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Newbie Lawn Renovation

Posted by AStaheli TN Zone 7/8 (My Page) on
Wed, Apr 18, 12 at 12:22

Hello garden pros,

I'm Andrew, 24, from Brighton, TN. My wife and I purchased a house about a year ago and I have been fighting the lawn ever since. Now, I am a new home owner and the only thing I have ever done to any lawn is MOW it. So, I have been doing research lately and what to do about starting over, but I wanted to come to you folks first before I did anything else.

The only thing I have done is use weed/grass killer on the lawn. I have uploaded photos of my lawn and of the products I have used to help you see my dilemma.

I am open to tilling, dethatching, aerating, fertilizing, and seeding. I just need some guidance on what steps to take and how I should take them. Any help at all is appreciated, thank you.

Here is a link that might be useful: My Nasty Grass

Follow-Up Postings:

RE: Newbie Lawn Renovation

Btw, I have Pennington SmartSeed Sun and Shade mix. I bought it last year. Would you recommend I keep or toss?

RE: Newbie Lawn Renovation

I recommend starting with a good soil test... The uniform yellow color of the lawn tells me that something is amiss....

Just going straight with their recommendations is usually a good start... but you will need to know what sort of grass you have...

So... What sort of grass do you have?


RE: Newbie Lawn Renovation

The yellowness I can explain... I used Weed Beater on the entire lawn and some Crab Grass control Weed B Gone on certain areas.

Anyway, I'll run to our local co-op and see if they have soil testing. Thanks!

RE: Newbie Lawn Renovation

Also, I have fescues. not sure what kind though.

RE: Newbie Lawn Renovation

So you want to do a renovation? Soil testing is best handled by professionals. The local co-op's soil test is going to be very basic. I would prefer you send your soil to a reputable lab. I use Logan Labs, as do many other lawn nuts, and their $20 basic test is very comprehensive. Tennessee is tall fescue country, unless you want a warm season grass, and that's what I would recommend using. Tall fescue is pretty shade tolerant, and does well in full sun too. Without knowing the species and cultivars in that bag of seed you have I cannot pass any judgement on it. For what it's worth, you can get better grass seed via sellers on the internet. Big Box stores carry blends and mixes that aren't really worth buying. For a renovation you will probably be seeding in early fall, so you should use the time you have now to get your soil in shape (after your test results) and killing all the weeds you can before they go to seed.

RE: Newbie Lawn Renovation

Thanks guys.

Ok I have sent my soil sample to the lab at University of TN. So hopefully I should be getting some results back soon. Now you say I should seed in early fall, that's ok. After I get my results back I should then know what to put in my soil to prepare it for seeding.

So my question is, when I have the stuff to put in my lawn, do I need to spread it then till it in? or till the lawn then spread it?

Also, are there any brands of fescue seed that you would recommend?

RE: Newbie Lawn Renovation

DO NOT TILL IT IN. Yes, I was shouting.

Everything should be applied at the surface. There are some elements that arguably could be rototilled in but once you do that, you are on a long term project that will take years before becoming a satisfactory lawn. The best home lawns I've ever seen (pictures of) were managed from above.

I'm sure the University of Tennessee is a wonderful school, and who doesn't love Smokey the coonhound? It will be interesting to see their soil test results. Tiemco was almost understating it when he said that the other lawn nuts use Logan Labs. Logan Labs is where the really (REALLY) serious lawn nuts go. Some of those guys are actually here, lurking on this forum. If you had a Logan Labs test to post, you'd get a much different approach to "perfect" your soil.

The area around your air conditioner pad should be in mulch or something that makes weeding easy. Grass near the AC sometimes suffers from the hot air blowing across it. It might be a good place for a rock garden.

The grass at your gates will always die. You might consider stepping stones or mulch in there, too. It seems you have the indications of dogs. Is it one or more? How big and how much do they tear up the grass?

In my opinion tilling is actually harmful to the future lawn satisfaction. Aerating is your option but I don't think it will help you. Using a dethatcher (power rake, slit seeder, verticutter or any of the other vertically rotating blade machines) will be your best tool for shredding the vegetation and scarring the very surface of the soil. Only go 1/8 to 1/4 inch deep. Then sweep up the chaff and get ready to seed.

