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Mark Oreilley
Posts: 18
Location: Zone 6b
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Hi all,

I discovered these forums after reading Paul Wheaton's fantastic Organic lawn care for the Cheap and Lazy article. Everything it teaches about a sustainable, low maintenance lawn resonates with what I value. I just bought an east-facing house that sits on about 1/3 of an acre in an urban but wooded setting. With it came a front and rear lawn that needs a little bit of love. I would love to pick everyone's brains about how to proceed.

My goal is to have a lush lawn that I may only have to water once or twice during the year. I do not plan to install any sort of irrigation and it doesn't have to be perfectly manicured (I will mow high, when I can get it to grow long enough). I live in zone 6b and lots of my grass will be growing in shady areas, so I believe Tall Fescue is right for me. I am very patient - I understand it may take quite some time to achieve my goals and I am not looking for a quick and easy fix. I also understand that most of what I might need to do must occur in the Fall.

That said, here's what I am working with. I'll start with the backyard:

With morning (8am) sunlight:


With Afternoon (4:30pm) sunlight:


As you can see, it's patchy with some compacted spots (although the grass is growing nicely to the left of the picture). There is also a stump not pictured to the left that I am in the process of decomposing. I hope to be able to chop it up when Fall rolls around.

In the corner of the backyard, there's a lovely cherry blossom over what appears to be badly eroded soil. This is at the bottom of a small knoll where my neighbors' properties are elevated compared to mine, so I imagine some rain water washes onto my property here. A good chunk of the main roots are exposed. Any thoughts on what to do about this?




I took a soil sample around here to have tested by my extension office, and I dug a hole 8 inches deep to see how far down the soil goes:




I stopped because I was hitting some roots and didn't want to disturb further, but it looks as though I do have a nice deep layer of top soil. Unfortunately it appears to be more clay-like, no?


On to the front of the house, the land is VERY rough with plenty of exposed roots from the many trees around the property:







The house is east-facing, so I get morning sunlight here.

On the side of the house, I have a few patches of very poor soil that's become dusty dirt. I also saw a bunch of bees dig out of it when Spring came around, leaving a few holes (free aeration?)



After taking a soil sample, I did spread a round of Ringer fertilizer around the property that is currently releasing.


So here are my questions:

- What can be done now, in April, and what has to wait until the Fall?

- What can I do about the uneven terrain and, more significantly, the exposed roots? Can I fill in with top soil and eventually re-cover the roots?

- How do I rehabilitate those patches of dust on the side of the house?

- Where is a good place to source Tall Fescue seed? What type should I be looking at? I recall reading KY-31 being somewhat outdated, but admittedly I do not know much about recent species that have been bred.

- I've read about the worm pit method. Appropriate here?


Any further overall suggestions? I look forward to making this a labor of love.
 
Donald Kenning
Posts: 78
Location: Tri-Cities, Washington
14
fungi hugelkultur trees
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Hi and Welcome.

Looked at your post and I have to say, you have a great opportunity. First things first. From the picture of the hole to obtain the soil sample it looks like there are areas of black. That probably means compacted soil that has gone anaerobic. I am going to bet that you did not see any earthworms while digging. Besides the anaerobic soil you may want to remediate the possible leakage of the rail road ties creosote into the soil.

Are you ready for my suggestion? Wood chips everywhere. You can have local tree trimmers drop off a load (usually for free). I would put them about 4 to 6 inches thick on the pictured area of the back lawn. I would also put a layer of about 8 to 12 inches beneath the rail road ties (with some manure). In the front, another 4 to 6 inches around the front tree. As well as around the Cherry tree. Do not put cardboard down first (that will kill the lawn)!

Over the next few months, whenever it rains or you water (say a good soaking twice a month) a type of "compost tea" will be released from the wood chips providing nutrients to the grass/soil beneath. These wood chips have fast decaying greens (nettles, leaves, green bark, etc) and slow decaying wood (bark and wood).

Then, just before fall (say late August early September) rake all the wood chips up and pile them to within 10 -12 feet of the trees you mention. Apply water to the lawn and see what happens.

