Lawn is mostly weeds - fix on limited $ ??

Ruth_MI(z5MI)July 1, 2014

My son bought his first house. It's in western Michigan, zone 5. The back yard "lawn" is mostly weeds, although there is some grass of some type in there. But I'd say it's 75% weeds.

He doesn't need a lush, perfect lawn, but would like something that at least says "grass" vs. "weeds" when you look at it from a distance. He has plenty of other places to spend cash, so would prefer to keep cost to a minimum.

It's not a huge yard, so he could rototiller it himself. Soil in most places seems to be an orange somewhat clay soil (but not sticky/hard).

Any recommendations? Thank you!

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forsheems(Lexington, NC)

Best I can tell from the photo most of the problems is broadleaf weeds. These should be easy to control with the standard stuff like Ortho Weed-B-Gon. I prefer the concentrate and mix it per the label in a small pump up sprayer. Total cost for herbicide and sprayer is under $40 and can be picked up at your local Walmart, Lowes or Home Depot.

Do not till! While it may seem to be the thing to do now in 3 or so years you will end up with a very bumpy lawn. The tiller digs the dirt up in "scoops" leaving the bottom untilled layer very rough. Eventually the tilled soil will settle and become very rough. If you want to kill off everything and start over completely with new seed glyphosate (Round Up) is the way to go. You can purchase the no name brand (look for 41% glyphosate) much cheaper than the brand name. This will kill everything green in the lawn although it could take a couple applications leaving you a clean slate to start over.

Do some research on proper watering, mowing, and fertilizing either way you decide to go. Get a plan in together so you will be ready to go when the time is right. For Michigan I would think the best time for seeding grass will be sometime in August but you will want to confirm that.

    Bookmark   July 2, 2014 at 10:17AM
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Thanks for that info. It's very helpful. I tried Googling and even searching this forum, but didn't really come up with solid information.

What you said makes sense, and thanks especially for saving him from the work and disappointment of rototilling. I was concerned about the weeds just coming back, but hadn't considered causing a bumpy lawn.

Thanks again!

    Bookmark   July 2, 2014 at 10:45AM
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dchall_san_antonio(8 San Antonio)

Proper watering is the best weed preventer. Deep and infrequent is the mantra. Water a full inch all at one time, but don't water every day, or even 3x per week. It is much better at this time of year, to water once a week. If the temps are still in the 80s, then water once every two weeks. Weed seeds need frequent watering to germinate. If you are only watering once every 2 weeks, they won't germinate. The soil surface needs to dry out completely between waterings.

After watering, getting a dense stand of grass is second. In shady areas you will never get dense Kentucky bluegrass, but you can have dense fescue. In the sun you can have dense KBG and fescue. The biggest flaw with fescue is that if it thins out or gets damaged, you need to reseed every fall. If you forget or miss the fall seeding, then you're forced to seed in the spring, and the frequent watering for the grass seed starts all the summer weeds.

Orange soil sometimes (rarely) means clay. It always means plenty of iron, though. In parts of the west, pure sand is orange.

Agree with forshee about weed-b-gone. Read the label carefully and spot spray the individual weeds when the temperatures are right. If you don't have a large yard, then a hose end sprayer will work. I put a trigger nozzle on the hose first and screw the bottle onto that. Then I can control where it goes. Otherwise once you turn on the hose you're spraying product - it's awkward.

    Bookmark   July 2, 2014 at 11:35PM
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Thanks! That's more good info and I'll pass it along to him.

    Bookmark   July 3, 2014 at 2:58PM
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For feeding, on a severely limited budget, feed the lawn with the cheapest fertilizer you can find that has a high first number (nitrogen). 'Round here, Vigoro's 29-0-3 is the cheapest thing I can get, but your mileage will certainly vary.

Do that once when growth stops, probably mid to late October in Michigan, but it could vary a lot. That one feeding will help the lawn survive the winter and grow back green and lush next spring--without feeding the inevitable spring weeds.

    Bookmark   July 3, 2014 at 3:15PM
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Sprinkle around a granular weed killer, maybe ten bucks.

    Bookmark   July 3, 2014 at 6:49PM
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Just my two cents about rototilling.... My yard was so rock hard after I killed the old grass that the new sod would have never taken root properly. By tilling, I was able to add in some topsoil/compost and mix together. Maybe rolling the lawn every year can help with the bumby lawn problem. I guess I will see what happens to mine, but I am pretty happy I rototilled my yard prior to sodding.

    Bookmark   July 3, 2014 at 7:23PM
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Additionally you can rent an aerator to pull the lil plugs out of the ground. Then overseed according to the suggestions above. That might help if you have compacted soil and would be less work then tilling.
And if the lawn area is not too ginormous you could also think about just hiring a lawn service for a year to bring the grass glory back, then cancel and take it from there.

    Bookmark   July 3, 2014 at 7:30PM
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I really do appreciate all of this info and the various suggestions. He's not a GW member, so asked me to post, and all of your input will be very helpful. Thank you!

    Bookmark   July 4, 2014 at 7:03PM
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dchall_san_antonio(8 San Antonio)

You can't just sprinkle around a granular weed killer. The instructions on granular weed killers are very specific and not intuitively obvious. Most people use them incorrectly and are unhappy with them. Spray weed killers can be used in a targeted fashion and seem to work for most everyone.

Since the soil is not hard, then it is impossible that it is compacted. Furthermore, it is practically impossible for a homeowner to create a compaction situation. The only exception is if they have a yard big enough to play sports on and they regularly play sports on soggy soil. If that isn't going on, then the soil might be hard, but it is definitely not compacted. But this soil is not hard, so let's not talk about how to cure something this isn't. So no rototilling and no core aeration needed.

    Bookmark   July 5, 2014 at 9:18PM
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dchall - thanks for the input on weed killer and compaction. Makes sense and I'll pass along!

    Bookmark   July 7, 2014 at 3:57PM
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