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organic lawn care for the cheap and lazy

 
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Iamavictory,

Not sure what "it wasnt on the highest setting but it was the highest" means.

The roly poly bugs are not a problem.

Home made compost is about 20 times better than anything you can buy commercially.  But for the quantities you would need, it would be an awful lot of work. 

If you buy the stuff with the wood chips, you can compensate for the wood chips by adding lawn fertilizer every few weeks. 

How about legumes:  does your lawn have any clovers?

 
                    
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Good information in the article, however not much mentioned on reseeding. I am trying to repair my lawn from last year's draught. I put down dirt and seed last fall with some success, and more seed into the dirt this spring. I am using Scott's Sun and Shade seed. I live in the Chicago area. I am not sure if I am watering too much or not enough or just right. I have seen some grass start to grow, but not as much or at least not as quickly as I would like. Any recommendations would be great!
 
                    
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HEY GUYS I HAVE MOSS IN MY LAWN AND ITS TRYING TO TAKE OVER ANY IDEAS
 
paul wheaton
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Jeff E wrote:
Good information in the article, however not much mentioned on reseeding. I am trying to repair my lawn from last year's draught. I put down dirt and seed last fall with some success, and more seed into the dirt this spring. I am using Scott's Sun and Shade seed. I live in the Chicago area. I am not sure if I am watering too much or not enough or just right. I have seen some grass start to grow, but not as much or at least not as quickly as I would like. Any recommendations would be great!



Most grass becomes dormant during the hot summer.  It will turn brown and look dead, but come back to life at the first rain. 

So if your grass is really dead, I have to wonder if there is more happening there than drought. 

You use the word "dirt" and not "soil".  It makes me think that you need to fix your soil first.  Your seeds might sprout, but if your "dirt" is like cement, they will eventually be sad and die.

If your soil has no life, you maybe should till in some organic matter.  If you are really patient and really cheap and really lazy, you could lay down a little organic matter and plant something like .... cowpeas ...  which will bust up the soil and fertilize it at the same time.  Then, in the early fall, mow them down, let them dry a bit, then toss your seeds on that.  As the cowpea roots decompose, they will provide an excellent place for the grass roots to make a new home.  Earth worms will eventually find you and move in and gradually mix all of the cowpea stuff deep into the soil.

If you are wealthy and in a hurry, you could buy compost and till it in before putting down your seed.

 
paul wheaton
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David  Chartier wrote:
HEY GUYS I HAVE MOSS IN MY LAWN AND ITS TRYING TO TAKE OVER ANY IDEAS



Mow high.  Water infrequently.  Fertilize with an organic lawn fertilizer.

Moss likes wet, acid soil - so maybe have your pH tested too.

It's all about getting your lawn to out compete the moss!
 
                    
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Update on my moss  issues:   I have started to Mow high (three mowings so far)

I have not watered yet because we are still getting rain enough to water everything and I want to get those roots going deeper.

I have noticed that with the higher mowings the Moss is quickly dieing off (unlike most years) I am able to rake it out (or at least thinner)  then I have over seeded and covered with some self made compost (Rabbit manure, some grass clippings, and other non processed left overs from my kitchen) 

My lawn is looking the best it has in years already,  I have only used a little lime on it earlier in the year.  I am getting ready to try and reclaim a small section of my yard which has hard Dirt ( not soil)  I am going to dig a post hole or two and refill with compost and some of the dirt and see how it goes.  Right now it is not retaining much water it just runs off so I need to treat the ground I am assuming to get good soil.  We will see how it works. 
 
paul wheaton
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It's always good to hear from folks after they tried my advice!
 
                      
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Paul,

On yor website you say to put down Ringer fertilizer at half the recommened rate, What is the reason for putting down half the rate?
 
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Since I'm tossing it around by hand, there are spots that will get more than needed. 

I think buying a fertilizer spreader for a lawn is silly.

Plus, fertilizer manufacturers tend to suggest the maximum amount that will not quite kill your lawn.  That way you use it up faster and then run out and go to the store to buy more. 