This seems like the lowest cost, lowest effort means of rehabilitating the lawn, cherry tree and remediating the soil under the railroad ties. This will also cover those exposed roots of the trees, and eventually the wood chips will turn into a rich soil covering the tree roots.

 
Mark Oreilley
Posts: 18
Location: Zone 6b
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Thanks for the great suggestions. I hadn't considered wood chips everywhere. My neighbor just took down 2 trees and I missed a golden opportunity to grab free chips from the grinder stump. It may be somewhat difficult for me to grab freebies. There seem to be 2 guys on craigslist that locally snatch free wood chips. I'll have to see what I can do.

I just found out that my county offers free compost and mulch for self pickup - pretty cool.

Any thoughts on the uneven terrain? The roots I showed in the picture on the front lawn are far away from the tree, so the wood chips wouldn't alleviate that. Also, what about the patches of dust? Would decaying wood chips really turn that back into soil?

You are correct regarding the worms - I haven't seen a single one on my property.

I'm hoping to get a bit of tall fescue growing on this lawn as I would like to eventually in a few years have a low maintenance, drought-resistant lawn. Any thoughts on my question regarding what species of tall fescue to look for, and where to source it/when to plant it?

Thanks for the warm welcome. I'm excited to soak up as much knowledge as I can around here.
 
Donald Kenning
Posts: 78
Location: Tri-Cities, Washington
14
fungi hugelkultur trees
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Hi;
When I read your post, my goal was to help you create a healthy "soil food web" for your lawn, trees and even the soil under the railroad ties. So, I designed a response that does that while solving the problem of expose roots and try to make it free with little labor.

Free - The preferred method of obtaining anything. With the enticement of "free" also comes the voice saying, "you get what you pay for".

No Labor - The preferred method of getting anything done.

I see nothing wrong with getting free wood chips from a company that just created them from unprocessed wood (a tree). Even if inorganic fertilizers and pesticides where used on those trees. However, I would ask the County the source of the "free" mulch and compost and if it is not possessed wood or other "garbage" then it might be OK.

I have seen work from Dr. Ingham rehabilitating golf coarse lawns with special formulas of compost tea. So, you could put wood chips on the lawn but if you have free compost, I might cover the lawn in an inch or two of compost. again water well (once or twice a month). No need to rake that up, just let it "disappear". Then around the trees, the wood chips. I would still put wood chips (and manure) under the rail road ties. The "dust spots" you refer to may also just be rehabilitated with an inch or two of compost. I might throw the fescue seeds down before applying the compost. Anything to promote the right bacteria, fungi, nematodes, worms, etc to create a healthy soil food web with as little cost and labor as possible.

Now, the tree roots. They are not within 12 feet of the trees? You might be tempted to cut them out, hell I might be as well. What I would try at first is to put more compost over them than the rest of the lawn (say 3 to 4 inches). If you decide to cut roots later, I would make sure that there is a healthy soil food web close to the tree (let wood chips around tree decay long enough) and maybe do it in the winter when the tree is more dormant ( I am not an arborist).

I would also continue to make compost by throwing my table scraps into a worm pit as you suggest. If you do not use the compost on your lawn, you could put it around your trees or you could start a garden. If worms do not come right away, it might be good to buy some to start, but usually worms would find your pit.

Uneven terrain? I am going to go out on a limb and say gravity might help. So, the compost and wood chips will help stimulate the soil food web while covering the ground ... making the soil softer ... Soft things (like water) tend to flatten under the forces of gravity. That is only a speculation.

Now the Fescue. I am no expert on grass. I just googled fescue and found web site fescue.com which is part of Seedland. Two web sites I am unfamiliar with. I took an excerpt from that site and am submitting that as Figure 1 on this post. Yea, it talks about Kentucky 31 but I do not know everything.

Other than that. I got nothing.
Fescue01.PNG
[Thumbnail for Fescue01.PNG]
Figure 1 Fescue
 
Casie Becker
gardener
Posts: 1474
Location: Just northwest of Austin, TX
118
forest garden urban
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I'm just going to jump in here to counter the suggestion about worms. If you have the conditions to support worms, they will come into your yard. If you don't any worms that you purchase are just going to leave for better pastures.