I should stop myself here. I'm getting carried away with the process and missing the big picture. Now is a horrible time to seed new grass. Why? All the crabgrass seed in your soil will germinate before your selection of grass seed and you'll have a crabgrass lawn by July. Also the new grass you plant will not have time to develop heat resistant roots. Crabgrass is a summer annual highly adapted to summer heat on the roots. So at this point I am going to suggest that if you seed, use a cheap seed and do a real renovation with better seed in the fall when the crabgrass seed is not viable.

In the mean time start taking good care of your "mixed grass" lawn. The weed b gone product will be good for much of it. For the rest, start watering deeply but infrequently. For this time of year that probably means once every 2 weeks and water for about an hour to start. If the grass (not weeds) looks wilted before that time, then water immediately but for a longer time to get it through to the next watering cycle. If the weeds look wilted before the next watering cycle, then you are doing it right. Some weeds will survive that schedule. You can spray those. Next raise your mower to the highest setting. That will help to take out some of the other weeds. You can do that now. It may be weeks before all your grass grows up high enough to mow. The reward will come once all the grass is tall enough to mow at that setting. If you want to speed that process up, switch to organic fertilizer (alfalfa pellets or rabbit food) and really slam it. Apply up to 20 pounds per 1,000 square feet every week if your budget allows. A bag should cost under $15 for 50 pounds. Or every month. Or 3x per year. Depends on your budget but the more you use the faster you will love your lawn. With chemical fertilizer you cannot get away with that approach. It will burn most lawns (except bermuda) if you applied it every week or even every month.

Great pictures. The only thing that would make them better is to take them on a cloudy day.

RE: Newbie Lawn Renovation

"Also, are there any brands of fescue seed that you would recommend?"

Brands, no, cultivars, yes. Give me a day or two to look at the data.

RE: Newbie Lawn Renovation

I'm sorry for this really long post!

@dchall_san_antonio, our County Agricultural Extension Service office offers soil testing at the UT argricultural dept. Although I'm a sworn enemy of UT and wear all things blue for the UofMemphis, I do hear they have a reputable Ag deptartment so we will see. I will definitly post their results when I get them to see what you folks think. If its not enough I will then look into Logan Labs.

I really do appreciate the input, I made a note not to till fertilizer into the ground. Apply at the top!

Yes, I do have dogs. I do not, however leave them all out for long periods of the time. I've tried to control their digging and whatnot, but there will always be some grass harrassment by my dogs. Any recommendations there?

About loosening soil... I have read that compacted soil can make it difficult for seeds to grow well. I've learned to never completely trust what I read, but that is why I am here. So, you advise against tilling, pro dethatching and possibly aerate the lawn. Now this is the part that should be done during the Fall, yes? or now and later?

"If the grass (not weeds) looks wilted before that time, then water immediately but for a longer time to get it through to the next watering cycle. If the weeds look wilted before the next watering cycle, then you are doing it right. Some weeds will survive that schedule."

-- I had no idea that a specific water schedule would have an impact on lawns like this, this I can do... as for mowing, unfortunately my little push mower only as one setting so I will just have to keep that the same for a while.

I'll try to get some more pictures on a cloudier day, and

@ tiemco, haha sorry, cultivars. I'll get my results posted as soon as I get them in.

Again, Thanks for sharing the knowledge.

RE: Newbie Lawn Renovation

Tall fescue is not a diverse as Kentucky bluegrass, there aren't subgroups, so in theory you don't need to mix a few different cultivars. That being said, it is still done, and if you choose to do so, any one of these cultivars will blend well together. Here are my recommendations for Tennessee, in a yard that is full sun to some light shade. A heavy shaded lawn (3-4 hours) would be different. All these were taken using data from the most current NTEP trials. They rate on a 1-9 scale. Differences of less than .5 are insignificant for the most part. You can find the full study pdf here:

Bullseye: If you use only one cultivar, this should be it. #1 turf quality in TN and the transitions zone, and .2 away from the top in the Southeast. Does very well with traffic. Very fine texture, great summer density. Near the top in drought tolerance, and .2 away from the top score in warm temperature brown patch which is crucial in the transition zone. Great summer stress rating and one of the best against insect damage.
Wolfpack II: Pretty much matches Bullseye in most categories. Not as good in traffic though, and suffers about twice as much insect damage (33% vs. 16%)
Hemi: Another Bullseye clone, a tiny bit wider blade, but still near the top. Not quite as good in drought, but a tiny bit better in brown patch resistance, and .7 better in summer stress.
Here are a few other's that were comparable to Bullseye.
RK5: Not quite as drought tolerant.
Faith: Better in traffic by 1.0, worse in drought by 2.0
Firecracker LS: Better in traffic by 1.0, worse in drought by 2.3.
Turbo: Not quite as traffic tolerant by 1.0 and drought tolerant, by 2.0.

