Begginer lawn care advice

buddylee375March 21, 2012

Alright, so I live in NE Wisconsin and bought my first house a couple of years ago and could use a little advice on how to make my lawn look like an actual lawn. The former owner was an older woman who I guess had decided to do nothing to it but let the neighbor mow from time to time.

I have decided to finally take some corrective action with the lawn care. The current state of the lawn isn't great, I have multiple bare/spotty patches, moss growing in quite a few different areas, little purple flower weeds popping up in groups, and a little bit of crabgrass as well. Last year I fertilized the lawn once, maybe twice and it seemed to take care of the crazy dandelion problem I had. It's not a huge lawn by any means typical suburban lawn, maybe 250 sq. feet or so.

Another huge problem I have is that the lawn has also become extremely bumpy which makes it extremely hard to mow evenly. I thought about rolling it, but after a little reading, it seems like that would do more damage than good. Apparenlty aerating the lawn and letting it naturally settle/flatten out would be much more beneficial.

It also seems I may have missed the mark on timing as well. I've seen from a few different places that the best time to do anything major to your lawn (in my area at least) would be during the end of fall, late August, early September. It would seem the best thing I could do for my lawn right now at the start of the season would be to spread some compost on it, but I can't say I know of any place to acquire compost.

My thought right now is to fertilize the lawn in the spring after a few weeks, just keep mowing it like usual until the fall. In the fall, then aerate the lawn, seed the lawn, and then once the seed has grown a bit, fertilize again.

I guess I'm just looking for advice if I'm on the right track or completely way off here. Is there something I could/should do in the spring or mid-summer to help with these issues? Should I wait til the fall to aerate and seed or should I start that right away?

Any thoughts would help and be appreciated!


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dchall_san_antonio(8 San Antonio)

I always wonder where people read some of the advice they come here with.

Here are the 1-2-3 basics of lawn care to get you started. These are not my original ideas. I picked them up here and somewhere along the way, wrote them down.

Basics of Lawn Care

After reading numerous books and magazines on lawn care, caring for lawns at seven houses in my life, and reading numerous forums where real people write in to discuss their successes and failures, I have decided to side with the real people and dispense with the book and magazine authors. I don't know what star their planet rotates around but it's not mine. With that in mind, here is the collected wisdom of the Internet savvy homeowners and lawn care professionals summarized in a few words. If you follow the advice here you will have conquered at least 50% of all lawn problems. Once you have these three elements mastered, then you can worry about weeds (if you have any), dog spots, and striping your lawn. But if you are not doing these three things, they will be the first three things suggested for you to correct.

Water deeply and infrequently. Deeply means an hour (more or less) in every zone, all at once. Infrequently means monthly during the cool months and no more than every 7 days during the hottest part of summer. Do not spread this out and water for 10 minutes every day. If your grass looks dry before the month/week is up, water longer next time. If that does not work, then you might have to water every 5 days during the summer's hottest period. Deep watering grows deep, drought resistant roots. Infrequent watering allows the top layer of soil to dry completely which kills off many shallow rooted weeds.

You will have to learn to judge when to water your own lawn. If you live in Las Vegas your watering will be different than if you live in Vermont. Adjust your watering to your type of grass, humidity, wind, and soil type. It is worth noting that this technique is used successfully by professionals in Phoenix, so�just sayin.' The other factors make a difference. If you normally water 1 inch per week and you get 1/2 inch of rain, then adjust and water only 1/2 inch that week.

Every week mulch mow at the highest setting on your mower. Most grasses are the most dense when mowed tall. However, bermuda, centipede, and bent grasses will become the most dense when they are mowed at the lowest setting on your mower. In fact there are special mowers that can mow these grasses down to 1/16 inch. Dense grass shades out weeds, keeps the soil cooler, and uses less water than thin grass. Tall grass can feed the deep roots you developed in #1 above. Tall grass does not grow faster than short grass nor does it look shaggy sooner. Once all your grass is at the same height, tall grass just looks plush. One last exception is Kentucky bluegrass. The experts mow it at 3.5 inches (one notch below the highest setting).