The only time I would suggest buying worms is for use in a vermicomposting system. The worms that thrive in compost systems are completely different species than the ones tilling deep soils.

I'd also talk to an experienced arborist before cutting any tree roots on your land. If I'm judging the root size in that picture properly, you might not really have a problem at all there. If you're mowing high, you will probably find that your lawn mower will roll right over those roots. As long as you don't need something like a soccer field, the tall and thickening grass will quickly cover them from view.

My dad used to talk about how much his neighbors hated him the year he had the greenest lawn in his community. He drove his truck to a local cattle operation where they filled the bed with a load of fresh manure from a steaming pile taller than a house. He spread that on the lawn and then watered it in. That's all.


edit: This is an ideal time of year for spreading manure and compost top dressings.

How uneven is the terrain you're talking abou? If it's just a little bumpy, thickening grass will help fix this on it's own. A combination of softening the soil, clippings accumulation over time filling in depressions, and regular mowing will slowly even out small irregularities in a lawn.
 
Mark Oreilley
Posts: 18
Location: Zone 6b
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Hey guys,

Thanks again for the great info.

Regarding the roots in the pictures of the front lawn - I would say they're 10+ feet away from their respective trees. One is a very mature white dogwood. The other is a 80+ year old tree between the sidewalk and street (I live in a mature tree-lined neighborhood with lots of uneven sidewalk as a result). I, too, would be hesitant to cut any roots because we adore all of our trees.

The terrain is bumpy, but not so much that I have trouble with a mower. The roots also do not interfere with the mower, so does that mean with a little bit of soil rehabilitation it will even out on its own over time?

I looked into the free compost and mulch program in my city and I think I have to take a full cubic yard. That will be difficult, as I only have a sedan and no truck. Perhaps I should bite the bullet and have a commercial company drop off a cubic yard (or more? My lot size is 12500 sq ft) of compost. I will try to catch one of the local tree companies to see if I can make the wood chip suggestion work, too. Any other suggestions?

Thanks also for the tall fescue research. Titan RX 31 sounds interesting.
 
Casie Becker
gardener
Posts: 1474
Location: Just northwest of Austin, TX
118
forest garden urban
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I don't think it'll even out enough to actually bury the roots. But my experience has been that the more I mow, the smoother the lawn becomes. I think it's a combination of vibrations helping high spots roll down to fill low spots, and thicker grass cushioning the wheels from minor variations below the blades.
 
Donald Kenning
Posts: 78
Location: Tri-Cities, Washington
14
fungi hugelkultur trees
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OK.
Check my math. 12,500 sq ft is 1.8 million sq. inches (.287 acres). A cubic yard of anything is 46,656 cubic inches. So if you were to apply 1 cubic yard of material over 12,500 square feet, you would get a covering of about 0.025 inches (about half the thickness of a dime). So, to cover 12,500 square feet with 1 inch of stuff you would need 38.6 cubic yards of stuff. My guess is that your lawn is 40% of that area, and that you only want to apply the inch of stuff to half of that (20% of your .287 acres). That is 7.7 cubic yards to apply 1 inch to 2,500 sq ft.

Another free source of mulch covering comes from the trees themselves. It sounds like you have some deciduous (cherry, dogwood) trees that loose their leaves in the fall. You could leave them on the ground or rake them up and place them in a pile. Eventually the leaves will be fine enough to just put on your lawn as a compost (leaf mold) providing more nutrients to the soil. I can not believe we went through this entire string before I realized that. Sorry.

Please, create a new comment string with some pictures in the fall or next spring to tell us how it went. O.K.? Maybe you could make a video out of it.
 
Mark Oreilley
Posts: 18
Location: Zone 6b
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Hmm your math seems to be spot on. 7 cubic yards is a lot of compost. Worse yet, I found out my city only offers free mulch, not compost. Sounds like having a commercial outfit drop off 7 cubic yards would be expensive and difficult to handle.

I'm still having trouble finding a tree removal company that'll give me free wood chips. Should I further pursue the compost idea and bite the bullet? Or do I have a clever option we're not considering?

