Newly Built Home = Crappy Yard

MamafolckerJuly 21, 2014

Hey everyone, I'm new to this forum.

My husband and I just moved into a new home that was built roughly one year ago. So as you can imagine, the yard was just one big pile of dirt, mud, and clay.

So here we are a year later, and into our new home for a month now. The house... is amazing. Truly! Our dream home. The yard however, is less than desirable.

I don't know how much of it is *actually* grass verses weeds (probably 75% weeds, seriously), and it's a hot mess. Here we are, in the middle of July though- so what the heck can I do? I don't even know where/when to begin other than I've been yanking the big weeds by hand.

All I can tell you is that I very badly want soft soft soft grass! I'm in Northern Kentucky, where my "soil" is basically all clay and shale. Our old home (also in NKY) had very thick, very green grass but it was not soft and definitely not something we wanted to walk on barefoot.

I'm well aware that it takes a handful of years to establish a gorgeous yard and then clearly will have to maintain that, so I know there are no quick easy fixes. But a starting point would be lovely :)

I guess it's good to mention that we usually have a yard service that comes out every few months to do treatments and such. We plan on doing that as well, but since this is going to be our "forever" home, I really wanted to start learning about how all of this works and start having more of a green thumb :)

Thanks ya'll!

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dchall_san_antonio(8 San Antonio)

Taking excellent care of a lawn is pretty easy. In fact it is so easy that I'm surprised the lawn fertilizer companies stay in business. You have to do all the heavy lifting anyway. You have to water it and mow it once a week. All they do is fertilize. Oh and they apply herbicide to everyone regardless of whether they need it.

I suspect your old lawn was not fun to walk on because it was a hodge podge of different grasses, some of which made it uncomfortable. The solution to that is to just use the modern improved varieties of grasses.

Do you have shade in the new yard? Any mature trees? Any immature trees that will eventually shade the yard? The shade will affect which grass type you select. The fescue varieties will do well in shade, but the Kentucky bluegrass varieties must have full sun.

For your lawn, now is the time to plan to renovate it. Late next month is the time to act. Basically you'll need to kill what's there, kill it again, remove what's there, level things if you have high and low spots (NO ROTOTILLING), apply seed, roll seed, water lightly 3x per day for 3 weeks. After you have 80% germination, you can start to back off on the watering frequency until you are watering once every 2-3 weeks. That might not happen until Halloween, but you have to make it happen. By deep watering on an infrequent basis the grass develops deep, drought resistant roots. If your grass develops a dense canopy this fall, then you should not have a weed problem next spring. Scott's scares everyone into thinking they need a preemergent herbicide, but I never use one. If I get a couple weeds it's a lot easier to spot treat them when I can see them rather than blanketing the yard with chemicals. Here are the basics of lawn care. This may or may not be the way you did it at your old house, but this works and can get you most of the way to a 'lawn of the month' yard.

Basics of Lawn Care

After reading numerous books and magazines on lawn care, caring for lawns at eight houses over the years, 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 inch 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 El Paso your watering will be different than if you live in Vermont. Adjust your watering to your type of grass, temperature, 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. For chemical fertilizers, too little is better than too much. For organic fertilizers, too much is better than too little*.

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.

* This used to read, "Too little is better than too much." Recent test results show that you cannot get too much organic fertilizer unless you bury the grass in it.

    Bookmark   July 21, 2014 at 1:30PM
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Thank you so much!

It's a new neighborhood in general, so there are essentially zero trees and it's full sun :(

Thank you so so much for your response. I'm excited to show it to my husband so we can start planning :) As much as I hate the idea of starting a lawn from basically scratch, I'm also excited about it because we can use our yard as a clean slate and really do what we want.

You rule! :)

    Bookmark   July 22, 2014 at 10:28AM
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forsheems(Lexington, NC)

I would highly recommend buying the best quality seed you can afford. For years I thought the "good stuff" at Lowe's or HD was the best there is but through some research I found there is a lot better seed available that doesn't cost much more but will give you a lot nicer lawn. I bought seed last fall for my reno from The Hogan Company and have been extremely pleased. The owner even called me back in the spring to see how it went and to make sure I was happy. I'm going to overseed this fall and need to repair a couple areas and will be ordering from them again.

