Help. Patchy lawn and massive dandelion issue

johnw7127May 5, 2014

Hello, my name is John and I'm a new homeowner as of October last year. I don't remember the lawn being like this when I bought it, but there are some large and small patches, and so many dandelions the mower can't cut them down.

I bought grass seed and I planted in some areas but it took over a week to grow and is patchy growth at best. I raked the soil first and watered heavily right after. I did not use any straw but I can tell that the seeds are still there (they didn't blow away). Did I not use enough seed? Did I not rake enough?

As for the dandelions, I am really opposed to using Round Up or any Monsanto or Bayer products (let me know if this post belongs in organic lawns). I tried spraying vinegar, and while that killed the leaves of the dandelions, the grass around them died too and I still need to pull the dandelions out. Do I really have to use Round up if I want a good lawn?

Another question, did I seed too early? It's still hits 40 degrees some nights here in Indiana.

Any and all advice is more than welcome. I'll add a couple photos.

Many thanks,
-green thumbless John

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Another photo, dandelions.

    Bookmark   May 5, 2014 at 12:00PM
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The problem is, a lot of times home owners will hire a lawn care service to come in and "rejuvenate" there yard while they put it on the market. This typically consists of weed n' feed, plus heavy doses of synthetic fertilizer.

Unless you had continued that routine this spring, the lawn was doomed...because it was on lawn steroids before and is suffering withdrawal. That's one of the downfall's with synthetic, you must always continue to feed the addiction or the lawn fails, because the soil is not healthy.

If you are interested in organic lawn care you can post over on that forum and we would get you started with a plan of action. Be aware, it takes longer to implement, but once you revive your soil it ends up being a lot cheaper, because the soil can sustain the lawn much more efficiently through drought, disease, ect.

It wasn't too early for seed, as it will lay dormant until the opportunity arrives to grow. Fall is a much better time than spring to grow seed though. The problem with the spring is since you have to water very frequently to grow the seed, you end up also helping the weed seed take off, as you can see with your dandelions. Looks like that tree might be adding a lot of shade to that area as well, which makes growing grass more difficult. Finally, the fact I can see all those roots means you have no topsoil. You will need to plan on amending those areas with 50/50 soil compost to give the grass something to grow in.

    Bookmark   May 5, 2014 at 10:17PM
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It is unfortunate that the word 'synthetic' has been tared as a term of disdain to instil fear. Not much different than how the terms 'urban' and 'inner-city' are used.

Good luck.

Here is a link that might be useful: The Ruby Slipper Chronicals :)

    Bookmark   May 5, 2014 at 11:35PM
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Synthetic is the correct term to use to describe non-organic fertilizers.

noting or pertaining to compounds formed through a chemical process by human agency, as opposed to those of natural origin

Sorry I didn't sugar coat it enough for you brother...

    Bookmark   May 6, 2014 at 10:13AM
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The yard area is not too large that it could not be done manually to pull out the dandelions. I would recommend a tool such as Fiskars 3 claw weed puller. I like it because with this one purchase, I can use it at three different households in my family to keep all these dandelions and broadleaf weeds in check. I have even used it on unwanted clumps of Johnson grass.

It may still be early for the yard to look its best, as it is just starting up from the winter dormancy or early spring growth. However, you can help it along by watering if your area does not get a lot of natural rainfall. I can't see any signs of sprinklers in your yard, so just be sure to use a manual sprinkler or do it manually with a hose if needed.

That big tree in the upper right looks like it will provide lots of good shade for you and the house, but depending on the grass, it may eventually cause the grass in that area to thin out.

You can do some pruning now to keep the tree in check also, though if it is always going to be there, then the longer term solution would be to consider some grass or mulch that would make things look OK under the tree.

I see a little bit of slope and it seems like soil is eroding away in that direction, so you could also consider some kind of retaining wall or landscape border that will help keep the soil contained.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2014 at 11:20AM
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forsheems(Lexington, NC)

TO get most any kind of grass seed to germinate it has to be kept moist. To do this, lightly water the seed 3 times per day. First thing in the morning, again at lunch, and again in the evening. Do this and the seed will come up. Unfortunately you have put seed out at a time of year when weed seeds are beginning to germinate also. Fall is typically the best time to sew grass.

