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Thatch, weeds, mineral soil  RSS feed

 
Cat Alcott
Posts: 1
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I'm looking for advice: my front yard has minimal sad grass and likely no soil life but it does have a 3-4 inch thatch from previous generations of grass and lots of weeds. I assume it's the compacted mineral soil that was graded when the house was built 30+ yrs ago that has had sod and chemicals applied for decades. I want to keep it as grass for kiddos to play on so need some help to fix it. Eventually I probably will replace some (all?) of it with more diverse plants, so would live to have some great soil ready for that. (And really I just want to experiment and get the soil great for the fun of it too!)

Should I:
- amend with something
- get it tested for something
- dump a 12-18" combination of compost, old straw, wood chips, etc and start relatively fresh with new grass seed - I can get these things relatively easily to my house.
- sheet mulch (I've done this everywhere else in my yard but I'm really sick of dealing with the cardboard...)
- add soil microbes
- plant it in some kind of cover crop, mow that down then add less compost and seed in that in the fall ...this could be fun especially to to watch the neighbors' reactions!, but I don't know if any seeds would be able to germinate in the existing clumpy, thatch mess.
- aerate/dethatch (I don't know how to do this...)
- something else entirely?

Thanks in advance!
 
Judith Browning
Posts: 5721
Location: Arkansas Ozarks zone 7 alluvial,black,deep loam/clay with few rocks, wonderful creek bottom!
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Welcome to permies Cat....I've added your post to the 'soil' forum along with 'lawn' ...hopefully someone will help you out....it's a well written question
 
Casie Becker
garden master
Posts: 1380
Location: Just northwest of Austin, TX
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You might update your user profile or post something here about where you're located. Different areas have very different growing conditions and even different types of grass. If you read below, I've given my best answer, but it really might not apply if your conditions are very different from my area.

In my area I would simply aerate the soil and possible top dress with something like cow manure. This is occasionally addressed on the local organic gardening program and this is what is always recommended. Our grasses are pretty aggressive and so if you give them half a chance they'll take over everything.

We had to deal with two specific areas in the front yard that had no grass when we moved in. One was under some overgrown bushes that I've removed (except one trimmed to serve as a small tree). The stand was 10 feet into the neighbors yard. When I cut it back it left 8 feet of bare soil. The grass now covers their whole yard and they don't do anything except infrequently mow.

The other side of the front yard was used as a parking lot by the previous owners. It's now probably 50/50 weeds and grass from what looked like bare rock. I actually bent the tines on a gardening spade using it to aerate that half of the yard, but by the end of the year we had growing plants everywhere I hadn't mulched. Each year since then the grass has comprised a larger percentage of the uncultivated yard. I also don't do anything but mow occasionally to encourage this.

Don't forget to read Paul's article on growing a weed free lawn. Lots of good long term and low labor information for maintaining your grasses health.

I really should just add a signature line about spelling... fixed it
 
Bryant RedHawk
gardener
Posts: 2283
Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
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Cat Alcott wrote:I'm looking for advice: my front yard has minimal sad grass and likely no soil life but it does have a 3-4 inch thatch from previous generations of grass and lots of weeds. I assume it's the compacted mineral soil that was graded when the house was built 30+ yrs ago that has had sod and chemicals applied for decades. I want to keep it as grass for kiddos to play on so need some help to fix it. Eventually I probably will replace some (all?) of it with more diverse plants, so would live to have some great soil ready for that. (And really I just want to experiment and get the soil great for the fun of it too!)

Should I:
- amend with something
- get it tested for something
- dump a 12-18" combination of compost, old straw, wood chips, etc and start relatively fresh with new grass seed - I can get these things relatively easily to my house.
- sheet mulch (I've done this everywhere else in my yard but I'm really sick of dealing with the cardboard...)
- add soil microbes
- plant it in some kind of cover crop, mow that down then add less compost and seed in that in the fall ...this could be fun especially to to watch the neighbors' reactions!, but I don't know if any seeds would be able to germinate in the existing clumpy, thatch mess.
- aerate/dethatch (I don't know how to do this...)
- something else entirely?

Thanks in advance!


First thing to do is get a soil test, the kind that will also identify any herbicide residues. This information will let you know what you are starting out with.

Before you invest in any amendments invest in a broad fork and go over the entire area to loosen the soil without disturbing the strata that are already in place.
Next would be to use a compost/ manure tea followed a few weeks later with a mycorrhizal fungi slurry. Both of these will just be poured onto the soil you have loosened with the broad fork.
By this time you should have the test results from the soil lab and proceed per their recommendations to prep the soil for new grass seeds.
Once you have made the lab recommended amendments it is time for compost and or cover crops.
Or you can go ahead and start seeding, using some compost as the covering for the new seed, then watering through the covering.
Don't try to grow a lawn in the fall, unless you are using winter rye grass, it will not survive the winter period.
winter rye is an annual so if you do use it, you will be seeding again in the spring.

When you do seed, be sure to let the sprouts grow for at least two weeks after sprouting before you add the next spreading of seed.
This lets the new plants establish so they don't die from crushing as you spread the second and third seeding passes.
A great lawn ends up feeling to bare feet like a carpet, it takes a minimum of three seeding passes to get enough grass plants per sq. ft. to get this foot feel in the first year.

Once you have your lawn established, you can feed it once a month during the growing season and once as you are putting it bed for over wintering. In the spring you need to feed it so it has good nutrients available when the plants wake up.
 
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