Lawn Restoration Project Insight Needed...

dontknow(z6 - Upstate NY)May 2, 2012

Hi all..

Typical story here that I need help with. About 4 years ago we moved from another house where I spent 10 years finally getting a gorgeous lawn to a new place that is full of weeds and dandelions.

The front (approx 60' x 40') is the worst - we can live with the back and sides of yard, which is good because the back is enormous.

Up to this point we haven't done much but apply some Espoma "Organic" Fertilizer in Spring & Fall. Though the grass is green, the dandelions in the front are seriously out of control. I myself do not mind some, but this is insane.

Don't know where to start other than getting a soil test.

On the one end of the spectrum I could pay someone to pull it all out and start over but I'm hoping it doesn't have to come to this.

My immediate thought is to apply Weed-B-Gone via hose end sprayer to the weeds a few times until they are gone but at that point, I am unsure where I'd go from that point.

If I need to pull them out, my guess is up to 50% of my front yard becomes dirt.

I also have a hunch there's not enough decent top soil in the front yard overall in which case anything would be challenging to grow.

Any initial thoughts and opinions?

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dchall_san_antonio(8 San Antonio)

Your soil is fine. As long has it has not been poisoned it can be improved by applying appropriate materials at the top (as opposed to rototilling it in).

I am going to guess that you have 100% fescue grass in between your weeds. If you had any Kentucky bluegrass, you would have different issues. If you ever had any KBG, it's officially gone. Fescue is called a bunch grass and grows in clumps. KBG is called a sod forming grass and spreads to form a carpet over everything. If you planted a mix of fescue and KBG, the fescue would grow in clumps and the KBG would fill in the gaps everywhere else and not let the dandelions in.

You said you were able to get a gorgeous lawn but the inference is that it took you 10 years to get there. If that is the case, I suspect you need to brush up on the basics of lawn care. It should not take long to get a great looking lawn. And for now I'm going to suggest waiting on a soil test. Why? The corrections can occupy your life and you have not demonstrated yet that you have the huevos to make a pretty good lawn. In other words, save your money until mid summer and ask yourself if you want to take it to another level of perfection.

Here are the basics of lawn care.

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 at least an hour in every zone, all at once. Infrequently means monthly during the cool months and no more than weekly 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 more than once per week 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.

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. Too little is better than too much. 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 already on the organic band wagon, I suggest you read the modern approach to organic lawn care. Go to the Organic Gardening Form, find the FAQs, and scroll to the bottom of the list. Read that and save yourself some money.

Now, what to do about the dandelions. Once you start mowing higher, you might find the dandelions will go away without doing anything else. I'm not sure why that happens but it happened to me in South Texas and it happened to a golf course manager north of Lake Erie. If you spray and kill the dandelions, you might get crabgrass move in to fill the bare spots. This is going to have to be your call. This will be your last season with weeds so you might be able to stick it out.

This July is the end of your test to see if you are going to renovate in the fall. The work it takes to care for the lawn is easy, watering, mowing, and fertilizing. If you see the lawn improving under proper care, then maybe you do want to do a soil test and start tuning up the soil. The results can be spectacular if that is what you want.

Then fall is the time to renovate. Start in August. I would suggest a blend of Kentucky bluegrass for sunny areas and mix some fescue for shady areas. Follow the basics above and by this time next year you will have a nice lawn again. It should not take 10 years.

    Bookmark   May 2, 2012 at 2:53PM
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dontknow(z6 - Upstate NY)

dchall- thanks for the nice reply.

I have worded it poorly, it didn't take me 10 years to get a nice long but was my stay at that home of which my last 7 were great. There I mowed high (3.5"), fertilized and aerated (which I know is debatable). Regardless, it transformed the yard by doing these steps listed.

This yard, I have fertilized and have my rider set to 3.25" and the dandelions have not gone anywhere but up.

I'm familiar with the Organic FAQ's as I have been a visitor and poster to these forums in the past. I'm all too well aware of the emphasis on CGM. Believe me when I tell you, no where to be had for any reasonable price within a 50 mile radius of where I live. I've made calls to all sorts of places and not lawn/garden places either - who since they know little about organic care - had no clue what I was speaking about.

Alfalfa pellets may be available, I don't know but am willing to seek them out perhaps.

    Bookmark   May 3, 2012 at 8:25AM
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dontknow(z6 - Upstate NY)

I only mulch the grass when I cut and have clay soil.

    Bookmark   May 3, 2012 at 8:32AM
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dchall_san_antonio(8 San Antonio)

I'm not a fan of CGM for weed control, but I am a big fan of it as a fertilizer. Ordinary corn meal is much less of a fertilizer than a fungus control.

I suggested alfalfa to save you some money over the Espoma.

And my issue with aeration is more with time spent, cost, and results. It doesn't hurt anything, but I think soap softens soil much better and faster for a whole lot less hassle.

Pet Peeve Alert: Before you complain about having clay soil, do a jar test. Search for it here in this forum for details.

    Bookmark   May 3, 2012 at 9:27PM
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dontknow(z6 - Upstate NY)

Thanks for the jar test info. I'll give it a try.

I've searched for the soap application for compacted soil but can't find the specifics I'm needing. So I put the soap/baby shampoo in my hose end sprayer and apply? If so, how much and at what rate? I'm more than willing to try it on my 4000 sq ft front yard and certainly more than willing to try it more than once if that's what's needed.

Last question on Alfalfa pellets. Since I live in the somewhat country my concern is attracting mice to the food. Any known issues with this happening?

    Bookmark   May 6, 2012 at 7:06AM
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dontknow(z6 - Upstate NY)

dchall - I just stumbled on your insight for the baby shampoo treatment in another post. I'll give it a go and see what happens.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2012 at 7:46AM
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