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Al Loria
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Location: New York
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Ok, go easy on me.  My first post and the first time I have needed to do anything to the lawn in 10 years or more.

Our front lawn which has a north exposure is in terrible shape.  This past winter left it with many bare spots.  I reseeded with Jonathan Green Shady Nooks because the Locust tree and Weeping Cherry have grown to where it is shaded most of the day when the trees are fully leaved.  The house blocks the morning sun too.  It is a small lawn, about 1,100 SF.  I fertilized with Jon Green organic fertilizer and added gypsum and Peat Moss.  The Ph was spot on, according to the test from the local nursery.  I added compost that was brewing in the back corner of our property for 20 years, unbeknownst to me that I would ever use it for anything other than a leaf dump, and aerated with strap on foot aerators.  The top two to four inches in most spots is loamy with it blending to clay under that.  I took a core sample today to check and the roots under the fescue that is tallest go down about 6 inches.

My neighbors are on their 2nd mowing of beautiful lawn.  My existing lawn, with the exception of the new seeded areas and the small amount of Fescue that is about 6 inches long won't look like it needs a mow until another 6 weeks at this rate.

We also have 4 small dogs that use it for play and poop. 

So, do I wait the two to three years for a nice lawn , do something extra now, or do it all new in the fall. 

Any help would be appreciated.  And Paul, I have read most of your writings, and am trying to attain the lazy man's lawn.
 
Al Loria
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Location: New York
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I also need some suggestions as to whether or not I should plant other things on the slope in the lawn that gets little sun and is mostly bare, except for the weeds.  It gets shade most of the day because of the locust tree and Forsythia that is between my neighbor and me.  It is a west facing slope.

Also any thoughts on planting clover and such on the bare spots on the lawn would be appreciated.

We are in New York.  If I remember correctly, zone 6.  Yup, just checked, it is zone 6.
 
Al Loria
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An update for the lawn.  Today I put on Humates. I used the Jonathan Green granular, which looks like tiny bits of crushed red-stone or brown coal.  On a Wiki search it is sometimes called brown coal.  Basically it is fossilized organic matter which is apparently mined.  40 bucks for 50 pounds. Ouch! We will see if this adds any benefit down the road.

I am next going to try the post hole treatment.  The clay in some spots is very close to the surface, and it is visible after this heavy rain. I don't want to tear the lawn up in the fall and add topsoil and reseed.  Too expensive and I am willing to wait, as long as these remedies will do the trick.  Also, being thickheaded and cheap in this instance, helps....
 
paul wheaton
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If my memory is accurate, I think tall fescue is the best shade grass.

The strap on foot aerators are of dubious value.  Think about how they sorta compress the soil as they go in - it isn't like the bull a core out.

How high have you been mowing?

How does your soil look?

Can you upload pics?

 
Al Loria
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Thanks Paul.  Most of the mix I used to reseed is Fescue.  Some tall, some fine.  Actually I am looking at the bag now and it is 60% Fescues with 20% Perennial Rye and 20% Poa Trivialis.  This is what I used to reseed the bare spots and over-seed with.  I did not read your opinion on over-seeding until after it was done.

I found out about the foot aerators just the other day not being worth much because of the compression problem.

I was one of those low mowing types and would set the mower to its lowest setting.  I know, bad move.  The back lawn which is growing well had its first cut this past Sunday and after sharpening the blade, I set the mower to its highest setting.  I didn't measure, but it is above 3 inches, easily.  The mower will remain at this height for the remainder.

The soil is deceiving.  In spots where the grass has not filled in from last year it goes from about 2 inches in depth to no topsoil at all and clay is exposed in areas of 6 inches to a foot in diameter.  This is in the center of the lawn and it looks like a bad variety of Bluegrass is what is growing there, and this is the spot that gets most of the sun. The edges also have compacted clay.   Right now the grass is about an inch tall in the spots that are growing in bad soil. The areas under 8 inch tall Fescue have at least 4 inches of top soil under them.   These patches are about 2 or 3 feet in diameter and maybe 5 or 6 of them. Every day I see new patches coming up of the old established grass in the bad areas that appears as if it was totally under the surface and is now coming up.  This lawn has always had a problem of being slow to recover and the bare spots usually fill in by the end of June.  The only previous amendments were occasional lime applications.  No fertilizer.  This year I used organic fertilizer, my own compost, and added Humates this past Sunday.   A nursery soil test had the Ph in the perfect range.  This year the winter had really beat it up and the soil seems to have eroded badly, so I am uncertain of its recovery. 

