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newbie questions: overseeding, black walnut

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We're new to lawn care and are trying to learn as much as possible -- and came across this amazing site.  So first, thank you!  It's been a great help, and now I have a couple further questions!

We live in the Boston area and just bought a home in late fall.  Our lawn is fairly new (2 yrs) but did not receive the best care from the previous owners.  The grass was not mowed for a few months over the summer/fall and grew 8-10 inches was then cut down to about 2 inches in one mowing. Now, after the winter, the lawn currently looks quite thin in some areas, straw colored and limp in many areas, and the roots extremely shallow everywhere. 

First, what kind of "spring cleaning" should we do?  We live near lots of big trees so there are lots of little twigs and a some remnant leaves on the ground -- is it important to remove these for any reason other than cosmetic?  Also, should we do any type of dethatching/raking out the lawn?  (I was thinking NO, b/c the existing roots are so shallow/weak.  But maybe all the limp straw colored grass is already dead anyway, and need to be removed?  There doesn't appear to be much "thatch" in the lawn itself.)

Other than mowing and watering correctly, what's our best move in terms of strengthening the lawn (without spending gobs of money)?  In terms of goals, we don’t need a quick fix.  It won’t bother us if our lawn is not looking great this summer, and we aren't perfectionists.  Our soil looks deep enough in most areas (oddly enough, one area is very shallow -- about 1 inch!).  I do plan to soil test and top dress with a little compost, and maybe try corn gluten meal in the spring and fertilize again in the fall.  But would overseeding make sense at all in this situation (in which case we wouldn't use CGM)?  

One particular area of the lawn is super-thin (I’d say more than 50-60% bare).  This is near a black walnut tree.  So it’s probably a combination of the shade, the juglone from the walnut, and the shock treatment to the lawn that killed off the grass.  But it’s unclear to me what to do here – overseed (and if so, should we wait until fall?), try to start from scratch, or try something other than grass?  We don’t want to spend a ton of money on lawn if it just isn’t going to survive there, and we’re willing to take things slowly (it doesn’t have to look great in one year). 

Thanks for any advice!
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Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
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I would pick up the twigs and start a compost pile with them.

I wouldn't worry about dethatching the lawn.

Raking is a bit of a toss.  On the one hand, the remaining leaves will smother the grass.  On the other hand, if you mow with a power mower, it will get those out of there when you mow.

I would say that with the right mowing and watering, you're going to make a really huge improvement.  If you want to do a little more, fertilize.  If you want to do a little more than that - test your pH (and possibly adjust your pH).

I would NOT buy commercial compost.  I've ranted about that several times on these threads in the past.

I would  NOT get the corn gluten stuff.  I've ranted about that in the past too.

I would NOT overseed.  Another rant from the past.

As for the walnut:  I would wait a year or two and see how it does with your new care.

I hope this helps!

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Spring cleaning amounts to whatever you want to do to make it look good out thetre. There is no formula for it.

Dethatching a lawn is seldom really needed and come mainly from over fertilization.

I would have a soil test done and see what nutrients the soil REALLY needs rather than guessing, and go from their.

Proper PH and a fert application a couple of times a year can keep a lawn looking reasonably well and reasonably weed free with proper mowing heights.(above 3 inches for cool season grasses)

It all depends on what kind of lawn you are looking for.

We've got a walnut tree in our back yard, and it doesn't effect the lawn to any extent that is visible, the shade is probably more of an issue, but you should clean up the walnuts when they fall.
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Thank you to both of you!  This was exactly what I needed to hear and in line with my intended plan.  Slow and steady wins the race, right?
Thanks again!
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