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Giving my established (but new to me) lawn some TLC

Posted by mjl5007 Central PA (My Page) on
Mon, Mar 31, 14 at 11:37

My wife and I moved to a new house after Thanksgiving last year, and this is my first time with my own lawn to care for. The house was built in 1994, so the lawn has been established for years. To give you an idea of the size of the lawn, it's a 1/4 acre lot with a ~2,000 sq. ft. house and two-car attached garage on it. Front yard is pretty flat; back yard has a good side-to-side slope to it (walk-out basement on the low side); yard on one side of the house is flat (high side of back yard) and the other side has a good slope (low side of back yard). Turf seems to be a standard bluegrass/rye/fescue mix. The lawn is not in terrible shape -- I believe the previous owner hired a lawn service to care for it -- but there are some issues I'd like to address, and now that winter has finally loosened its grip here (forecast temps in the 50s/low 60s all week this week!) I think it's time to get started.

Here's a list of the issues I'd like to address:
-- Turf is generally pretty thin along the sides and in the back yard; front yard seems much thicker.
-- Back yard has a few mossy areas; presumably because the back yard is generally shady in the summer once trees have leaves.
-- Very eroded/mossy with almost no turf along the very back of the yard, about an 8' wide strip along the rear tree line.
-- Poor grading along the edges of the concrete patio underneath the deck on the back side of the house. On one side (where the lawn slopes significantly towards the patio) the ground is probably 2-3" below the top of the concrete; on the other two sides (where it slopes away from the patio) it's even lower, to the point that you can see the underside of the concrete pad and the stone/gravel is starting to come out from underneath.
-- Couple of patches of dead/missing grass in the front yard near the front sidewalk.
-- Ground feels very uneven in general -- walking through the yard it just feels very bumpy.
-- Grass generally looks/feels very "coarse". I'm not shooting for carpet, but something a little softer that kids can run around in bare feet in the summer.

I realize that's quite a bit to tackle, and I'm not necessarily looking to tackle it all at once, or even all this season.

I've been doing some reading on general lawn maintenance practices and schedules, and here are the activities I'm thinking of doing:
-- Soil test. I'm fortunate in that I live in a university town with an excellent turfgrass program and an extension program that offers soil testing. I'll probably take soil samples and send them for testing this week or next.
-- Aerate. I don't know for sure, but I would be surprised if the previous owner ever had the lawn aerated, and everything I've read says that it certainly can't hurt to have it done -- improved drainage, reduce thatch and soil compaction, etc. I will likely hire a lawn service to do a core aeration, since the hassle of transporting a rented aerator and my time isn't worth the small amount I would save doing it myself.
-- Fertilize. How much and what kind dependent on the results of the soil test?
-- Other soil amendments? Lime? Soil activator?
-- Topdress to even out the bumpiness and fill in some low spots (e.g. along the edges of the driveway, I'm guessing from cars being driven/parked with one set of wheels in the grass).
-- Overseed, to thicken the lawn where it is thin and generally improve the quality of the turf.
-- Re-grade around concrete patio underneath deck.
-- Seed the eroded/mossy/bare strip along the back yard tree line, presumably with a very shade-tolerant seed.

I also realize that several of those activities and the associated questions I have for them could probably use their own threads, so I'm not looking for comprehensive answers on all of that here. Rather, I'm just looking for some guidance on where to start, what order to do things in, when to do them, etc.

I'm hoping to get some photos taken today or tomorrow and will post them here for further illustration.

Thanks!


Follow-Up Postings:

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RE: Giving my established (but new to me) lawn some TLC

I would skip all the seeding until late summer/early fall you will have a much better success rate and you wil not have to fight with crabgrass. Areas that are thin will most likely fill in by the end of May and the heavily shaded areas will probably just remain thin throughout the summer. For the heavily shade areas you want to seed with fine fescues. If your yard is bumpy because of the bunch type growth habit of tall fescue, then when you overseed use kentucky bluegrass. Kentucky bluegrass is also a finer textured grass than tall fescue. There is also Bullseye tall fescue that is pretty fine bladed and easier to establish from seed than KBG. I would not bring in soil from the outside if you can help it, to fill in low spots, usually causes more problems then it fixes. When you get your soil test back if it recommends lime I would aerify and then apply lime and add any other nutrients recommended. If lime is not required then I would not aerify. Also, it will be time to apply a preemergent herbicide soon. So I would wait on seeding until fall, and apply any nutrients/lime per your soil test, aerify if lime is needed. Then apply preemergent herbicide which needs to be down probably by beginning of May.


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RE: Giving my established (but new to me) lawn some TLC

I had been slowly coming to the same conclusion -- that I should wait to overseed until the fall. That's fine, given how much other work I have/want to do. This applies to all overseeding, both to thicken the thin areas where there is still grass, as well as to re-establish grass in the mossy areas and the few completely bare patches, yes? Or should/can I still topdress and seed the bare patches and/or mossy areas, and wait to do a full lawn overseeding until fall?

Any particular reason you recommend not aerating if I don't need lime? I think it would help quite a bit with drainage and soil compaction.

As for not bringing in any outside dirt... I'm not sure that's really an option. In order to fix the grading issues around the patio underneath the deck, I'm going to have to bring in outside dirt -- there's nowhere else to get dirt to add. I need to add dirt to raise the level of the lawn on all three sides, not just re-arrange the existing dirt.


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RE: Giving my established (but new to me) lawn some TLC

mjl5007, You have the deck stacked against you,as far as spring seeding goes. Aggressive summer annuals that are hard to kill compete against your grasses, soon to be hot weather, disease, traffic ( this is when you want to be enjoying your yard), and a shallow root system from your newly seeded grass. So no, I would not seed anything now. Get a few pieces of sod if you have larger bare areas, it will stand a better chance. Thinner areas will fill in be patient warmer temps, longer days and a little fert. will go a long way. Yes, if you need to regrade large areas get some fill dirt and use a good screened topsoil for the top 3 to 4 inches. The screened topsoil will keep most of the troublesome perennial weeds out of your lawn. I would say to hold off on the aerifying because you said your lawn is thin in areas, and I would not want to thin it out even more. Also, without any pictures it's hard to say, but light, moisture, and nutrients are more limiting factors to turfgrass growth than compaction. Unless you guys play a lot of sports on your lawn, then I would say yes aerify. When you aerify you need to go over the lawn four or five times to affect any real surface area. You will also need to aerify in the fall before you seed. The reason for aerifying when you put out lime is that lime moves very slowly in the soil, so your raising the pH in the soil in the top 2 or 3 inches instead of just the top inch.


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