Pay close attention to what DCHall tells you because the guy knows his stuff as well as a few others on here. If you follow their advice you will have the best lawn in the neighborhood!

    Bookmark   July 22, 2014 at 11:58AM
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dchall_san_antonio(8 San Antonio)

Reminder, KBG is the one that needs full sun.
Here is a picture of several Kentucky bluegrass lawns.

The green one is being taken care of properly while the others suffer at least from improper watering. As it turns out the brown ones are "contractor grade" KBG while the green one is an "Elite" variety of KBG. However, the same owner gets the same performance with a slightly different color on his mother's contractor grade KBG lawn, so it's not the grass, it's the care. And the care is as I have outlined previously. Most of the difference between those lawns is watering, mowing, and fertilizing properly. The rest of the difference comes from soil testing and tuning up the micronutrients.

If you have to water, mow, and fertilize anyway, you may as well do it right.

Thanks to morpheuspa for the picture of his lawn. He'll probably see this and can help you with details of your installation.

    Bookmark   July 22, 2014 at 12:12PM
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DCHall pretty much covered it.

Large expanses of weeds in new lawns are normal--see that gorgeous green carpet up there? Yeah, it had about ten billion weeds in it during its first fall.

I'm not at all adverse to getting some Weed B Gone with Crabgrass Control (might as well start with the moderately sized guns). Start spot-spraying weeds.

If you're going to fully renovate and restart late this summer, skip that. You'll clear the deck anyway.

If you'd rather overseed, I actually wouldn't choose an elite seed. It won't combine well with the builder's grade lawn--and builder's grade can make absolutely fantastic turf if you work at that, too. I did it for several years, but really wanted the deep, dark green grasses you see above.

What you end up doing depends very much on what you decide to do--so let us know and we'll work with what you want.

    Bookmark   July 22, 2014 at 1:20PM
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Cost is not a factor here. Both the hubby and I agree on that. We're willing to do whatever we have to do to get an amazing yard!

I think I properly attached a photo.... it's pouring rain right now and thunderstorming so I can't get a good pic of the yard.... so this is from the inside of the house, but you can clearly tell what the yard looks like. The entire thing is like that. Open patches everywhere and weeds :(

    Bookmark   July 23, 2014 at 11:53AM
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You do seem more patchy than the neighbors. Is your house newer than theirs?

Presuming they were built at the same time, it could be a lack of feeding. Doing it synthetically, that can't be corrected until Labor Day or so. Organically, it can be fixed at any time (but will take a while to work).

Since it's a year old, I'm assuming neglect for about a year. On a young lawn, that's more than enough to cause problems.

One, spot spray weeds with a good weed killer--like Weed B Gone. If you have crabgrass, choose the one with crabgrass killer. Since I don't see any evidence of water shortage, you can start that now.

While you're buying the Weed B Gone, buy a few bags of Milorganite--one bag for every 2,500 square feet of lawn you have. Apply it using a drop or broadcast spreader. That'll move in a slow feeding that's safe for summer--but you won't see an effect until about three weeks in.

Plan to overseed at least the blank areas as waiting for any bluegrass you might have to spread will be a slow process. The watering method for overseeding/renovation is in tons of places here as many have asked, but if you can't find it, let us know. We don't mind repeating ourselves.

Whether you overseed or not, plan on feeding synthetically with any good off the shelf fertilizer on or a little after Labor Day. That'll provide a kick of nitrogen. Feed again October first. Feed again November first. Then feed again when growth stops for winter, which for you will probably be early December.

Keep treating weeds throughout the period as you see them. Although the annuals will die out at frost, we don't want them dropping yet more seed to sprout next year. Perennial weeds will come back, so constant treatment always helps there.

    Bookmark   July 23, 2014 at 1:01PM
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Our house is much newer than our neighbors, by probably 5 years or so :-/ The builder didn't do anything to maintain the yard since they started building which is frustrating!

    Bookmark   July 24, 2014 at 12:17PM
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>>Our house is much newer than our neighbors, by probably 5 years or so :-/

That does explain part of it!

>>The builder didn't do anything to maintain the yard since they started building which is frustrating!

And that's the other part of it!

They never do. Ours was such a disaster when we moved in it was laughable.

Fortunately, with some care, you can reverse that and have the nicest on the block.

    Bookmark   July 24, 2014 at 1:03PM
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