I'll gladly post followup pictures. This will be a labor of love over the years.

 
Donald Kenning
Posts: 78
Location: Tri-Cities, Washington
14
fungi hugelkultur trees
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Mark:

There are always alternatives, if you keep thinking about it.

The way I see things (always), when growing anything (grass, vegetables, fruits or trees), the main question to answer is, "how can I enhance the soil food web?" Granted, there are other things to consider but that is the main thing. Eventually, there will be a time when the answer to the question is "nothing".

Studying permaculture has made me see the world in a different light. I see that anything organic will eventually become soil. That is just as true for table scraps as it is for paper, tree branches, cotton t-shirts and even our bodies. Realizing that, I see free resources around me everywhere (in the suburbs, city and country) and people call it trash.

OK, enough of the monologue. I have seen Dr. Ingham rehabilitate golf courses by applying a compost tea formulated for that golf course. Compost tea (or extract) is a liquid that can be applied to soils to help them get a jump start on building a healthy soil food web. That is the quick version of applying a layer of compost on your lawn. It may be cheaper than 7 cubic yards of compost, but you may need to apply it a few times before you have a well established soil food web. You might be able to "create" the tea (or extract) you need from 1 cubic yard of compost or just buy it as a tea. You may want to google "compost tea" with your town name to see if there is a local source. Also, there are probably several people in your own town that you can talk to about this. Also, keep your eye on craigslist in the "free" section and the "lawn and garden" section.
 
Casie Becker
gardener
Posts: 1474
Location: Just northwest of Austin, TX
118
forest garden urban
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We posted a request for manure on Craigslist this winter. Within less than a day we had three offers for all that we could shovel. Two horse manure options and one chicken waste. We brought home five pickup truck loads of horse manure and spread it across most of our gardens. We could have easily brought home another five if we were up to that much more shoveling.
 
Mark Oreilley
Posts: 18
Location: Zone 6b
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Hi all,

Thank you again for sharing this great information. I'm very excited to immerse myself in all of it.

Regarding laying down a layer of compost, the best I can seem to do is a guy that will deliver it for $45 per cubic yard. Given the expense and that I likely need at least 7 cubic yards, perhaps it's best to look into a compost tea. I'm really intrigued by this - I started googling it and it looks like there's a ton of information out there and different formulas, types, etc.

Since I lack the equipment to make it myself (for now), is there a commercially produced product I should be looking at? I am guessing that these come in extract form and are mixed with water and applied with a pump sprayer?
 
leila hamaya
pollinator
Posts: 1159
Location: northern northern california
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if you can get some fill dirt - free/cheap- you could mix it with the woodchips/compost/mulch together and then fill in the spots that you want to be more level. then thinner patches of mulch/chips/etc in other spots, and thick over the tree roots.

the grass roots will come back through it eventually... even if you put down a pretty thick layer in some spots. then once that is down, seed what you want to grow.

i may have an unfair bias against it, but i am not too fond of grass, in general. i mean i am not a grass eater!

so i would personally be seeding things like violets, sorrel, red clover, chamomile, and wild strawberries, but thats me. you could seed whatever you wanted obviously, but just to say -you might consider some easy growing beneficial weeds to throw into your grass seed and get a more varied and more lush lawn.
 
Ken W Wilson
Posts: 512
Location: Nevada, Mo 64772
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I wouldn't plant fescue unless you only want fescue. It makes a dense mass of roots about 6" thick. If it has enough nitrogen it will make a thick sod with no gaps for more interesting plants. It wouldn't hurt your mature trees , so it'd work fine if you didn't plan to plant anything new. If the soil is low in nitrogen, it grows in clumps and clover and other plants will grow in it.
 
Jamie Davis
Posts: 24
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Looks to me like you have straight line edges and no leaf zone fo your trees. I would consider bteaking up those lines with some rounded edges that encompass the trees and allow the water to soak in. If you do go in on a load of chips, the excess will them not be a problem and will help trees and seep compost tea into the lawn.
 
