My wife and I just bought a house this summer (in NY) and the lawn is a mess-- there's a massive patch of crabgrass on the front lawn and the back lawn is is mix of crabgrass patches, bare spots, and clover. There's some actual turf grass, but the lawn as a whole looks like it's on the ropes.
I've started mowing high (3.5 inches), but other than that where do I start?
With autumn coming around the corner what should I do at this point to try and salvage the lawn?
Next, develop patience if you do not already have an abundance of it. If you are looking to go organic, and that is what all of agree is the best approach, you will have to consider it taking a longer time to get that lawn into pristine condition than if you had used chemicals. Chemical lawns are dependent on continued use of chemicals and destroy the soil food web, contaminate water supplies, and kill all the living critters in there, not to mention they are dangerous to your family and pets.
Having said that, it would be wise to read Paul's article and start from there. Assess what you have and allow a few years for the total makeover of your lawn. You may also want to consider making your lawn smaller and maybe using ground cover instead of grass for that area.
As you look further into the Permaculture forums you will get a better Idea of what you might want to plan for your lawn are in the future. My lawn started off really well in the spring, and as a fellow New Yorker the hot and dry summer ruined it. Now that fall is upon us I am having to reseed and using some of Paul's methods in the reconstruction of the soil. You will read about worm pits, and the advantage in using them in NY soil. this last weekend we put in another 7 pits and with all the rain we have had our lawn is finally able to handle absorbing water rather than pooling or running off the surface much better. With the 5 inch rain we just had the lawn did fairly well. We still have about another 20 or so pits to do, but we are in no rush. Figuring it will take about 3 years to get to the point where the lawn will require little maintenance is not as bad as you think, once you get started.
In the long run you are going to save money and time. A little effort now pays off down the road.
If you want to see my thread and the ups and downs so far, here is the link.
My recommendation would be to get your soil tested before you bother with anything else. Usually, your state extension office will do this for a small fee. I would get the sample sent out immediately, so that you can plan to take care of any fall projects with that information in hand. The most useful information from the report will be the PH level and Organic Matter number. After you get the report and adjust the PH level to something good, I would then do the following:
1. Pull the crabgrass as much as you can by hand. Just get rid of it.
2. Mix fresh topsoil, compost, and grass seeds together. Lay this down in the bare spots and water well. This should be done in the fall, when weed seed will hopefully not be germinating. Hopefully, this will help you fill in the barespots. It should also help to improve the overall soil quality by helping add spots of fresh compost.
After you do this, see how things go next summer. You may want to consider using an organic pre-emergent in the spring such as corn gluten meal. This will help supress the crabgrass germination so that your grass has a chance to get better established going into the summer.
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