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New House, New Beat Up Lawn

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I just moved to a new house in Eastern Mass. We have a front yard which is around a .30 of an acre and a postage stamp of a back yard. We would like to care for them both, not only organically but as naturally as possible as well (little outside intervention besides mowing. Fertilizing and watering only if needed). I have read Paul's article, which was very helpful and a lot of this forum, however the lawn we inherited is in pretty bad shape. The grass is pretty bare, and there are lots of weeds (mostly clover, in fact parts of the back yard have little grass and mostly clover). The soil seems okay, I can put a shovel fully in without too much effort and both lawns get plenty of sun. I have not had the soil tested but am considering sending samples to UMass. I assume the folks before us just landscapers cut it short once a week and did little else.

My question are:

Is following Paul's advice enough to get my lawn to grow thicker and healthier (i.e. mowing long and watering deep)? Or should I begin to rebuild the turf quality by fertilizing?

Is it too late to fertilize in New England? If not what schedule should I follow? What kind should I use?

Do really bare sections (mostly dirt and weeds, just a smattering of grass here and there) need seeding in the fall?

My lawn does not need to be perfect, however, I would like it to be thicker and healthier. Obviously with a front yard aesthetics play a part, but we also have kids and want them to be able to enjoy a nice thick lawn to play in.

Any advice would be great, I am very new to this!

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Location: Midlands, South Carolina Zone 7b/8a
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Since you have children that need a play area you are going to need something tough that can stand up to the traffic. I do believe that any long term solutions are going to come from following Paul’s lawn care guide.
There are short term solutions that will make a green grass carpet but those are usually fragile and not long lasting.

Fertilizer: I really don’t know what is considered too late in Ohio – maybe someone else can answer that one? I use a weak compost tea and just fertilize regularly – but my lawn is also mixed green plants (different grasses and clovers) so I’m not sure if that would work the same for you.

Also, if you leave the ‘weeds’ and just keep mowing everything the same height you should always have something green underfoot that is tough enough to withstand daily traffic.

Please keep us posted on how your lawn turns out.

You can see pictures of parts of my lawn areas on the link below my post.
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It is not too late if you want to use an organic fertilizer. It is too late to use chemicals.

Fall is the time to renovate. Now would be a good time to learn the practice of good lawn care. I have a three-step outline for new people which expands a little on what Mr Wheaton states and even differs on some ideas. Here it is.

Basics of Lawn Care

After reading numerous books and magazines on lawn care, caring for lawns at seven houses in my life, and reading numerous forums where real people write in to discuss their successes and failures, I have decided to side with the real people and dispense with the book and magazine authors. I don't know what star their planet rotates around but it's not mine. With that in mind, here is the collected wisdom of the Internet savvy homeowners and lawn care professionals summarized in a few words. If you follow the advice here you will have conquered at least 50% of all lawn problems. Once you have these three elements mastered, then you can worry about weeds (if you have any), dog spots, and striping your lawn. But if you are not doing these three things, they will be the first three things suggested for you to correct.

Water deeply and infrequently. Deeply means at least an inch in every zone, all at once. Infrequently means monthly during the cool months and no more than weekly during the hottest part of summer. Do not spread this out and water for 10 minutes every day. If your grass looks dry before the month/week is up, water longer next time. If that does not work, then you might have to water more than once per week during the summer's hottest period. Deep watering grows deep, drought resistant roots. Infrequent watering allows the top layer of soil to dry completely which kills off many shallow rooted weeds.

You will have to learn to judge when to water your own lawn. If you live in Las Vegas your watering will be different than if you live in Vermont. Adjust your watering to your type of grass, humidity, wind, and soil type. It is worth noting that this technique is used successfully by professionals in Phoenix, so...just sayin.' The other factors make a difference. If you normally water 1 inch per week and you get 1/2 inch of rain, then adjust and water only 1/2 inch that week.

Every week mulch mow at the highest setting on your mower. Most grasses are the most dense when mowed tall. However, bermuda, centipede, and bent grasses will become the most dense when they are mowed at the lowest setting on your mower. In fact there are special mowers that can mow these grasses down to 1/16 inch. Dense grass shades out weeds, keeps the soil cooler, and uses less water than thin grass. Tall grass can feed the deep roots you developed in #1 above. Tall grass does not grow faster than short grass nor does it look shaggy sooner. Once all your grass is at the same height, tall grass just looks plush.

Fertilize regularly. I fertilize 5 times per year using organic fertilizer. Which fertilizer you use is much less important than numbers 1 and 2 above. Follow the directions on the bag and do not overdo it. Too little is better than too much. At this point you do not have to worry about weed and feed products - remember at this point you are just trying to grow grass, not perfect it. Besides once you are doing these three things correctly, your weed problems should go away without herbicide.

Having said that, I have never used a real organic fertilizer. What I am using this season is alfalfa pellets (rabbit chow) from the feed store. Apply at 20 pounds per 1,000 square feet as often as you can afford it. Three times is probably minimum.

Get me the mayor's office! I need to tell him about this tiny ad:
Heat your home with the twigs that naturally fall of the trees in your yard
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