Mark Oreilley
Posts: 18
Location: Zone 6b
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@ Leila: Interesting idea about the fill dirt. I might still be able to accomplish my minor leveling with top soil, but if that looks like it's gonna be too expensive I will look into fill dirt to mix. I'd rather have a carpet of grass to complement the nice trees and bushes on my property, but I've noticed a lot of clover moving into some of the more bare areas.

@Ken: I would love a lawn of only fescue. Resilient, low maintenance, tall green carpet. Are you saying, though, that I wouldn't be able to plant new trees if I had a lawn of fescue? I have an old pine that might die in the back - I'd want to replace it if it has to come down.

@Jame: I'm sorry, I'm having trouble following. By "straight line edges", are you referring to the shape of my property? It's basically a rectangle, mostly fenced in. What do you mean by "no leaf zone" for my trees?
 
Ken W Wilson
Posts: 512
Location: Nevada, Mo 64772
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A fescue lawn wouldn't hurt new trees if you don't let it grow very close to the trees.

I could be wrong, but I don't think you can have a perfect fescue lawn without chemicals. Maybe if you use a lot of manure. It needs nitrogen. I hate to see perfect fescue lawns because they make me think of the chemical aisle at Walmart. I call them green deserts. I like to have clover and other plants mixed in my fescue. I never fertilize it so the fescue is very thin with a lot of plant diversity. To my neighbors, spring means it's time to douse the fescue with chemicals.
 
Mark Oreilley
Posts: 18
Location: Zone 6b
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Well after a busy summer with life changing events (and subsequent lawn neglect), I'm back to hoping to improve this situation.  I'm re-visiting the idea of having about 8 cubic yards of compost delivered and spreading it all across, and also seeding a newer species of tall fescue.  It's been unseasonably hot here and still summer like, but I suspect my Fall window is rapidly approaching. 

I also have wood chips from 2 ground stumps in my back yard - one white pine and the other a locust.  Is there anything I can/should do with these two piles?

 
Nick Watkins
pollinator
Posts: 38
Location: Akron, Ohio
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A yard of dark topsoil blended with compost shouldn't cost more than $19 - 25 per cubic yard unless someone's looking for a chump to make a payday (or you're really far out I guess). This is what I use to start new raised beds when we're not going to be on the property long enough to wait for deep sheet mulching to pay dividends.

I would also encourage you next spring to (if you can) wait for the grass to go to seed before you mow for the first time. Make sure you de-thatch it somewhat this fall after you mow for the last time so the seeds can make soil contact. It's supposed to cut down on snow mold infection as well, but I never have a problem with it.
 
Casie Becker
gardener
Posts: 1474
Location: Just northwest of Austin, TX
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forest garden urban
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Nick Watkins wrote:A yard of dark topsoil blended with compost shouldn't cost more than $19 - 25 per cubic yard unless someone's looking for a chump to make a payday.


This is definitely region specific. Doing a little searching around here, you're very lucky if you can find anything for under 30$ (and that was Dillo dirt, also known as composted sewage)  Realistically, at this time in my area you should budget at least 55 a yard plus delivery fees. Pure compost can cost much more. Landscape suppliers are competing for the necessary materials to make their composts, which are in very high demand in my area. I'm sure there are also added expenses involved in shipping. We don't have healthy dark top soil, for hundreds of miles around all the soils are either very alkaline caliche or thick alkaline clays both of which take considerable work to make good growing media. I know because every year around this time I feel tempted to buy some bulk compost and so price all these products. Maybe one day I'll really splurge and actually order some.  That would be real luxury

Just cause something is marketed as top soil, doesn't mean it's actually anything your plants want to grow in. I like that you recommend the compost blending in. So often that makes all the difference in whether your plants thrive or die.
 
Nick Watkins
pollinator
Posts: 38
Location: Akron, Ohio
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I stand corrected. I didn't realize that prices were so regionally variable or that someone would think they could get that much for composted sewage (and all the prescription meds that come with it). Although if I sought to break even on my own compost vs. consulting, I'd have to charge $300/yd. I should thank my lucky stars that there are so many vendors competing for compost in my area!
 
