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You'll get lots of help on this. Can you wait until fall?
How often can you get home during the day to water? Do you have a way to get equipment from a rental place to your home and back? How large is the lawn?
1.From your pictures, it looks like you currently have fescue. Hopefully tiemco will drop by and give you seed advice. (Spring is not a good time to seed tho.)
2. You are not watering properly. If dchall doesn't stop in to advise, search his name on here and read his watering posts.
3. People report better results in germination after topdressing. Spread the seed then cover with no more than 1/4" of soil or better yet, peat moss.
4. Please define "manual aeration". Are you talking about using one of those 2 hole plug foot operated aerators sold at the big box stores, or renting a gas powered plug aerator? You may be better served renting and employing a fixed bladed slit seeder/power rake.

    Bookmark   March 29, 2013 at 2:38PM
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I could certainly wait till fall if that will give me better bang for my buck and back. :) But, could you also please advise on what I should do in the meantime, like when to fertilize, how often (& with what) and any other steps to take.

My lawn is small about 100 sq feet and is an odd shape - like an 'L'.

Re. watering, I will search for dchall's posts. I work at home so I can be flexible with watering schedules.

Yes by manual aerator I meant the 2 hole plug foot operated aerator.

Thanks for your reply!

    Bookmark   March 29, 2013 at 7:58PM
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For watering, after reading a couple of posts, I now see that watering longer (less freq) is better than watering a little but more often. My lawn is small so I could install a basic oscillating sprinkler, so how would the tuna can test work with this?

I love the surfactant idea to make the water reach the roots of the grass. WOW. So one would do this instead of the core plug aerators? (sorry im lousy at terminology).

    Bookmark   March 29, 2013 at 8:38PM
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Spring seeding has a couple of problems. Heavy Spring rains can wash the seed away. Weeds germinate and start growing in the Spring and while you are watering and fertilizing the grass seed, you are also watering and feeding the weeds and weeds are better competitors. Young grass does not react well to weed killer applications and are more susceptible to disease. New grass doesn't do well during the heat of summer as they haven't developed a strong root system. By seeding in the fall, you can avoid may of those problems. Less weed preasure. Less rain allowing you to control the soil moisture and the new grass has all winter to develop a strong root system before summer.
That being said, it is possible to plant this Spring. Especially is such a small area. You cannot use most pre-m to stop weeds like CB. You'll need to use Tenacity, which is a bit expensive.
Whatever route you go, it's always useful to know what condition the soil is in. A decent soil test is advised. That way, if the soil is lacking in anything you can add it before seeding in the fall or next year if you do a spring seed.
What you can/should do now will depend on whether you decide to spring or fall seed. From my perspective, that would depend on the soil test results and the type of grass you want to grow (as I said tiemco would be the best one to advise you).
Tiemco will want to know how many hours on a sunny day does the lawn get direct sunlight?

    Bookmark   March 29, 2013 at 8:52PM
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"so how would the tuna can test work with this?"

A tuna can is about 1" deep. You spread a couple of cans out in the yard under the canopy of the sprinkley and time how long it takes the sprinkler to fill the can. That way you know in the future how long to run the sprinkler to get one inch of water.
"So one would do this instead of the core plug aerators? (sorry im lousy at terminology)."

That's the theory. Some subscribe, some don't.

    Bookmark   March 29, 2013 at 9:33PM
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After watering a lot still your lawn is recovering then add a fertilizer to it. This is happening because your lawn soil is not fertilized.

    Bookmark   March 30, 2013 at 4:03AM
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grass1950, i cant tell you how helpful you have been. i think i dreamt about grass last night. :)
Ethanhh, i have never fertilized the lawn but this year i will! Could you pls share what you use?

tuna can test: thank you for the clarification. i assumed it was only for *automatic* sprinklers.

Sunlight: a large part of this lawn gets about 10-12 hours of direct sunlight in the peak of summer.

    Bookmark   March 30, 2013 at 8:13AM
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dchall_san_antonio(8 San Antonio)

Now I know why my ears have been burning the past few days ;-)

It's always interesting to see people come here and say they have been reading here and, based on the reading, have come up with a plan. And then the plan has little to nothing to do with the advice from this forum. Clearly y'all are reading and getting advice elsewhere. No problem, I just find that curious.

Yes you have found the right info on watering. I use an oscillator and it takes 8 full hours for me to get an inch of water on the yard. With the oscillators it matters whether you have it on full sweep or half. I like the oscillators over every other kind of sprinkler because they cover perfectly evenly and provide a very slow application. The newer oscillators are called "turbo" or "turbine powered." Those are what you want. They have their problems but they are nothing like the old mechanical linkage oscillator problems.

