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Help my loser lawn please :-)  RSS feed

 
                          
Posts: 16
Location: Dover, DE
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Egads, my lawn sucks. Here's the deal, we live in military base housing in Delaware. The house itself isn't so bad. The military just recently got out of the business of actually providing the housing and farmed that part out to a private entity. We have a small, fenced-in back yard that we have to keep maintained on our own. No big deal. I don't know what the deal was with the previous owners, but I can tell you they weren't regular members of the permaculture forums! They left us a horrible lawn.

The back of our house faces towards the south west. Most of the lawn that is near the back side of the fence is absolutely covered in a thick mat of what looks like (to my untrained eye) clover. This clover carpet might be able to support my body weight it's so thick. The rest of the lawn is a pitiful mishmash of dirt speckled with a few scraggly grass blades and some little bushy looking things here and there. It's a mess and I'm yearning for a nice lush green mat of grass. I don't even mind a few dandelions here and there (we had maybe 10 in the entire yard this year so that's not an issue) and I'm perfectly okay with clovers and lots of other stuff as long as I've got big piles of green under my feet and as long as I don't have to worry about my kids rolling around in harsh chemicals.

I did read the lawn care for the cheap and lazy (twice). Where I'm a little stuck is what to start doing right now. I'm assuming I've missed the boat on the spring fertilizing and/or adding a layer of compost. But maybe I'm wrong. I did take one step in the right direction, I ordered a Toro 20360 cordless electric mower which has a cutting height that goes up to 4". So other than getting out there and mowing at 4" a couple of times per week, what else should I be doing?

Do you need pictures? Shall I dig a hole to let you see my soil? I'll do whatever it is I should be doing, but I'm just not exactly sure what that is. Help!
 
                          
Posts: 16
Location: Dover, DE
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Well I got my Toro 20360 e-cycler today. I plugged it in after I got it this morning (bought it from amazon, can't beat no tax and no shipping charges!) and by the time the kids were in bed, it was charged up and ready to go. I set it up to 4" of course, and headed out back. It's definitely a tank of a mower. It is very sturdy, much more sturdy than any other mower I've ever used. It felt good. I turned it on and it reminded me more of the sound of an electric weed eater than a lawn mower. As I was mowing, it occurred to me that I could hear myself think. Then I realized that I could smell what I was cutting and not the nasty exhaust of the mower! I fell into a zen-like mowing-induce trance and loved doing the job. I helped that I didn't have to stop every few feet to let the mower chew up 3 to 5" of grass that had gotten clogged underneath like my previous mowing experiences (back in my mow low days  :roll.

Anyhow, it was a very pleasant experience and a truly outstanding mower. I highly recommend it! I'll copy this on over to the mowers thread in case this mower hasn't been brought up yet.

Still hoping to get some guidance about what to do with my yard, though. Where there isn't clover, there are these little white ball-shaped flowers, and where there aren't those, there is dirt. Help!
 
                          
Posts: 16
Location: Dover, DE
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Anyone?
 
Al Loria
Posts: 395
Location: New York
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I'm new to the forum myself, and not to familiar yet with the best way to get your lawn in shape, but I can tell you what I did with ours so far.

Ours was in bad shape after a harsh New York winter.  We have four small dogs so we did not want to use any chemicals on the lawn.  Up till this point I had only limed occasionally.  The first thing I did was to go to the local nursery, had them check the PH, and ask what organics I could use, and what kind of seed.  We get a lot of shade on the front lawn and bought shade Fescues for the reseeding.  I put down the organic fertilizer, which won't begin to work for many weeks until microbes can get to eating and digesting it to turn it into grass fertilizer.  The ground here hasn't warmed up enough for that to really get going yet, plus I don't know the state of the biologicals in our lawn at this point anyway.  Next I put a layer of compost from my own pile that had been stewing in a corner of our property for about 20 years.  It was always used as a leaf and weed dump and I didn't know it was loaded with compost till I remembered I had it and moved aside the top leaves.  Then I went out and purchased and spread Humates to jump start the biologics in the ground.  I also added white and red Clover seed.  I also now spread all our used coffee grounds on the lawn for added nitrogen.  All of this is the stuff I learned here and in Lawn Care for the Cheap and Lazy.

