A Plan for my Lawn

BrianV_(5A)June 9, 2014

Hello. I live in zone 5A, and I've been making some plans for my lawn for the next few years that I wanted to post for feedback.

First, some background:

I have a 0.86 acre property of which some ~25,000 square feet is lawn. Now, the grass I have currently is not the best. Parts of the lot were raised somewhere around 2'-3' when the house was built in the mid-1980's, so there is lots of soil across the property. However, it appears that the builder accepted 'clean fill' from wherever he could get it.

This means that I have some (small) portions of my lawn with great, organic soil in which the grass absolutely thrives.

I have other areas where the soil is sandy and appears to have no organic presence... at all! The grass does... about how you would expect.

There are other parts that appear to have massive compaction issues. We have another area that I suspect may have been a gravel driveway in the years after construction (but since grown over). In short, there is a wide range of soil and conditions.

The soil seems to also run the range from well balanced PH-wise, to fairly acidic in places (judging by the plant life competing with my grass).

In general, I have 4 main competitors with my grass:

1. Dandelions. Lots of them!
2. Plantain
3. Creeping Charlie
4. Wild strawberry. (taking over a whole area)
5. Moss (in lower lying / damp areas)

I debated adding clover to the list as well as there is a lot of it in my grass... but it feels nice underfoot, and is a nitrogen fixer. I assume it can be easily controlled as I eventually build the nitrogen level in the soil.

We have forest / trees on all four sides of our property, plus at least one big tree in the middle. The grass gets everything from full sun to mostly shade, depending on where you are in the lawn.

I've always mulched in any grass clippings and leaves, and have followed the 'mow high, mow often' rule of thumb.


Ok, so for starters, my goals aren't very high. With the amount of lawn that I have, I don't think it's economical or feasible to attempt to get rich, green luscious grass everywhere.

For the first few years in this house, I just mowed the lawn regularly, but my wife and I didn't really spend much time out on the grass. As our children have grown up, they are spending more and more time out there. The lawn isn't the nicest underfoot - there are areas that are dry and dead already, other areas where the plantain is all over making for poor footing.

My goal is to essentially reclaim my lawn for grass and clover. I don't really care about weeds insofar as the bulk of my lawn is grass, and it has a nice feel underfoot.

The plan:

At this point, I think my number one issue around my property is the inconsistent quality of the soil, specifically in terms of organic matter. This summer, I want to start regularly top dressing the soil to bring up the organic matter content across the board... but especially in those areas that appear to be almost completely lacking!

My thought it that this should help with the PH issues as well given that compost is a natural buffer.

Secondly, I want to fix some of the compaction issues in parts of my lawn (which may help with the Plantain problem). I think the long-term solution here is tied to increasing organic matter content (encouraging worms)... but in the short term, I think I can get by with using a pitchfork to loosen up the soil.

Once I have have resolved this issue, I hope to take 5-10 soil samples from the various 'mini-locales' around my property and get them tested. I don't even want to bother with adding the various nutrients to my property until I have appropriate organic matter in the soil to retain what I put in.

At that point, I intend to re-evaluate the situation to determine where to go next. As I live in Ontario, we don't have much in the way of effective weed-killers for broadcast applications, and as I said above, I'm not super stressed about weeds anyways, provided they are nice underfoot. However, for them to be nicer underfoot, I think I need to encourage the grass to compete with them better. At this point, they are taking over and I have areas where there is little / no grass left.

So, if anyone has made it through the big wall of text above... any feedback?

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I'm not one of the experts and hopefully some of them will chime in. However, maybe I can help a bit. Be careful not to add too much when topdressing (I assume you mean with soil or compost). Do only 1/4 inch. You don't want to smother the grass. Don't cover the crown of the grass. You also need to be careful about changing drainage around your house. Rain always needs to drain away from your house, not toward it. A good way to add organic matter is to mulch mow your leaves in the fall. You might even consider bringing in more leaves from the trees surrounding the yard. If you have hard soil, try the shampoo treatment. Google "shampoo" and "dchall" to get details on how to mix it in your sprayer. It works!

    Bookmark   June 9, 2014 at 3:09PM
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As your first goal is increased organic matter, it takes years and a lot of added OM material to increase soil OM. As grasses shed up to 50% of their root mass annually, consider establishing turf as your primary goal. Get a soil test and follow the recommendations to provide the nutrients necessary for growing grass and let the grass do the heavy OM lifting and help it with amendments.

"I debated adding clover to the list as well as there is a lot of it in my grass... but it feels nice underfoot, and is a nitrogen fixer. I assume it can be easily controlled as I eventually build the nitrogen level in the soil."
There is an urban legend that clover means low nitrogen and increased nitrogen will eradicate clover. Not true.

    Bookmark   June 9, 2014 at 11:47PM
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David Hall has just written about the shampoo treatment this week, so I copied his words, in case you haven't goggled yet. Here goes:
"apply baby shampoo at a rate of 3 ounces per 1,000 square feet followed by a full inch of water. If you get any runoff before an inch is applied, then stop immediately, let the moisture sink in for 15 to 30 minutes, then continue watering until you get the full inch. A week later water the full inch again. A week after that, repeat the shampoo and irrigation. That should set your soil up to allow much deeper water penetration. You can test the hardness before and after by sticking a screwdriver in as far as you can."

    Bookmark   June 10, 2014 at 10:27AM
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