Where to start on growing a lawn?

sas6709May 22, 2011

I hope that I am posting this in the right place. My husband and I recently started renting a house where landscaping is up to us if we want anything done. Right now our front lawn is mostly a dirt patch with grass here and there. Maybe it is soil? I'm having a hard time knowing the difference given that this isn't black...just dirt like. I have no idea where to start in getting grass to cover the lawn. We really don't want to re-sod the lawn since this isn't our house, but we would like it to look nice and are willing to put the work into it. Can anyone help me as to where to start? Do we just buy seed and spread it? Mulch? What?

Thanks in advance. Neither of us have much of a green thumb so this is pretty foreign territory.

Here is a picture of part of our lawn currently. It is mostly shady and the parts of the lawn that have any grass at all are the parts that seem to actually get some sun and the drainage ditch at the front.

Thanks for any help you can give! :)


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botanicalbill(9b SWFlorida)

Is there any irrigation? Do you have dogs or is there going to be a high amount of traffic? How often do you want to mow? Do you plan on pruning or removing any trees? Do you plan on fertilizing on a monthly or yearly basis.

If you answer these questions, it will be more clear what you want and what your options are.

    Bookmark   May 22, 2011 at 7:52PM
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The only form of watering will be natural rainfall and a hose with attached sprinkler that we'll water...well, as often as we need to. I hope I understood your question. Like I said, I'm new to this. =/

We don't have dogs, but kids seem to enjoy running through our yard more than I'd like and stray dogs are frequent, so I'd say there will be a fair amount of traffic.

We plan to mow every two weeks or as needed. I figured that every two weeks is about the norm.

We'll be keeping all of the trees as is. Very tall pine trees...not much of an option on that one. ;)

I guess I'd say fertilizing on a yearly basis? Like I said, it's a rental house, we'll be here a few years at most, I'd say.

I hope I've answered everything clearly.

    Bookmark   May 22, 2011 at 9:45PM
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botanicalbill(9b SWFlorida)

So you want to grow a grass in a shaded area, with no irrigation, moderate traffic and low fertilizer.
These are all draw backs and you have them all. If you take out the trees, bahia is an option. If you add irrigation, saint aug is an option. If you do both, then you add add zoysia. If you do both and add fertilizer, then bermuda becomes an option.
As is, I would go with St aug and water the lawn when it drys.

    Bookmark   May 22, 2011 at 9:55PM
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dchall_san_antonio(8 San Antonio)

Like it or not, here is the 1-2-3 guide to lawn care.

  1. 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. If your grass looks dry before the month/week is up, water longer next time. 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.

  1. Mulch mow at the highest setting on your mower. Most grasses are the most dense when mowed tall. Bermuda, centipede, and bent grasses are the most dense when mowed at the lowest setting on your mower. Dense grass shades out weeds and uses less water when tall. Dense grass feeds the deep roots you're developing in 1 above.
  1. Fertilize regularly. I fertilize 4 times per year using organic fertilizer. Which fertilizer you use is much less important than numbers 1 and 2 above.

There are two grasses that will likely work in your area. I am assuming you are in east Texas with those trees. It really helps us to know much more precisely where you live. Never mind your zone. We need the town or ZIP code. Those two grasses are St Augustine sod ($1 per 2 square feet to install yourself) and a type of zoysia called Shadow Turf ($80 for 60 plugs). Either grass needs to be watered once a week in the summer and once a month in the winter. They need to be mowed weekly. They also need to be fertilized a minimum of 3x per year (once in late spring and twice in the fall). If you use organic fertilizer (you don't sound like you'd go for that, but you never know), then you can fertilize any day of the year that suits you.

Zoysia goes dormant with drought. St Aug dies with drought. If you want the area to look really good, they both use the same amount of water.

It might be possible to raise a fescue lawn in that shade, but it would be more hassle than the Shadow Turf or St Augustine. Fescue requires annual reseeding to be really nice. The others will become really nice without doing much of anything...except water, mow, and fertilize.