For the dandelions, most any 2-4-D product will take care of those by spot praying only the weeds. The sooner you kill them the less seeds they will produce to come up later.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2014 at 1:00PM
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The definition of the term synthetic wasn't the point. That the term "synthetic fertilizer" is habitually tarred by the unknowledgeable with code words like "steroids" and "addiction" and "withdrawal" is where I take issue.
I doubt you find practitioners of synthetic fertilization dropping in on the neverland forum to associate organics with terms like futile, waste of money and time, pseudo-religious, wishful, useless, etc. Even on this forum organics are seldom disparaged out of courtesy if for no other reason.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2014 at 2:44PM
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ZoysiaSod(6a/6b St.Lou TranZone)

Well, I have to support SC77 on this. This is not the "Synthetic Lawn Care" forum. This is the "Lawn Care" forum where all sides should be welcome, both practitioners of organic lawn care and practitioners of synthetic lawn care.

If you think about it, it's really not fair that the organic folks have been pushed out to a second forum. There is an unjust inequality of forum titles. This forum either should be renamed the "Synthetic Lawn Care" Forum OR better yet, a third forum should be created called the "Synthetic Lawn Care" Forum, and this forum which is called the "Lawn Care" forum should be welcoming to all.

So this is the idea:

Have 3 forums:

Lawn Care Forum
Organic Lawn Care Forum
Synthetic Lawn Care Forum

Or just have 2 forums and title them so:

Organic Lawn Care Forum
Synthetic Lawn Care Forum

It really is a matter of fairness we're talking about.

Hugs and smiles to all :-) both the Synthetic folks and the Organic folks :-)

This post was edited by ZoysiaSod on Tue, May 6, 14 at 18:03

    Bookmark   May 6, 2014 at 4:54PM
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Dude, you need to lighten up. The OP specifically said he didn't want to blast his lawn with "Round Up or any Monsanto or Bayer products". Going even further to say he was potentially interested in organic lawn care. There is nothing to say the lawn care forum is only to discuss chemical, non-organic, synthetic(?) fertilizers...

Am I wrong about what happens to a lawn when it has been cared for with chemicals and then a new home owner discontinues the practice? I don't think so... the lawn is used to getting a massive (not attainable naturally) dosage of nitrogen and other resources, so it goes through withdrawal. How should I word that process, so as not to offend?

Feel free to insult organic lawn care all day...doesn't matter to me. I'm just throwing out the idea that chemicals are not required to maintain a healthy, green lawn...

    Bookmark   May 6, 2014 at 5:07PM
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I enjoy reading both synthetic and organic recommendations for lawn care posted here. I did not intend, nor do I believe I implied, that this forum is limited to synthetics.
The post, in part, was hyperbole.
I also regularly read the organic and soil forums so I am aware of the anti-synthetic fertilizer agendas that some rigorously and blindly promote without factual support.

So, It appears I have underestimated your capacity for being obtuse.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2014 at 7:13PM
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dchall_san_antonio(8 San Antonio)

I think I saw through yardtractor's comments, and found them humorous. He hit all the antiquated high spots from back when the only version of organic gardening was Rodale's approach using 100% compost. I would add stinky since a lot of people use manure based compost which was often not completely composted. You would have to go back to pre-2005 to really get into the flame wars between organics and synthetics. Lots of people on lawn forums around the Internet were banned for life.

And I agree that a lot of nonsense is repeated as fact on the forums. I prefer to use photos showing results and let the reader decide what to do. For example this photo taken by former Lawn Care forum participant, mrmumbles, shows his zoysia lawn about 30 days after spot treating with alfalfa pellets.

You don't have to look too closely to see the improved color, density, and growth provided by a true organic fertilizer (not compost).

But back to the OP...
Are you in love with that large tree in the middle? If so then I would suggest creating a planting bed around it and fill the area with something that will hide the roots. Go to my member page and look at the trees in my yard. The three trees on the right are surrounded by "cast iron plant" for about 4-6 feet out from the trunk. The one in the back did not have roots at the surface so it was left alone. Whatever you do, if you bring in soil to cover your roots, do not bury any of the trunk of the tree. Leave some of the root flare showing and stop with the soil.

