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New home, replacing weed-choked lawn with something kid-friendly

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I'm a beginning gardener and have been reading up on permaculture, but am new to it as well. I just moved into a new (old) home in Portland, OR, which has very dense clay soil and a weed-choked lawn. The previous owner poisoned all the weeds, but they just sprang right back up. We're converting much of the lawn to garden space by sheet mulching this fall, however we have young kids and want to give them a space to run around and play with the dogs.

Do you have any advice for how to tackle a project like this, and what to replace the grass with? We like the idea of meadow grass, but aren't sure if we need to deal with the existing weeds first (dandelion and hawkweed mostly, which seems to be a losing battle no matter how much time I've spent killing my back to pull them all by hand).

If anyone has any advice or books / videos on where to get started, it would be greatly appreciated!
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Hi Zac. You'll want to read Paul's article on lawn care. It covers everything you're talking about.

In short, there are a number of ways to handle lawncare. A permacultural approach will involve choosing lawn plant species that are better-suited to where you're growing them than the "weeds" you wish to control, such that what you want will out-compete what you don't want. In addition, it involves combining a number of suitable plants to simulate an ecosystem of sorts, where all the biological actors are in play, so your lawn manages itself like a meadow might.

You might be surprised that many among us prize dandelions as breakers-up of hardpan and deep miners of soil minerals and nutrients, as well as one of the earliest foods available for pollinators. Oftentimes, non-grass plants that are targeted by commercial poisons actually find their ways into our lawns to fix problems with the soil system there. As long as the plants involved aren't prickly or poisonous, or a medical hazard like poisons oak, ivy, and giant hogweed, to mention a few, they are not only usually fixing a problem, but also taking up a space that could otherwise be occupied by something worse. In that, close-cut grass is at a severe disadvantage, as it is often mowed too closely, exposing the soil seedbank to the sun it needs to germinate and obviating the possibility of shading anything out.

But have a good read, let us know what you think, and good luck. There are many knowledgeable and experienced people on this site that love to help.

Zac Halbert
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This is awesome — thanks so much for the detailed post and link! This is exactly what I was hoping for.
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