Fertilize regularly. I fertilize 5 times per year using organic fertilizer. Which fertilizer you use is much less important than numbers 1 and 2 above. Follow the directions on the bag and do not overdo it. If you are using chemical fertilizers, too little is better than too much. If you are using organic fertilizers, it is the other way around. At this point you do not have to worry about weed and feed products - remember at this point you are just trying to grow grass, not perfect it. Besides once you are doing these three things correctly, your weed problems should go away without herbicide. If you are going to use chemical fertilizers, stay away from weed-n-feed products. They do not work like you think they should. Fertilize when you need to and kill weeds separately. Also with chemical ferts, wait until you have mowed real grass for the second time. Then you can rest assured you have roots taking up nutrients. You might wait until Memorial Day to fertilize after the initial flush of spring growth. Then don't fertilize with chems again until Labor Day.

Seeding: If you can wait, then wait until late August. That is a much better time.

I'd be hesitant to help you with leveling the lawn without seeing a picture of it. Some people need to have soil hauled away rather than bringing more soil in for leveling. How much do you want to spend fixing this. Sometimes it can be a DIY job but the best way is to bring in a landscaper with a tractor.

RE your weeds: Snap a pic of those and post it here. The purple flowers might be a fairly serious issue.

Aeration is not necessary. I assume you have hard soil. Just follow the rules above and we can deal with hard soil later after the grass is growing.

    Bookmark   March 22, 2012 at 12:27AM
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Thanks for advice! I'm pretty sure I've been mowing a bit too short for starters and probably have not watered as I should have. This spring and summer I'll work on getting that down and seeing how the lawn reacts and waiting to seed in the fall.

As for the purple flowers... after doing a little bit of research, I found out it is creeping charlie or ground ivy. I also found out that stuff is not easy to get rid of unless you use some kind of chemical (there was a product by ortho which was recommended). It looks like that is goona be my best option to combat that issue.

I guess with the bumps in the lawn, I'll see what proper watering and mowing does to it before doing work there.


    Bookmark   March 24, 2012 at 9:51PM
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dchall_san_antonio(8 San Antonio)

You'll be amazed at how raising the mower and watering right will help.

Creeping charlie is another issue. If you decide to take it out, don't be surprised if it takes 2 or 3 apps of whatever you use. Be persistent.

    Bookmark   March 25, 2012 at 12:26AM
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Hi, buddylee375. What product did you use to get rid of the creeping charlie? I found Fertilome Weed Free Zone when I was searching but I was hoping for a recommendation from someone who had the same problem. Any help would be appreciated. Thank you!

Here is a link that might be useful: Fertilome Weed Free Zone

    Bookmark   June 18, 2012 at 6:06PM
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I always wonder where people read some of the advice they come here with.

I don't wonder, I know. They watch TV programs like This Old House and other garden and lawn care programs on PBS. Or they listen to the Dirt Doctor on the radio. Remember the quack Jerry Baker?

    Bookmark   June 18, 2012 at 10:58PM
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dchall_san_antonio(8 San Antonio)

TW, LOL. I definitely remember Jerry Baker. And do you remember him suggesting to spray your lawn with beer, soda, liquid soap, and ammonia? Well, look at what we're doing now! I spray with molasses (like soda) and liquid soap for softening the hard soil. You yourself have recommended spraying with beer...or maybe you were just saying the enzymes in some product was like the enzymes in beer. Anyway it sounded like a recommendation to me. Yes I remember Jerry Baker. I'm reminded of him here every day.

But I do agree with commercial TV. I rarely see Dirt Doctor mistakes here. I am, after all, a moderator on his website. I try to get that stuff cleared up over there.

    Bookmark   June 19, 2012 at 8:50PM
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