Mark Oreilley
Posts: 18
Location: Zone 6b
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Hi all,

I'm hoping to form a plan before spring weather rolls in.  At the end of last Fall, I decided to get a proper soil sample tested at my extension office.  Here were the results:

Soil pH: 6.4
Phosphorus: 38 ppm
Potassium: 134 ppm

They consider all three of these to be slightly below optimum.  I also received a test for ammonium nitrogen, which came back 3.3mg/kg. Here are some more specific results:

P: 76 lb/A
Acidity: 3.4 meq/100g
K: 0.34 meq/100g, 3.2% saturation
Mg: 1.58 meq/100g, 14.9 % saturation
CA: 5.26 meq/100g, 49.7% saturation
CEC: 10.6 meq/100g
Nitrate - N: 26 ppm

The extension office made recommendations based on these test results and an assumed kentucky bluegrass lawn.  They recommended an application of limestone at 50b/1000 square feet, which I did apply in November before the first frost.  They also noted the following nutrient needs (lb/1000 sq ft):

N: 3-4
P2O5: 1.0
K2O: 1

Finally, they recommended a fertilization program (2-3 applications/yr) using fertilizer with any of the following designations:

20-27-5
18-25-6
18-24-12
17-23-6
16-21-4
16-12-4
11-25-11
10-23-10


So now I want to strategize where to go here. Having had this analysis done and specific recommendations by the extension office, I think I'll go the fertilization route and plant some new tall fescue seeds in bare areas.  The ringer fertilizer recommended in the cheap and lazy article doesn't have any of the above numbers, nor can I find any fertilizers at local stores with them.  I know very little about fertilizers, but am I right in assuming that most commercially available fertilizers other than the Ringer stuff will have some of the chemicals that the cheap and lazy article warns about?

I also wanted to add:  Last fall I planted an eastern redbud tree and saw some worms when I dug my hole!  Good sign.

I'd love to hear what you all would do with this new information.  Thanks so much in advance! 
 
Mark Oreilley
Posts: 18
Location: Zone 6b
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Anyone?  I'm hoping to plan ahead to do my first fertilization and drop some fescue seed once spring hits full swing. 

One of the things I'm hung up on is balancing the extension office's fertilizer recommendation (which requires phosphate, which the Ringer fertilizer doesn't have) with staying chemical free. Is there something similar to Ringer that will meet my soil's nutrient needs?  Or is there something that I can add to the Ringer stuff to meet my phosphate need?

 
Keith Odell
Posts: 68
Location: Indiana
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Mark,

I have a worm compost business and so I think almost all the world's problems are solved by worms and worm compost. 
In my free opinion, add organic material (wood chips, leaves, lawn clippings, compost, etc.) and spray/pour tea often (worm compost, manure, weed, etc.).
I would also fling (not pile) coffee grounds like it was my job.  Hint - Do this at night unless you are already considered the neighborhood nut. 
They are small particle, organic, with good nitrogen and phosphorus content.  Mow high, leave the clippings behind and repeat the above. 
After your soil gets healthy then you can focus on the lawn.

This will not result in a golf course lawn this year but it will help a lot. 
The weeds will be bringing the nutrients that your lawn lacks and the organic material and the decomposers that will eat it will help with compaction. 
My yard is still weedy but I don't have to water - ever.   And I eat, mulch or make tea out of the weeds that bother me.

Good luck,
Keith
 
Mark Oreilley
Posts: 18
Location: Zone 6b
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Thanks, Keith, for your great advice.

In my free opinion, add organic material (wood chips, leaves, lawn clippings, compost, etc.) and spray/pour tea often (worm compost, manure, weed, etc.). 


Leaves and lawn clippings are part of my routine.  I never bag when I mow.  I also have mature maples, oak, linden trees that give me a LOT of leaves in the fall.  Last fall I mowed all of it into the lawn and will continue to do that year after year.

I would also fling (not pile) coffee grounds like it was my job.  Hint - Do this at night unless you are already considered the neighborhood nut. 
They are small particle, organic, with good nitrogen and phosphorus content.


I was wondering about coffee grounds, and have occasionally taken my ground-filled filter and flung it on the lawn instead of the garbage.  I did hear that worms like it, but didn't know it has nitrogen and phosphorous.  I have a few questions about this:

1) Is this a "fling it as you go" sort of thing, or should I slowly collect all of the grinds i use over a few weeks in a bucket then spread it evenly?  I drink coffee every day, but I have a local bohemian coffee shop that will likely give me more grinds if I ask for it. 