One more thing I am going to try is the worm pit, as soon as I get a handle on the other projects.  I had never even heard the word, Permaculture, until I came here. And now I am very interested (hooked) in getting our property to that state of sustainability. 

I think if you post some pics of the lawn it would give everyone a better idea of your particular situation.  Another thing I did was to purchase the book Gaia's Garden.  I bought it through the link at the bottom of this thread page.  Besides being a wealth of information, it is also a very good read.

Good luck with the lawn.  Ours is actually starting to look better and I am hopeful of the long term prospects.

 
paul wheaton
master steward
Posts: 22367
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
bee chicken hugelkultur trees wofati woodworking
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Pictures would be good.

Sorry for the delay - usually some of the other folks chime in here, but I think their interests may have drifted away from lawns. 

Those little white flowers are clover blossoms.

If it were me, I would probably just mow it once in a while and be done with it.  I think a clover turf is kinda cool.  Once in a while I like to search for four leaf clovers.  One time I found a five leaf clover.

But send some pics so we can see what you have.

 
                          
Posts: 16
Location: Dover, DE
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Here are some pictures. I'm okay with clovers and clover flowers. I'd just like to have more grass than clover is all.
















 
paul wheaton
master steward
Posts: 22367
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
bee chicken hugelkultur trees wofati woodworking
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The blossoms are definitely clover blossoms. 

Since you are on a military base, I would guess that it is possible that you probably are willing to shell out money and effort for shorter term results - cuz you might get moved before getting to see the longer term (lazier/cheaper) results.

Here is what I would do:

1) dig a hole about a foot deep and get a good look at the soil.  (send me a pic or two)

2) pick the crappiest spot and dig three holes about two inches deep and put a spoonful of soil in a ziplock back (mix all samples together) and send it off to a lab for a test. 

3) lay down some ringer fertilizer

Once we have a peek at the hole, I might have more to say. 

And once we have a peek at that soil test, I might have even more to say.





 
                          
Posts: 16
Location: Dover, DE
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Hole pics 











That's a smattering of dirt on top, maybe a 1/4" with sand all the rest of the way down. Yikes!
 
paul wheaton
master steward
Posts: 22367
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
bee chicken hugelkultur trees wofati woodworking
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Was the hole easy to dig?  How long did it take?  What does the soil feel like?  Sandy?  Clay?

So far it looks like it should be pretty decent.  That makes me think that the real info is going to be in the soil test.
 
                          
Posts: 16
Location: Dover, DE
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paul wheaton wrote:
Was the hole easy to dig?  How long did it take?  What does the soil feel like?  Sandy?  Clay?


Below about 1/4" to 1/2" the soil is pure sand. It's compacted beach sand which makes sense since we're only a few miles from the shore. It definitely wasn't the most difficult hole I've ever had to dig. I can push the shovel down into the ground by standing on it and maybe giving a light bounce or two. There are a few bigger rocks (1" to 3" but not all that many.

[quote author=paul wheaton]So far it looks like it should be pretty decent.  That makes me think that the real info is going to be in the soil test.
And thus the reason I'm writing. I finally (finally!) got the soil test results back. I'll just quote them to you as I really don't know what they mean.

pH 6.9 which they score as just shy of optimum
Phosphorus 23 which scores low
Potassium 52 which scores medium
Magnesium 101 which scores a smidge higher than optimum.
Calcium 70 which scores good.

