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How do I turn old farmland into a healthy lawn?

Posted by ladybrowncoat 7 (My Page) on
Thu, Jan 23, 14 at 14:33

Hi there! I will be moving into our new home this summer. We are doing all of the landscaping ourselves. I am not sure what condition the land will be in, but it is currently 2.5 acres of mostly farmland. Everything has been harvested, but I can only imagine we will have stumps of things and roots and no grass when we move in...

My first thought is to make friends with a local farmer and pay them to come till the ground with a tractor or something, and then lay seed...

I have a little gardening experience and grand plans for extensive landscaping over the years, but I have no idea what to do in this situation.

Has anyone else encountered this? Will my soil be stripped of nutrients? Healthier than normal? It appears that soybeans were the last crop... Any advice would be much appreciated!

Thanks :)


Follow-Up Postings:

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RE: How do I turn old farmland into a healthy lawn?

Since it is now under cultivation, I would do nothing with it until the house is constructed and finished. Any thing you do now will be totally destroyed during the construction process. Remember, there will be equipment coming in to dig the foundations, the leach bed, the sewer lines, and water lines, etc. There will be big trucks delivering supplies for the contractor, and cement for the foundation and drive way.

When I was in this situation, I worked the fringes, Clean up the tree row between the fields, and if there are trees you want to save make sure they are will marked so the machinery will not be going over the root system. Also you can start trimming those trees.

If you are really desperate for something to do on your new house you could do some planting on the edges of the yard away from any possible construction activities.


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RE: How do I turn old farmland into a healthy lawn?

Typically soybean fields are plowed before the soybeans are planted. There really should be no stumps or roots of any kind. Your most likely problem will be small rocks that needs to be gathered up. At this point theres not a lot you can do until late in the summer around August. That's when you'll want to spray everything down with Round Up, wait a couple weeks and then spray anything that's green. After that you can have someone with a box scrape level everything out to get it ready for seed.

In the meantime it would be wise to have a few soil samples tested to see if it needs lime or fertilizer to get the soil ready for the fall seeding. Getting started on that now is a good idea so you have a head start on it.


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RE: How do I turn old farmland into a healthy lawn?

I agree don't do anything with the lawn until after the house is finished.

For a 2.5 acre lot, I would seriously consider only putting about 1/4 - 1/2 acre in traditional lawn, and then put the remaining two acres into prairie.

soybeans are a good pre-lawn/pre-prairie planting... helps reduce weeds and adds N to the soil in prep for what will grow their next.

2.5 acres is too much lawn to be maintaining unless you are golfing or playing football.

Consider something like this:
 photo PNseedmixshortdrysl-1.jpg


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RE: How do I turn old farmland into a healthy lawn?

Wow, thanks for all the great advice!

knuttle - The way we're handling the loan process, the builder is holding the land and construction loans. We don't actually own the property until after the house is built and we settle. Not the most ideal situation, but it worked out well for us as first time homebuyers- we only have one settlement directly into a 30 year fixed. But that means technically I can't do anything to the property until we move in- likely early summer. So this seems to go along what most of you have suggested. I'm forced to be patient! Ha ha.

ForsheeMS - That is good to know about the soybeans- at least I don't have to worry about digging up roots! I will speak with the builder about getting a soil sample once everything starts to warm up. As far as leveling the lot, with so many farms around I'm sure I can find someone to help :)

joepyeweed - Here I've been upset that there were soybeans there, and turns out it's a good thing! Awesome. I love the idea of creating some sort of naturalized area. We were planning on starting a wildflower section to attract the birds and bees, so maybe instead of starting small I'll do an entire side of the yard or something. I have to abide by the covenant restrictions, but hopefully I have a green enough thumb to make it blend in :)


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RE: How do I turn old farmland into a healthy lawn?

While it depends on the builder and your commitment to the house, I doubt if he would object if you went out to the lot and trimmed and did other things. I would not sink a lot of money into the lot until, it was MINE, will mine and the bank.
Is there an old fence row in buried in the wooded area. Is there old barb wire fencing that has to be removed. Is there the remains of an old structure. I am sure the builder would not object if you cleaned these things up and hauled them away. The old building may provide some interesting finds.

One of the things you can do is to walk the lot to learn all of the characteristic. Where are the high spots, where are the wet areas. Where are the beans growing the best, etc. indicating soil fertility. These are things you will have to know when you start deciding your landscape.

While you can do some of this before the beans area harvested it would be easier to see these things afterward.

One of the large cost that we did not anticipate, in a similar situation, was the minor medical bills. A thorn deep in the figure joint that took a doctor's assistance to healed, Significant case of poison ivy. I almost for got the significant bee stings when I did not realize that I was standing on an underground nest when I was doing something.

Point being be safe as you are learning the property.


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RE: How do I turn old farmland into a healthy lawn?

I agree with most of what has been said. However, RoundUp will not work against any of the remaining soybean plants. Unless your previous owner was stuck in the stone age, all the soybean seed sold now is RoundUp-Ready. That means you can spray RU on it all day long and nothing will happen.

Does your builder have anything in the contract where he has to prepare the surrounding land for a garden? If so then you don't have to worry about anything. If not, then...

The only tool necessary is a box blade on the back of a real tractor. You will definitely be able to find someone with that rig. It will take him about 2 hours to run your entire property unless you have lots of obstacles like trees, buried electrical or piping. BE ABSOLUTELY CERTAIN TO MAP THE LOCATIONS OF ANYTHING YOUR CONTRACTOR BURIES. And DO NOT let him bury construction material. Almost all of them will do that to some extent or other. Get a trash trailer onsite and make sure everything is cleaned up at the end of the day. Painters will want to clean up their brushes and rollers in the yard. Go ahead and let them do that. It really does not seem to harm the soil or plants.