Also, there are small patches of Clover, Dandelions and Plantains.  There is a a small slope on the west side that is primarily bare due to Forsythia between my neighbor and myself and it gets shade from a large Locust tree.

If you think I can repair the soil by the post hole method or some other rather than tearing it up in the fall and bringing in topsoil and starting all over, I am open for any suggestions.  Patience is not a problem.  I am willing to wait a few years to get this right and sustainable.  If you think Ringers Lawn Restore is needed as the fertilizer I should be using, I will manage to get it.

The goal is to have this lawn be a play area for our dogs and be able to sit outside at night on it in the summer.

Like I said, I am open to any and all suggestions, including adding Clover or any other plants that would be beneficial.  The lawn does not have to be a showpiece.  The more natural look would be fine.  We live in the upper reaches of suburbia, commonly called living in the country. 

I hope this gives you enough to go on and I hope I didn't bore you to death with my ignorance.  Might be more info than you wanted to know, but I am serious about doing it, and doing it correctly.

I will try to post pics ASAP.   I'm sure my son can figure out how to.


Thanks,
Al




 
paul wheaton
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Al Loria
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paul wheaton wrote:
If you dig a hole two feet deep what do you find?


Two feet down is nothing but clay and occasional the fill rocks.
 
paul wheaton
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So for the first two feet is awesome, excellent soil, and then after that is the clay and rocks?
 
Al Loria
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paul wheaton wrote:
So for the first two feet is awesome, excellent soil, and then after that is the clay and rocks?



Paul, maybe I misunderstood the question of what is found two feet down.  It is clay immediately under the limited topsoil and the same two feet down.  In some areas the topsoil is approx. four inches thick.  that is where the clumps of Fescue are growing well.  In most of the other places the topsoil is only about an inch thick. Growth is very slow and spotty. The clay that is under the topsoil is compacted, but surprisingly not too difficult to dig into.  It has been damp and that may be why it is softer.  I have had bare places in years past that a small rototiller could not cut into.  It was like concrete.

In essence, I have New York clay fill with small stones and some larger rocks.  Any topsoil that I had has eroded away.  Can I save the lawn or should I add other flora to enhance the soil and make it less of a lawn.  I am seeing the benefit of having less lawn.  The only consideration is our dogs love to be out there and it has to be workable toward their enjoyment as well as ours.

I am hoping to get the pics up soon.  Then you will have a clearer picture.  I have been way busy with the slope restoration and now a blown water heater.

By the way, I received Gaia's Garden yesterday.  Read the intro last night and it looks like there is plenty to learn.  I like Toby's attitude about Permaculture very much.  Almost reminds me of a magazine I used to subscribe to years ago called "The Backwoodsman.
 
Al Loria
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Here are the lawn pics
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Al Loria
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Northeast Al wrote:
Here are the lawn pics


More...
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Al Loria
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Northeast Al wrote:
Here are the lawn pics


Some more...
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I would core aerate and slit seed it. Water gernerously for 2 weeks ( 30 minutes twice a day) and apply a good organic fertilizer
 
Al Loria
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Northeast Al wrote:
Some more...


Ok here they are.  Sorry for the delay in describing them, but a picture is worth a thousand words.

1st is the center of the front lawn.  2nd is L.J. wondering why daddy has such a nasty lawn. 3rd is from the walkway looking west.  4th is a low shot indicating the fescue that is growing well.  6th is the rut where our Jack Russell Terrier chases dogs and people in the street by the fence.

It has not been mowed yet.  I am waiting for the reseeding I did to fully grow and the center of the lawn to fill in somewhat.  As you can see, I need plenty of help.
 
Al Loria
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buddy110 wrote:
I would core aerate and slit seed it. Water gernerously for 2 weeks ( 30 minutes twice a day) and apply a good organic fertilizer


Thanks Buddy.  I did use an organic fertilizer(Jonathan Green) about 5 weeks ago, spread compost, used those goofy aerator shoe attachments (useless from what I've heard), added Humates and sowed some of the left over Red and Dutch white clover from my slope repair project.

