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Lawn Rehab

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I inherited a lawn in a really bad shape and since I don't have much experience in lawn care I need some help to decide what to do. One thing I'm absolutely sure is I don't want to use toxic chemicals on my lawn and that is what pretty much all landscapers in my area offer.

Here is some information about the lawn:
- It has been treated with chemicals for several years, but some 2-3 years ago previous owner simply stopped doing anything.
- There is a lots of different kinds of weeds everywhere. At some places I'm not sure if there is any grass left. Dandelions and crab grass make up most of the weeds.
- There seems to be 3-4" of topsoil, and below that is compacted clay. The rain leaves puddles of water here and there, and it seems the soil is poorly drained.
- The good news is wherever I stick the shovel worms pop out. It looks like Mother Nature has already come to the rescue.

I don't think I have a budget to kill everything and start anew, especially since the lawn is rather large. I was hoping that the lawn could be restored by overseeding, but after reading some of the discussions here I am not sure anymore if this is the right thing to do. I also read that if more than 50% of the lawn is weeds, then there is practically no help. I am don't know how to find out what fraction of it is weed, but what I can say is it does not look pretty.

I would like to put some plan for lawn rehabilitation before the Spring (and budget for it), so I would appreciate any advice very much.

Posts: 61
Location: Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
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Read Paul's article on the subject.

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my yard was close to 100% weeds. Now it is mostly grass. In one season. I made some mistake along the way, but kept learning and finally understand pretty much what is going on.
One thing I had to realize is that the less expensive way is the labor intensive way. But the better way in the long run.


go to the "L" section and read those articles. Somewhere in there he will detail how to re-do your lawn organically. If you are going to plant cool temp grass, you will really, really, really (really!!) want to wait until after the summer heat breaks to sow it. I tried the spring last year and it was very hard. I fought it all summer to stay going. Then I seeded some areas to fill in this fall. Man was that a different story. Came up fast, filled in fast. Got established and is now happily dormant.

if you want to PM me and discuss the battles feel free.
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Where are you? Knowing that can help us give you advice.

Paul's article is a great resource. Definitely read it. For the super short version, he summarizes it in the beginning.

You also need to set some realistic expectations. If you don't have much money or time to improve it, its going to be slow going.

The easiest thing to do is, follow Paul's first two steps. Mow as high as you can (3-4 inches) and water only when absolutely necessary and deeply when you do.

When you mow, grass cycle. You can do this by using a mulching mower or leaving the clipping where they fall.

Second (optional) is to mow frequently. Ok this isn't cheap (assuming you have a gas or electric powered mower) or lazy. But by mowing when the weeds get taller than the grass. You damage them and give your grass an edge. If you can't or don't want to do this its fine, like I said set your expectations based on the time and money you can invest.

If you do have more time and money, explore the subsequent steps on Paul's list.

I personally, wouldn't follow much of the advice in articles Rich linked. After quickly reviewing them, they seem like organic practices, but not really permaculture. Its not that the advice is bad, much of it isn't consistent with the way we'd approach those problems here at this forum.

In Permaculture we look to nature to learn how it solves problems. By using those natural process, we work toward the goal of cultivating the things we need with little to no input. For those of us who have lawns, the goal is to have a lawn that needs no or little watering, no or little fertilizer and less frequent mowing. In the end, those lawns are green, consistent and even. Additionally they have few pest or disease problems and are drought resistant. From curbside they are beautiful, up close they are healthy and diverse (yes, that means some weeds).

Ok sorry for the permaculture speech. But this is a permaculture forum and I believe in this approach. As for lawn care part, I have used these practices at 2 other places I've lived and saw how well it can work. I say other places, because I recently bought a house and will be implementing these practices again. I inherited a wreck of a lawn.
Posts: 979
Location: Northern Zone, Costa Rica - 200 to 300 meters Tropical Humid Rainforest
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Perhaps we should start with what is the purpose of your lawn? My lawn is food for my sheep, and as a barrier to being in the jungle. When we cut it, we dump it over the fence to the sheep, who enjoy it. This means, no chemicals and only cutting it every two weeks but when we do, it is just about scalped. Now, we live in the tropics, and you will almost certainly do something different.

Do you have to care what the neighbors think? Do you need a place for children to play? Do you have too much lawn?

Maybe the best Rehab and to rethink its purpose. After all, most people with lawns don't have a horse they need to graze. (the original purpose of a lawn)
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Thanks everybody for great references and advice. Here is the list of actions that I plan to take based on your feedback. Please let me know if this makes sense.
1. Areate lawn in early Spring
2. Top dress lawn with 1" layer of compost immediately after areation (to attract more worms and help with compacted clay underneath topsoil).
3. Put gypsum to help with compacted clay (I am not sure about this one, advice appreciated)
4. Fertilize lawn with corn gluten (9-0-0) in April (to add some nitrogen and suppress germination of new weeds).
5. Mow high, 3" or more; water infrequently (per Paul's instruction)
6. Ferilize with Ringer in the fall.

I'll assess the progress in fall and see if there is an improvement. If there is no improvement in soil quality, I will seek different approach. If there is an improvement in soil quality (i.e. soil is well drained, no big puddles after rain), but there are still too many weeds, I will likely try overseeding. If there is visible improvement in lawn, I'll keep doing the same thing next year.

By the way, I am in Connecticut. My lawn has no special purpose (no sheep or horses to feed), but I live in a neighborhood where everyone has nice lawn in their front yards, so I need to do something about it because right now I am an odd guy there. I do plan to reduce the size of the lawn as much as possible by puting vegetable garden, planting trees, etc., but that is for another discussion.

I attach a couple of pictures of my lawn taken today, as a reference. I am really new at this and I appreciate any advice or criticism.
[Thumbnail for lawn1.jpg]
[Thumbnail for lawn2.jpg]
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