Yes you did not use enough seed, or you did not keep it moist everywhere. You did seed at a poor time of year, so if you want this fixed, get ready for late August. That's the time. It will give the new grass plenty of time to develop roots which can resist the summer heat. Also the summer annual weeds are not germinating in August, so your weed pressure diminishes a lot.

Sometimes it is expedient to spot spray with chemical herbicides and get on with your lawn life. You will still benefit from having been on an organic fertilizer program and continuing with that afterward. I call it tough love. They used to make a foaming Weed-B-Gone that was amazing. You could leave a spot that looked like shaving cream on individual weeds. There was absolutely no overspray and nothing touched the soil. Don't know why they don't sell it anymore. It would wipe out dandelions in 2 days.

In the mean time practice deep and infrequent watering, mulch mowing at a high (highest??) setting, and fertilizing.

    Bookmark   May 7, 2014 at 4:46PM
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"Unless you had continued that routine this spring, the lawn was doomed...because it was on lawn steroids before and is suffering withdrawal. That's one of the downfall's with synthetic, you must always continue to feed the addiction or the lawn fails, because the soil is not healthy."

This is just not true at all.

Organic vs Syntheticl has literally nothing to do with soil health.

    Bookmark   May 7, 2014 at 4:50PM
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"Am I wrong about what happens to a lawn when it has been cared for with chemicals and then a new home owner discontinues the practice?"

Yes, you're wrong, because it's impossible to do anything without chemicals. Chemicals are the basic building blocks of, well, everything.

There's a reason organics have been pushed into their own forum - it's because organic people can't seem to discuss anything without grossly misusing words, spreading unfounded fear, and outright lying.

    Bookmark   May 7, 2014 at 4:53PM
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dchall_san_antonio(8 San Antonio)

Lotta truth in what JoppaRich says about misusing words. The mass banning of forum members from 10 years ago was on both sides as tempers flared. At the same time, I believe the organic gurus (ahem, myself included) oversold the benefits. There were people who were outright lying and there were others who believed it and carried that message forward. My hands are not clean. But I still hear it - maybe not nearly like it used to be but it's still around.

On the other hand, from the chemical/synthetic gurus, there was a lot of "my way or the highway" mentality. They almost seemed afraid to try organics. Some still are. That's why I kept that demonstration picture posted above. Many people have written to me telling me they spilled a bag of dog food (or corn meal or something) on the lawn and it left a green spot. That's nice but I never got a picture until mrmumbles.

    Bookmark   May 7, 2014 at 5:09PM
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He might be able to leave the clippings, but I don't think he is going to be able to mulch as he states his mower can't cut the dandelions, I'm guessing he uses a reel mower.

    Bookmark   May 7, 2014 at 5:40PM
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I use a combination of synthetic and organic fertilizers, but I use manufactured herbicdes and pesticides when needed and only when needed. Not because I'm a fan-boy, but because they are the only thing I have found that worked. If there was natural/organic weed or bug killer that worked, I'd be using it.
So I can't help you with the dadelions but to suggest you dig them out, tap root and all.
Trees pull a lot of water and nutrients. You will need to be diligent in watering and will need to regularly fertilize to maintain a lawn. A soil test will determine if your soil is lacking nutrients and which ones.
Indiana should be a cool season grass state.
The first step I would recommend is to select a grass type for your situation. KB, Rye or Fescue.
Anywhere your lawn gets 6+ hours of sunlight between 9 a.m and 7p.m. you should be able to grow any of the cool grass species and most of their subcultivars. There are KB species that have been developed with shade tolerance, but that doesn't mean no sun. Otherwise, for areas getting much less than the 6 hrs, consider fine fescue or what's labeled a shade grass.
dchall makes a great suggestion for around the tree. That will improve the curb appeal, reduce the area of lawn to be maintained and move the lawn out closer to the tree drip line improving odds of success.

And sorry for hi-jacking your thread.

    Bookmark   May 7, 2014 at 7:05PM
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