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Complete Lawn Newbie Looking For Advice

 
                                      
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I've asked these questions in a few forums but no answers... I suppose I'm being a bit broad with my questions but its what I need to know :S
I have a 2 year old and a dog so I am very set on a chemical free yard. I hope it does any good considering that my neighbor has used so much "toxic goo" on his yard that his sidewalks/driveway are irrevocably stained. They look like they saw a nuclear winter, it's kind of scary. Anyways.
Long story. I bought this nice starter house in suburbia, back in October. I think the house had been empty for about six months (foreclosure). So we cut back the overflowing greenery in the front flower bed, mowed the lawn, and haven't touched it since.
Due to my rather unexpected pregnancy my husband had to pick up a second job. He has informed me (gently) that the yard will be pretty much entirely my problem until he is able to quit this job which could be up to two years. So I grew up in the country(ish) and I'm used to the idea of spending your weekends gardening and yard-handling. It's no big deal. Okay, that's not really true, I'm kinda freaked out. I moved to a suburb at 13 and learned nothing about how to manage a yard without lots of chemicals and trips to home depot. And I'm pregnant and I have kind of a limited time frame to do all the "heavy" work. So since its been 65 degrees here (between the snow storms) I've been out with my son working on the back yard.
Okay now that you know my life story I shall ask the annoyingly basic questions.
I have a diseased Japanese Maple in the front that's been cut down and grown into an interesting maple bush type structure. Should I just get rid of it or try to prune it into some kind of order? I have no idea what to do with it. When we bought the house it had lots of dead spots all over the leaves and the branches look kinda mottled.
I'm lucky that they cared about the front planter, it's very prettily bricked in. But the bushes are all evergreens (I only recognize the red tips) and they all are choking each other. I had to cut them back last fall just to be able to see out the window and get in the front door. One planter has a pine tree in it. It's about four feet high and looking scary to rip out already. What do I do with these golaith things that are eating the front of my house? It's only two years old. They are going to be growing in the kitchen in another year! I think I'd rather have flowering somethings like roses on either side of the driveway. Do I just saw them down dig them out and throw them in the trash? I don't know where to start.
We got the grass nice and raked today but I don't know what to do with this entire oak trees worth of leaves that I have stacked in my back yard. My organic-wanna-be self tells me not to throw it out but I dunno what else to do with it!  I'd love to start a composting bin but I have very little room and I wanted to spend my yard budget on filling in the winter erosion and seeding the holes.
There is a failed flower bed in the back. I don't really know what was going on when they planted it. For all the nice that the front is, the back is that careless. They put the broken bricks around this willow tree thing and then mulched and put in a couple big round green things (I dunno what they're called but they look easy to dig up). I hope to dig this out and replace it with grass. The eventual goal is to put a small picket fence there to keep the critters in. In the meantime How do I get the mulch out? How do I get the tree out? It's also about 4 feet high.
Okay last problem area.
My property backs up to a railroad track. I have five feet of dirt past my property line, and then a hill at least fifteen feet tall with a track on it. It is supposed to be condemed this year and converted to a bike track. My neighbors have all landscaped this area but I think it's kind of rude to pretend someone else's property is yours. Plus they are going to lose all that money they put into it if they landscape when they turn it into a bike trail (someday). But it is ugly to look out your back window and see it, and the hill causes an area of erosion at the back of my yard that will be a ditch soon if I don't do something. I hate privacy fences so my idea was to fill in the holes, put down grass seed until about a foot before the (at least 45 degree) hill, gravel a foot wide all the way down to keep the erosion in check and allow the water somewhere to run off and pat myself on the back for being a good neighbor. I also thought about making a sunflower screen to cover up the hill (sounds cheap and effective!) or greenery screen (expensive up front and needs lots of maitenence) but one side is shaded and the other isn't. It also sounds like kind of a short term solution since if it is turned into a bike trail there will be people walking on this hill ten feet above my yard, easily able to watch me and my kids playing. I don't like being un-neighborly but that sounds a little creepy. Any ideas? Trees maybe?
So I could use all thoughts and advice. Thanks in advance.
 