Will have to think about the core aeration.  Might do the post hole worm attractor pit first.  It rained heavily Monday and some T-storms yesterday.  Can't believe the clover has germinated in 2 days.  The lawn did benefit as well.  Mine has always been the last to fill in and grow of all my neighbors, but this year it has been the worst.  Funny thing is, where it is growing, it is the greenest lawn in the neighborhood.  Always has been.  I will do some selective mowing to hit the high areas.
 
paul wheaton
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I'd like you to dig a hole and post a picture of the side of the hole. 

I would also go ahead and mow now. 

I would not aerate.

 
Al Loria
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paul wheaton wrote:
I'd like you to dig a hole and post a picture of the side of the hole. 

I would also go ahead and mow now. 

I would not aerate.




Paul,  I did mow this past weekend.  As soon as it stops raining here I will get that hole dug and a pic up on the board.
 
Al Loria
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paul wheaton wrote:
I'd like you to dig a hole and post a picture of the side of the hole. 

I would also go ahead and mow now. 

I would not aerate.




Here are pics of the hole we dug in the lawn. We also decided to create a worm pit with it.

The hole is about 18 inches deep.
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Al Loria
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The stuff in my hand are humates.

Dirt from the hole and compost.
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Al Loria
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Filling the worm pit.

Topping off the worm pit.
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Al Loria
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Finished worm pit. We put in half the original soil, compost, leaf mulch and twigs.
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paul wheaton
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The fact that you can dig a hole that deep shows how lucky you are soil wise. 

But yes, your top soil is awful!

I think the worm pits is gonna be the big fix for you.  Not many people have tried my crazy idea - but the few that have, have reported excellent results.

 
Al Loria
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paul wheaton wrote:
The fact that you can dig a hole that deep shows how lucky you are soil wise. 

But yes, your top soil is awful!

I think the worm pits is gonna be the big fix for you.  Not many people have tried my crazy idea - but the few that have, have reported excellent results.




Paul, it's not a crazy idea if it works.  I'm planning to continue the worm pits using a post-hole digger.  Lots of work, but the lawn is small and I can do it in a couple of sessions.

If this really works, it has to be better than starting a new lawn.  I will post pics during the growing season, even though the results may take longer to be realized.

I mowed tonight, High, and the lawn looks better just because of all the rain we've had, and maybe the organic fertilizer is kicking in too.  The thing I can't figure out is that my lawn is greener than all my neighbor's.  Might be the type of grass, though.

Thanks again,
Al
 
                                  
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Organic fert takes a little while but when it kicks in it will make your lawn greener than any chemical fert. 
 
Scott Reil
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I like buddy's regimen, but in the fall when weed competition is at it's lowest...

Compost topdressing I would do now; even out the lawn surface and start getting some humus in that surface zone. Core aerate now before the hots hit, topdress, and wait until fall for slit seeding...

WHAT topsoil? I saw little evidence of ANY...

HG

 
                          
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How many dogs do you have?
 
Al Loria
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Scott Reil wrote:
I like buddy's regimen, but in the fall when weed competition is at it's lowest...

Compost topdressing I would do now; even out the lawn surface and start getting some humus in that surface zone. Core aerate now before the hots hit, topdress, and wait until fall for slit seeding...

WHAT topsoil? I saw little evidence of ANY...

HG





Scott, you are right about no topsoil.  I took those shots from the worst area I could find.  In some spots there are 2-4 inches of topsoil, but this was the worst eroded area I have.  It is quite a large area in relation to the overall size of this small lawn.

I did use the organic fertilizer over 6 weeks ago and will not do it again until fall.  At that point I will make the choice of reseed or start over.  So far, it is filling in and very green.

I have put in 4 worm pits already.  Had to do the other parts of the yard over the weekend and only worked on the pits at night after work.  I figure I have two solid days to get the pits dug and filled and it should bring some results by fall.  I have been seeing worms on the property yesterday and today as the soil is finally warming.  At least I know they are there.
 
Al Loria
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Hank wrote:
How many dogs do you have?


Four small dogs.
 
Al Loria
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Scott Reil wrote:
I like buddy's regimen, but in the fall when weed competition is at it's lowest...

Compost topdressing I would do now; even out the lawn surface and start getting some humus in that surface zone. Core aerate now before the hots hit, topdress, and wait until fall for slit seeding...