You have the trifecta of issues. You are not watering right, not fertilizing, and not mowing right. Still it looks like you have full coverage of grass. Some might be weeds, but it is full coverage. That's great news. That also likely means the brown spots are Kentucky bluegrass. That is also real good least in my book. It looks brown in the winter but it is a real workhorse in the summer. If that is what you have, then you might not need to seed anything. KBG is great at covering bare spots.

For inspiration, I have a picture of a friend's KBG lawn. Actually I have a couple. This first one is near the Pacific coast in California. This is his first lawn ever, so it's not like he comes from a long history of trial and error. All he does is fertilize with used coffee grounds (from Starbucks), waters every week or so, and mows at the mower's highest setting. Here's his lawn...

You can even tell from Google Earth that his lawn is the greenest in the neighborhood.

Here is another one. This lawn belongs to MorpheusPA. He used to post here and occasionally comes back to visit. He has paid a lot of attention to his soil chemistry to perfect the micronutrients. He will tell you that is the reason for his lawn looking so nice. Proper watering and mowing is also essential. Morph mows at 3 inches (not the highest setting). He also uses organic fertilizer for all apps except his last, "winterizer" application. He has done some genius testing on his lawn and determined that there is no upper limit as to how much or how often you apply organic fertilizer (the grain type). Here is his lawn in June of 2010...

Now, back to your lawn. Normally there is a flush of new growth in the spring. With your nutrient starved soil, that might not be happening with you. My approach would be as follows.

1. Reset your mower up at least mid way and maybe higher. You will not be mowing real grass for many more weeks until all the grass is up tall enough to mow.

2. Apply 20 pounds per 1,000 square feet of alfalfa pellets (rabbit chow). Give that 3 full weeks to show improvement. As soon as you apply the alfalfa, moisten the pellets so they will swell and 'explode'. Dry pellets remain pelletized and let the birds come in to carry them away. If you moisten them (not drench, moisten), they swell up and expand making it impossible for critters to carry them away. Moisten means a once-over with mist. It really does take three full weeks to see improvement. That is because organic fertilizer is a biological process, not a chemical one. If you want to continue fertilizing with organics (which most good lawn forum moderators recommend), you can do it monthly at the same rate. As for making a mistake, you can easily double or triple the application rate and there will be no damage - except to your wallet. That can't be said for chemical fertilizers. If you want to use chemical fertilizers, then wait until your grass is up and growing to apply for the first time. You can tell it is up and growing when you have mowed it for the second time. Then use one application in the spring and don't use it again until Labor Day. Then you can apply a third application later in the fall before it snows. So with chemicals, limit your apps to 3 per year. With organics you can apply 50 times per year. Usually people get so excited about the results they tend to do it more than than need to at first and then slack off. It is very forgiving. Keep away from weed n feed products. They sound too good to be true and that is correct. If you want to kill weeds, use a spray product and spot spray only the weeds. Before you do that, take pictures and post them here for advice on which weed killer to use.

3. Water deeply and infrequently. If you get runoff before you can apply a full inch, then stop watering immediately. Give the water 15-30 minutes to penetrate, and resume watering. The shampoo treatment will be in your future if your soil cannot absorb an inch. The idea of the deep infrequent watering is to allow the surface of the soil to dry out completely. When the surface is moist all the time, weed seeds sprout. If it dries out, they don't. Watch your grass for signs of drought stress. If it looks dry, water it immediately. If it has not been a full week or so since you watered last time, then water longer this time. You want the water to penetrate deep enough so the roots have something to draw from all week long. That will keep the grass from getting stressed. The hottest heat of summer might push you to watering every 5 days.

Monitor your weed situation all summer and practice the good lawn care. Then in early August, decide whether you want/need to add more seed.

Don't ever add topsoil unless you need to change your soil drainage. Why? Because topsoil always changes your drainage. Compost will not do that. Still, I don't think you need either one and certainly not this spring. I think you have the potential for a great lawn by July if you just water it right, mow, and fertilize.

Aerating would be a waste of time and effort. If you want to try shampoo, you can read about it in this forum. I've tried it and it works great for me. Sure saves a lot of grief worrying about hard soil.

    Bookmark   March 31, 2013 at 6:00PM
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Thank you for your detailed response.

My bad - some of my information also came from youtube howtos. The faqs here were useful wrt watering but sent me off on my "core-aerator" quest to videoland. also i only noticed the 'this forum' search this morning :o .. so I'm now able to locate posts a tad more efficiently!

my new plan:
1. shampoo
2. fertilize a couple of days later with organic fertilizer (and from then on every month till winter?)
3. do the tuna can test which brings me to a question:

We had a bit of a drizzly rain - from accuweather i found it rained 0.09 inches in 2.5 hours. I wanted to show a picture of how very squelchy the lawn is (not sure if the pictures show that!). Does this mean that I might need to try the shampoo more than once to improve drainage?

thanks again!

    Bookmark   March 31, 2013 at 9:08PM
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