paul wheaton
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Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
bee chicken hugelkultur trees wofati woodworking
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shrubby maple:  do you like it?  Would you rather it was gone?  Personally, I would rather have edibles, so I would probably replace it with a fruit tree.  But it is your tree and your yard:  maybe you are into the ornamental thing.

conifers out front:  another ornamental.  I would rip them out.  But for every person that wants to rip them out, you can probably find three that would want to keep them and love them.  I've also been accused of ripping out everything that isn't an edible or something that supports an edible.  (I like lawn!  I like crocuses!  I like forget-me-nots!  I usually mix those into the edibles and edible support).  To get them out:  dig if you can.  I've wrapped a chain around the base of some and then drug them out with a truck.  Up to you.

leaves:  I would just make a pile out back.  It is amazing how leaves like that make the best mulch for stuff.

"How do I get the mulch out?" Can you send a pic?

way out back:  fruit trees!








 
                                      
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I completely understand you! I hate every single plant that was on this lot when I bought it. I am already pleading with my husband for money to budget out on seeds and potting soil for a kitchen garden on the patio!!
I recall that my parents had a lot of trouble with birds eating the fruit and pests... and snakes in the berry bushes. Oh, and some seriously funky smells too. Is there a magic method? Okay admittedly my parents were crappy gardeners... er, anyway, do you know of any good books or websites I can read to avoid the above?
And how do you recommend choosing a place to buy your seeds and plants from? Is there a difference between the wal-mart stuff and the nursery besides the obvious?
I'll try to grab a picture of the mulch in the morning. Its supposed to be 65 and sunny again tomorrow so I'll be out there with my rake!
Thanks for your help and this site, Paul- I am a great admirer of your cheap lazy organic ways
 
paul wheaton
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Posts: 20517
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
bee chicken hugelkultur trees wofati woodworking
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birds:  do you like kitties? 

snakes:  nothing gives me the willies like seeing a snake.  Usually, if I see a snake in the wild I need to go inside for the rest of the day.  But!  Snakes are a farmer's/gardener's friend - they eat the thing that want to eat the things I want to eat!  So I don't try to eliminate them.  When I go inside I try to look up which kind of snake I saw.  I haven't seen anything poisonous since I was a kid.

Choosing a place to buy stuff from:  I usually get my seeds from johnny's seeds.  As for plants, I always get them locally, from different sources depending on different things.  There are a couple of sources for some somewhat more interesting plants - but I think you should start with the basics. 

If you are serious about starting some edibles, I would like to recommend "square foot gardening" by Mel Bartholomew and "Gaia's Garden" by toby hemenway.

 
                          
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Hi, no suggestions, just questions. . .I live in northern Michigan (zone 5).  The landscape company I work for did not seed the lawn for my new house until waaaay too late--November (2006).  Last summer some grass came up but was quickly overtaken by clover--the really large leafed kind.  In April I applied an organic "weed and feed" when forsythia first bloomed here.  My question is, what do I do when the clover dies?  Do I dig it out?  I'm guessing that I have to reseed the bare spots (most of the lawn), but is it too late to do yet this spring?  Thanks
 
paul wheaton
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Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
bee chicken hugelkultur trees wofati woodworking
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organic weed and feed?  I have a hard time buying into that.  Do you have a link?

We are on the edge of "too late" - but you should be able to do it now.

 
monica jenkins
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Location: Western Suburbs, Illinois
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paul wheaton wrote:

organic weed and feed? I have a hard time buying into that. Do you have a link?



Here is a source out of Indiana for organic lawn care and other products: http://www.gardensalive.com/Default.asp?bhcd2=1214967301

I have used their products before but its been awhle - has anyone else here?
 
paul wheaton
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Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
bee chicken hugelkultur trees wofati woodworking
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I've read about their stuff for years. 

A lot of people are very happy with it. 

At one point a long time ago I studied it very thoroughly and decided to not use it.  It merely postpones when the seeds will germinate.  It costs money.  I'm suspicious about how organic it is.  And it takes time to apply. 

I like just mowing high much better.
 
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