Then they have a line of results that I'll just spew in case it means anything worthwhile to you.

lbs/acre
- B: 1.8
- Mn: 81.7
- Zn 4.4
- SO4-S34.4

%Organic Matter: 0.8

SOL. Salts MMHOS/CM: 0.11

Buffer pH 7.91

% Phosphorus Saturation: 10.0

CEC meq/100gm: 5.6

% Base Saturation: 87.1

Enclosures: 1, 8, 9

They suggest a fertilizing program of 5lbs 20-27-5 or equiv per 1000 sq ft between Aug 15 and Oct 1 and 3lbs 30-0-5 per 1000 sq ft between 1 Oct and 15 Nov.

We went ahead a few weeks ago and put down some organic fertilizer. Nothing special, just Scott's I think, or whatever it was that they had in stock at Lowes.

Given all that, what should I be doing? I'm all ears.
 
                          
Posts: 16
Location: Dover, DE
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bump
 
Jan Sebastian Dunkelheit
Posts: 201
Location: Germany/Cologne - Finland/Savonlinna
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I would seed clover all over the place. It's okay to step on and seems to be doing just fine, thanks to the taproot, in your dry sand soil. Just watch out and don't stamp on bees.

It would take a couple of years to make an okay-podsole out of this bare sand. Having a lawn right now seems out of the question. Or what does the rest of the people think here?
 
Joel Hollingsworth
pollinator
Posts: 2103
Location: Oakland, CA
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Is there an especially low-feeding sort of turf grass? If we come up with one, maybe seeding this very sparsely alongside the clover, and mowing high and often, would allow a natural succession to occur.
 
                                            
Posts: 3
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Hello, Its very sad to hear about your lawn. The hard work u did not get  good results. In my opinion you must use natural fertilizers rather than chemical as they have harmful effects. You must also better seeds and do organic farming. 
 
Delilah Gill
Posts: 35
Location: Southern Georgia
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You can use the clover as a ground cover to prevent erosion for the time being. The white clover is a species that doesn't get very tall either. Ever consider having a backyard of clover and forget the grass? Clover can be tilled under in the spring to use as a "green" manure to improve your soil. Every state has a Cooperative Extension Service run through the State universities. They can give you soil test results for free or at a nominal cost.
In your area, if you insist on grass (why? high maintenance, high water use and fertilizer requirements) fescue is about the only type that can take the cold temperatures. There are several varieties to pick from, again ask your local Cooperative Extension service agent.
I would encourage you to add compost to the soil and then grow a ground cover that is low maintenance unless you really like mowing. There are many low maintenance plants to pick from.
 
Jason Long
Posts: 153
Location: Davie, Fl
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I agree with seeding a bunch of clover over the rest of your lawn. If you were to ask me, you're sitting on a gold mine

I LOVE eating clover flowers, mmmmmMMmMm! Especially lovely red clovers. Pop one into your mouth, give it a chew, and a burst of sweet "honey" comes out of the tasty little flower.

Great ground cover, white clover doesn't get too tall (I still prefer red), living mulch, food, nitrogen fixer, food for bees, and a nice soft spot to lay on. Can't beat that!
 
                                
Posts: 2
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clover is good in that it will fix nitrogen, an important nutrient needed. On such a sandy soil it will be difficult to grow normal grass. The sand does not hold the moisture, Notice lawn seems better near the drain spout where some moisture accumulates. Even the clover seems better along the shade of the fence. Sand can be improved by adding organic matter and even some clay as both of these materials will hold onto moisture longer than sand.

Also check in your area for grass varieties that are more tolerant of poor soil and sandy conditions. Some types will have deep roots that will be able to draw what little moisture there is in sandy soils. Often though they are not as fine bladed as regular turf grasses.
 
            
Posts: 10
Location: St. Paul, MN (Zone 4)
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I also say go for clover, it's softer than other full sun groundcovers and won't need a lot of nutrients.  Also....if you are watering, don't do it for more than 20-30 minutes since it's running right through that sandy soil.
 
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