2) How can I make up for my potassium deficiency?  Basically, I'm hoping to duplicate my extension office's recommendations (listed in my previous post), but without any of the "starter" fertilizers that they recommended.

and spray/pour tea often (worm compost, manure, weed, etc.). 


I have about 6500 sq feet of grass area, so I abandoned the idea of trucking in enough cubic yards to lay down a half inch of compost or so.  The tea idea might be the way to go if it addresss some of the deficiencies in my soil analysis.  I have a guy on craigslist that's giving away horse manure compost.  Can I make a tea out of that?


I look forward to hearing more advice - thanks again.   I'm hoping to start a program this spring and stick with it. Just need to figure out quantities and timing.
 
Casie Becker
gardener
Posts: 1474
Location: Just northwest of Austin, TX
118
forest garden urban
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I love free gardening resources from craigslist. Unfortunately, I'd suggest you check this horses mouth. Persistent herbicides are often in the hay fed to livestock these days and if you spread the manure you could be doing an unintentional weed and feed with these chemicals. Even composting doesn't reliably break down some of the newer ones. If you know the owners it is easier to learn where they sourced their feed and if it has been contaminated. I've had great results with manure sourced from Craigslist, it just takes a little more effort these days.

Almost forgot to include a link to this article https://www.todayshomeowner.com/organic-sources-of-potassium-for-your-lawn-or-garden/ which has a lot of options for potassium.
 
Keith Odell
Posts: 68
Location: Indiana
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I don't follow rules well so I try not to impose them on others
Fling daily, save for an application and/or bring them home from a coffee shop -- all good answers.
What I just read also suggested making a coffee solution out of the used grounds and applying that as well.
I not an expert on NPK but also just read cheap options - fruit/veggie compost, manure, ashes, kelp meal and rock dust.
I would do what was cheapest/easiest.

You could make tea out of the manure compost.  Depending on its break down - fresh out of the horse,  six months old  or 3-yr old black gold - will depend on if you treat it like old timey manure tea or highfalutin compost tea.

I think you mentioned you had high clay soil.  That is good.  Additions of organic material and decomposers thru tea/manure/compost will start to transform this into better soil.
My thoughts are that you do these things and then if you like your lawn - go with it.  You really don't care about the numbers unless something isn't growing right.

Worm Banner -- worm composting is the best and easiest way to take waste and put it to good use.  I turn my coffee grounds, banana peels and paper towels into steak.  I buy the steak with the money I save by not buying fertilizers, potting soils or yard amendments.  I like steak.
 
Mark Oreilley
Posts: 18
Location: Zone 6b
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Hmm I hadn't considered herbicides in hay.  Interesting.  I do have someone on craigslist selling a compost tea kit with some extra compost/worm casing mixture (the whole foods kit I believe).  Perhaps I'll just pick that up and go for the tea.

So how does this sound for a preliminary strategy to address the deficiencies brought up in my soil analysis, but without synthetic fertilizers:

- I will distribute my used coffee grounds weekly or so, and perhaps pick up some more at local coffee shops. This will help with nitrogen and phosphorous.
- I will try a liquid compost tea which will hopefully also address my potassium deficiency.  Apply every few weeks?
- I will still apply the ringer fertilizer in the spring and in the fall (nitrogen and potassium).

Thoughts?  Modifications?

I also did end up having a stump ground in my backyard.  Perhaps a worm pit will be in order, as I still have to rake and dig up some of the wood chips left over in the spot. 

 
Keith Odell
Posts: 68
Location: Indiana
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I think it sounds good.  Coffee is good, free and will add organic material.
The compost tea will work as long as you have organic material for it to break down so you should be good there.
It doesn't burn so you can apply it as often as you like.  Every few weeks sounds good.
I haven't used Ringer fert. but I've heard good things.

I would definitely add worms somewhere in the mix.
How about winecap mushrooms to the stump and a handful of worms to a raised bed?
 