    Bookmark   May 22, 2011 at 10:51PM
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Added my zipcode. :) We live in the Spring, TX/ Woodlands, TX area. The main grass that I ever see in our area is St. Augustine.

Is laying down sod my only option, or can I spread seed instead? Isn't sod more expensive? Like I said, we're willing to put in the WORK, but money is tight so that's definitely a consideration.

I will water as often as necessary or as often as is healthy for the lawn. Now I know that's once a week. We're first time house livers on our own as we've always been in an apartment before now...so when I say this is foreign territory think as extreme as you can and go further. :)

Thanks for ya'll's help! :)

    Bookmark   May 23, 2011 at 8:47AM
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Texas_Tifway(8 East Texas)

What i would do since you are on a tight buget is to buy some saint augustine sod. By the looks of it in the picture the area looks to be mostly shaded so saint augustine will thrive there. Cut little 4"x4" squares out of the sod and sprig the area you want but dont just put the sprigs on top of the ground, take a squared shovel and dig a little square the same size as the sod you cut out of and put it in the hole so that the pete moss on the sod is in the ground then water the mess out of it. But by looking at the picture the ground looks really hard so i would water that area really really good for a few days so that you loosen up the soil so when you go to dig in it you wont have such a hard time.

    Bookmark   May 24, 2011 at 11:50AM
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If I were renting, I would not be putting any money into a lawn that I don't own. Especially if you are tight on money. I would recommend not doing anything at all. Whatever you do will cost you a bunch of money.

    Bookmark   May 25, 2011 at 9:40AM
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botanicalbill(9b SWFlorida)

Texas_T's advice will cost twenty to forty bucks. Springing the lawn is cheap and very effective.

    Bookmark   May 25, 2011 at 12:39PM
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Forgot to mention that there could eventually be a liability claim against you by your landlord if he doesn't like what you've done.

    Bookmark   May 25, 2011 at 12:46PM
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david_tx(7a North Texas)

Any landlord who gets upset because a lawn is grown must be named Scrooge. I think I'd reassure any such landlord that I'll use RoundUp before vacating.

Personally, I'd approach the landlord and offer free labor and see if he's willing to buy some sod. Couldn't hurt to ask.

    Bookmark   May 25, 2011 at 5:27PM
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botanicalbill(9b SWFlorida)

Shades, there can only be a liability claim if damage or injury occurs. For the only sake of planting grass, there is no liability. It would be like holding you liable for giving poor advice, it wont be done.

Sas, dont be discouraged by shades.

    Bookmark   May 25, 2011 at 8:40PM
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Texas_Tifway(8 East Texas)

sas6709, It is all up to you on what you want to do to your yard. I think my sugestion is pretty cost effective and will work on your yard as long as you keep it watered. If you sprig the grass close enough it can take a couple of seasons before you get the yard you are looking for. As long as your yard gets about 1" of water a week and a little elbow grease you can achieve what you are after.

    Bookmark   May 25, 2011 at 11:55PM
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dchall_san_antonio(8 San Antonio)

Texas Tifway has some excellent advice there. Plugging in a few pieces of St Aug sod is a great way to do this. St Aug will spread 10 feet in all directions every season once it is established. You have already missed the first 5 feet of growth for this season. Sod should cost you $1 per piece. You can cut that up into maybe 10 smaller pieces to place around the yard about 1 foot apart.

Approaching your landlord is a good thought. Having been a landlord I might not jump at that, because I have seen many a renter with good intentions ruin various investments I've made at their request. But ask! You never know.

There is no seeded grass that will survive in your shade in Texas. Even the grass seed sold specifically for shade is really not good in the heat of the south. That does not stop the retailers from offering it to you. There are lots of Yankees who are used to turf type tall fescue and think they can just scatter the seeds when they first arrive. It doesn't work like that.

    Bookmark   May 27, 2011 at 10:34AM
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