You can find most of these newer cultivars at The Hogan Company (, which is very reasonable in price, and is in Tennessee, so shipping shouldn't be a huge issue. Also regarding your dogs. If you renovate, they shouldn't be permitted on the new grass for at least 6-8 weeks.

RE: Newbie Lawn Renovation

Thanks Tiemco,

Thanks for the info, I sent them a message. Hopefully should get a call from them sometime this week with pricing info, but before I buy anything I am going to work on the ground. Like dchall_san_antonio said, its a horrible time to seed.

I did do some more research, however, and found out that since I am in a transition climate zone I need to have a mixed lawn with cool and warm season grasses. I feel like I have just complicated my new project even more. My wife doesn't sound too convinced that this work is worth having a new lawn. :-\

RE: Newbie Lawn Renovation

"I did do some more research, however, and found out that since I am in a transition climate zone I need to have a mixed lawn with cool and warm season grasses. "

Can you please tell me where you found this research? This is a lousy idea for many reasons. What did you plan on mixing?

RE: Newbie Lawn Renovation

By research, I mean my own internet research.

That's a relief, anyway here is one of the website I was reading, and perhaps I was reading to far into it.

Here is a link that might be useful: TN grass

RE: Newbie Lawn Renovations

"Grasses used in Tennessee consist of warm season and cool season grasses."

Yes, you misread that, it meant they are both used but not together. So pick either a cool season or a warm season, but not both. For tall fescue you should be seeding in late September, so you have time to improve your soil.

RE: Newbie Lawn Renovation

Yeah they should reword that. As tiemco said, that means you have a choice of one or the other, not both.

Generally I am lukewarm on dethatching, but for a renovation, it is a good tool to get rid of the duff that would prevent seed from getting to the soil.

Nice NTEP rundown, tiemco!

Yes it is still a horrible time to seed. I would seriously look at putting off the reno until fall. Then spend money for good seed and you'll be much happier next season. For now follow good watering, mowing (such as you can), and follows.

Water deeply and infrequently. Deeply means an inch and infrequently means to let the soil dry out before you water again. This time of year that might be 2 full weeks or more in your area. In the summer it might be every 7 days. The idea is to keep weed seeds from getting the continual moisture they need to sprout. Let Mother Nature apply Hers and then you supplement as needed.

Well you have one setting. Mow every week.

Chemical fertilizer on or about Memorial Day. Organic fertilizer any day of the year. The more you use the nicer the lawn will look. A good starting point is alfalfa pellets at 20 pounds per 1,000 square feet. I like doing that on the federal holidays (Memorial Day, 4th of July, Labor Day, and Thanksgiving).

You'll be surprised how much better it will go for you by following those three rules.

RE: Newbie Lawn Renovation

Hey fellas, I just got my soil test results in the mail.

Water pH 6.2
P 48
K 124 M
Ca 2848 S
Mg 528 S

and thats all the info they provided.

They gave some recommendations, but I'd like to hear what you guys have to say.

RE: Newbie Lawn Renovation

Yet another incomplete soil test, this is why I recommend Logan Labs. From the data you provided, pH is good, but some calcitic lime should push it up to the sweet spot, and it will provide Ca, which you need (although without base saturations it's a bit hard to tell just how short your are). Are those numbers for P and K in ppm or lbs/acre? Again the base saturations would help out in determining where your K levels fall. They look short to me, so I would apply starter fertilizer now, bag rate, and then the calcitic lime 2 weeks later.

RE: Newbie Lawn Renovation

Nuts, looks like I will consult Logan Labs next time. I got this one prematurely. The unit of measurement for P and K are lbs/acre. Thanks for the input. I may go ahead and just get another test, this time from Logan.

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