I also agree that 2.5 acres of grass is too much. I have a 1-acre lot out in the country and having half of that in grass is a LOT of grass. Start shopping now for riding mowers. If there is a guy in town who repairs them, ask him for advice on which ones need the fewest repairs.

What are the garden restrictions you have to adhere to? Does the entire place need to be landscaped? Can you have a small orchard of citrus or nut trees? A rose garden? A statue garden? A gazebo? I have a long list of garden alternatives to grass but need to see the restrictions.

Where are you located? Easton, MD (wild guess)

Assuming you are in MD, then I would start researching Kentucky bluegrass as an ultimate turf type. I like it because it is very dense, spreads by itself, and never needs to be reseeded. It takes very well to organic fertilizer and does not need copious amounts. Still, if you want it to be extraordinarily nice, copious amounts or organics will do that for you. The drawback to KBG is that it will turn brown during the winter if it gets too cold. That can be minimized to a few weeks with some effort on your part, but it can be done by normal people without special equipment. The other popular grass for your area is fescue. These do not spread quickly and should be reseeded in the thin spots every fall. The fescues do remain green throughout the year so many people mix fescue with KBG to get the best of both grass types.

It sounds like you will be moving in and doing grass no earlier than next summer. That could be perfect. If you will be putting sod down, that is good timing (not great but good). If you are going to seed, then the heat of summer is a really bad time to do that. I would propose waiting until late August for seed. For a first step in seeding, once the land was prepped with the box blade, cover the (small??) area you want in grass with a load of mulch until late August. If your construction goes like most, you might not be moving in until then anyway. Then you won't be needing the mulch and can go straight to seed.

What an adventure! Glad you wrote in now rather than writing in July to say you just seeded and nothing happened. I would suggest keeping an eye on this forum and others during the spring and getting a feel for the general nature of the issues. Lawn care is very easy if you simply water and mow correctly. With proper watering and mowing you should not need herbicides, preemergents, insecticides, or fungicides. Watch and learn. Repetition helps you learn.


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RE: How do I turn old farmland into a healthy lawn?

Hi guys! Sorry- I thought I would get notifications when people replied on here but I seem to be having technical difficulties :O

knuttle- Thanks! We were delayed and have only now broken ground, but I have been able to sneak onto the property and poke around. All I've found is dirt and branches and the remains of the harvest. No bees or poison ivy so far (fingers crossed). Did see evidence of deer, but that was to be expected. Surprisingly we own a portion of the wooded lot behind us (currently filled with short, prickly trees- going to have to figure out what those are).

dchall_san_antonio - We are in fact in Easton :) Thank you so much for all the advice! We are looking into getting someone out to look at the lot and give us an idea of how much it would be to ride over it in the tractor- the land is mostly bumpy and I'd like to have a flat yard if possible. Would they be able to level it out? Our yard now is full of little bumps and holes everywhere, and I trip all the time because my toe catches. Also the weeds seem to love all those nooks and crannies.

We won't be moving in now until August or September. Looking for a very low-maintenance grass. I will eventually have quite a bit of hardscaping and gardening, but I will have to space that out a bit ($). We will likely need to seed most of the yard in grass right away, to prevent erosion and meet the covenant restrictions.

The restrictions are quite obviously a copy and paste job (some of the things don't even apply to our area, and the names of the owners were not even changed/updated), and the current owner (who is the architectural committee until all the lots are sold and we create our own) seems pretty lenient. So far we have met one set of neighbors and they also seem pretty laid back. I think that as long as we keep things looking neat and clean I can go wild with the plants and we will be fine.

I'll attach a picture of our plot- the little teeny dot is our house (SO small compared to the land!). You wouldn't even know it's 2500 square feet plus a two car garage!
I will be posting more about the gardening later (since we won't do much this year beyond some fall planting of trees and bulbs).


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RE: How do I turn old farmland into a healthy lawn?

We're standing where the front door will be...

We own up to and including some of that hazy reddish row of tall bushes/short trees.


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RE: How do I turn old farmland into a healthy lawn?

Close up of what the ground currently looks like. Kind of patchy areas of grass, etc. Some areas are pretty wet because we've had a ton of rain/snow/ice.. but there is decent drainage (I guess because it was farmland).


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RE: How do I turn old farmland into a healthy lawn?

You have the job laid out for you. It will take many weekends to get the lot from a bean field to some semblance of a yard. While our house was only three when we purchased it three years ago, it seems like every time we pass a Lowes we come home with new plants. I have learned to take the van, as things like that do not fit in the small car.

I assume you will be getting to the yard after all of the curtains, pictures, mirrors, etc, are hung. There is one other thing. You are getting a house that no one has lived in before. Plan on spending some time in putting the hooks on the backs of doors, and similar things that would be there if someone lived there before you.

I hope you enjoy your new house I know I have when getting a new house


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RE: How do I turn old farmland into a healthy lawn?

knuttle - Thank you! Oh boy, I really AM in trouble- I can barely leave Lowes without a car-full now :)


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RE: How do I turn old farmland into a healthy lawn?

Okay I have some house building advice. Since the land is so flat, you really should build up the area where the house is so water will drain away. It should be build up so that the bottom sill of the house is at least 6 inches higher than the soil 10 feet away from the house in all directions. Normally people slope the soil away from the house like that. The house needs to be an island in case of high water.

If you want to even out the soil for the grass, hire a landscaper to do "finish grading" when the house is completed. That will smooth out the surface and make it ready for anything.

Grass for the least amount of work would be a prairie grass like wheatgrass. I don't know which ones grow in Maryland, but you have time to do some research. Wheatgrass is not a traditional lawn material, but it looks good when planted densely and mowed down.


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