WHAT topsoil? I saw little evidence of ANY...

HG

Scott, I forgot to tell you I did do a dressing of compost a month or so back.  Does it need to be done again?


Al


 
Scott Reil
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Yeah, I thought it looked a little darker in the root zone... but yeah, that particular area could use some more organic matter for sure, and compost has that plus biology. The increased root zone from all the above will green up that grass even better than it is now (which isn't bad at all; lot greener than last year I bet...)

S
 
                          
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Two points with dogs,
1, when dogs walk or run, they twist their feet at the end of their stride, its the way their legs work. So even small dogs will rip and tear a lawn over an amazingly short time. And I am seeing trails along the fence and at the gate in your photos.
2, my experiance over 30 years being the head gardener at a 21 acre senior living center that allows dogs (they really do extend a persons life span!), has shown me that dog manure and urine will damage a lawn.  Bare spots where the manure and urine is too concentrated and heavy growth where it's diluted. And again, I am seeing bare spots and heavy growth in your photos.
I'm not saying you dont have other problems as well, just dont discount the damage 4 small dogs can do to a lawn, I've seen it and been amazed at how quicklly it can happen.
Hank
 
Al Loria
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The biggest obstacle may be the dogs, Hank.  Two of them also like to dig and eat the soil.  They usually keep it confined to one or two small spots.  I'm not too concerned about having the perfect lawn, as long as it is presentable.  The run rut is from our Jack Russell Terrier.  Crazy dog!  The rut is filling in slowly, as it always does, and by September it should almost be filled in.


 
Al Loria
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I will do another compost spread tomorrow, if the rain stops.  The grass is definitely greener this year, and it looks like the bare spots are filling in more quickly than ever before.  Besides the frequent rain, we are getting more sun on the lawn because of the absence of a huge lower limb we removed from the Honey Locust this year.

All in all, no complaints with the progress so far.  The worm pits should do their magic for a few years to come, and I want to work on lessening the size of the lawn anyway.  We took out a part on one side of the walkway and did an evergreen garden a number of years back and that is doing very well.  I did not take a pic of that side.  Also, in front of the evergreens, we have a Weeping Cherry.  I was thinking of a Pagoda Dogwood for the middle of the lawn, right next to the hole I dug.  More trees, shrubs, flowers and less lawn is a great way to a lazy man's lawn.

Thanks again, Scott.


Al
 
paul wheaton
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Wow - digging them by hand.  That does sound like a lot of work.

I just remember digging something like 60 post holes in about 40 minutes with a two man post hole digger.  I would guess that renting it for a half day would be about $60.  And you would be all done in about 40 minutes.  Then filling the holes back in could take some time.



 
Al Loria
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I thought I would try digging the holes by hand first with the manual post hole digger.  WHAT WAS I THINKING?  I like your post hole digger idea better, Paul. 

Just picked up a four year old Fig tree this morning.  Debating whether to plant it or leave it in the bucket and bring it inside for winter. 



Al
 
Scott Reil
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Hello?

NORTHEAST al?  In the bucket with the fig...

S
 
Al Loria
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Scott Reil wrote:
Hello?

NORTHEAST al?  In the bucket with the fig...

S


Scott,  I'm looking at your post and can't make heads or tails of it.  Am I missing something?  Or are you telling me I should leave the Fig tree in the bucket?


Al
 
                                  
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Ok what the heck is a worm pit, and how does it work? ops:
 
Al Loria
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buddy110 wrote:
Ok what the heck is a worm pit, and how does it work? ops:


Buddy,

It is Paul W's idea.  Here is his link for Organic lawn care for the Cheap and Lazy  http://www.richsoil.com/lawn-care.jsp

The worm pit is where you dig holes using a post hole digger in the lawn, and fill it back with half the original soil and add leaves, twigs, compost, and topsoil mixed together.  Then you can either replace the grass hat you took off or sprinkle seed on top.  The worms should come in and help to aerate your lawn.  In theory, it sounds like it should work.  Beats the heck out of tearing it up and starting over.


Al

 
Scott Reil
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Yea, verily Al; those of us in the Northeast should keep our figs in buckets to move indoors or learn to do the Tip, which is a little iffy in my book. Do the bucket...

S
 
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