Mark Oreilley
Posts: 18
Location: Zone 6b
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Okay so I think there's been some progress made, but I have some more questions/concerns.  I manually core aerated (!) in early april with a yard butler step tool and planted some high quality tall fescue seed in bare areas and overseeded elsewhere.  I've laid down ringer at the recommended concentration, and I've also been laying down some used coffee grinds from a local coffee joint.  So far I've been able to do two full applications of the coffee at the highest setting of my spreader (15 lbs/1000ft).  I haven't done compost tea, as a recent home repair expense has put off the purchase of a good brewer. 

I was able to take a 1-year comparison photo, both on the same date (April 25th).

As a reminder, here was late april last year:


Here's late april this year:


Looks like a marginal improvement.  I've been planning to follow the mow high/water infrequently schedule.  However 2 weeks later (second week of May), after the first mow, I'm looking at a bit of a quandary:


Looks like clover is dominating with the mow high strategy (especially in the back), and some broad leaf weeds have moved in.  Naturally, I'm okay with a little bit of clover, but this is a little too dominant for the wife acceptance factor.  Here's a closeup of the clover toward the back of the yard:



Any suggestions on how to make conditions more favorable for the grass? I'm worried the clover is choking it out.
 
Casie Becker
gardener
Posts: 1474
Location: Just northwest of Austin, TX
118
forest garden urban
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I'm pretty sure what you have there is either pennywort or dollar weed. Clover has multiple leaves branch out from each stem, not one leaf surrounding where the stem attaches.

I started with a highly compacted front yard in this house. The last owners used to use it as a parking lot. Dollar weed was one of the first things to move in and I had a very large patch that looked like that for my first year. I continued to mow high and now have hardly any dollar weed left. Your lawn is fallowing a natural succession right now.

The dollar weed isn't hurting the soil or the grass. The grass is still growing tall enough to thrive and as it grows thicker it will out compete this weed. It might even be acting as a living mulch by protecting grass seedlings and the soil from the drying effects of sun and wind. That could explain how my yard went so quickly from pure dollar weed to primarily grass.

Now, I do have to admit that pure grass isn't actually a goal of mine. Weeds still stand a fair chance in my yard because I regularly mow around flowering plants during the bloom cycle and while they form seeds. I just want complete plant coverage with nothing thorny, but even my irregular mowing habits have increased the grass quantity, without any fertilizers or watering.
 
Walt Chase
Posts: 93
Location: ALASKA
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Definitely not clover.  Keep your routine of mowing high and the weeds will eventually get out competed by the grass.  Have you tested your soil?  Sometimes in an acidic soil an application of lime will really help the grasses in the lawn take off.
 
Mark Oreilley
Posts: 18
Location: Zone 6b
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Dollar weed - makes perfect sense.  Thanks for catching that.

I'm currently mowing between 3 and 4 inches and it's just missing the dollar weed when I mow.  Should I consider doing one shorter mow in order to also catch the tops of the dollar weed?  Or should I continue as high as I can mow and just assume the grass will out compete it in the upcoming years?

Thanks for the advice!
 
K Putnam
pollinator
Posts: 246
Location: Unincorporated Pierce County, WA Zone 7b
23
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Mark, I started committing to one section of lawn last year.   I spread compost in the spring and fertilized, then spread compost in the fall and threw down fresh seed into the bare patches the were covered in compost.   That dramatically helped its look this spring.  In fact, I need to get on spreading another load of compost before it gets too dry.  This fall, I would consider a low mow, a thick layer of compost in those bare patches that are getting outcompeted, and fresh seed.
 
Casie Becker
gardener
Posts: 1474
Location: Just northwest of Austin, TX
118
forest garden urban
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I mow as high as the mower will let me.  I never measured it in inches, but the settings on my push mower are labeled to 8. The grass has come in.  Of course, we have very aggressive native turf grasses here.  These are not tiny individual plants, but huge networks throwing runners several feet out and root networks extending several feet into the ground.  In full sun there is little that they can't out compete.  I suspect the fact that I won't water turf only helps them.  They are actually evolved to thrive on the natural rainfall of this region.
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