From an environmental perspective, this stuff works because it soaks into the ground and feeds the grass.  Anything that the grass doesn't use, goes into the groundwater.  Yuck!  I prefer to lay out doses that the grass can easily work with.

 
                      
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Paul,

I have been mowing my lawn at the highest setting about 4 inches and the grass is going to seed in several places. Does that mean I need to lower it down a notch? Also I have clover growing in my back yard lawn. does that mean it is nitrogen poor? I have been fertilizing with organic fertilizer every spring and fall for the last several years (Ringer for the first time this spring). Finally, what do you think of Jerry Baker's tonics (ammonia, dish soap, coke, mouth wash etc) sprayed on lawn?
 
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going to seed:  interesting!  I wonder what variety of grass you have!  But when you mix in the stuff about clover, it does sound like a nitrogen poor situation - that makes me think that the grass is stressed and stunted.  A lot of plants that feel they are on the edge of death will attempt to reproduce just before they die.  In fact, a great trick with tomatoes that have it too good - thus they do not flower and produce fruit - is to not water them for a few days.  They're leaves droop and suddenly there are hundreds of blossoms!

....  so I seem to be getting off topic ....

Then you say you fertilize and that makes me worry that your fertilizer is washing through your soil and not hanging around long enough to be of much help. 

What is the story of your soil?  If you dig a little hole, what do you see?
 
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Baker:  Most of what he says is true.  And, at the same time, I cannot think of a single one of his recipes that I would want on any of my stuff.  They each seem icky, or toxic, or just more expensive than going down a more traditional route.  I stopped reading his stuff about ten years ago.

If you want to start a new thread with one of his recipes, we could talk about what, exactly ... well, we can start with what I think and hopefully other people will chime in too. 

 
                  
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Great site Paul - been reading for a year and am finally getting around to actually doing something about my debacle of a lawn.  You said somewhere in the article that fertilizing in the summer just feeds the weeds, not the grass.  I live in New England and its now June - is it too late to spread some Ringer around?  My lawn is being overtaken by clover (the not-good kind), so this seems like the solution - but I want to help my grass (what's left of it) and not the various weeds that are all over the place.

FWIW, I've never fertilized (been here for 5 years) and the lawn has gotten progressively worse over that time.

Appreciate the advice and love the site!
 
                      
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I think the kind of grass I have is Kentucky Blue Grass. It was put in as sod about 6 years ago. I live in the denver Colorado area. Could over watering cause the going to seed? Because of poor design by the crappy landscaper we had, the sprinkler system waters some areas more than others. If I back down the time on those zones, other areas don't get enough. The going to seed areas are where the ground gets the most water, on the edges. As far as the clover, It is located in a couple areas near a fence where the neighbors on the other side have nothing but weeds. Could I be over watering after I fertilize? After fertilizing, do you water deeply or just wet down the lawn? I havn't dug a hole but I don't have great soil. Hardly any worms and shallow top soil. I have fertilized last month with Ringer. Should I fertilize again now or wait till the fall? As far as Baker, I tried a couple of his tonics. The dish soap got rid of the aphids. I tried the Ammonia, Soap, Beer, Coke and mouth wash a couple times last year  on my lawn and didn't notice any difference.
 
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There is a not-good-kind of clover?  White?  Red?  Crimson?  Sweet yellow blossom?  Sweet white blossom?  What makes it not good?  Some people call "black medic" "yellow clover" - and while it can be a bother in lawns that are mowed too low, in a healthy lawn it is tiny and, IMO, attractive.

The key to fertilizing at the right time has to do with when the growth spurts are.  Right now should be okay.  But two weeks from now would probably be a bad idea.  Cool season grasses will start going dormant around the first of july.
 
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garyd,

I think the key to your trouble may be your soil.  I'm going to guess that when dry, it has a very light color - indicating low organic matter.  Get out there and dig a hole a foot deep and tell me how long it took you to dig the hole and what sort of stuff you see!

 
                      
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The clover, which is white clover, doesn't look bad. I am only concerned about it as a sign of low nitrogen. It started out a few years ago as a patch of about 2ft X 1ft and is now intertwined in the grass at about 40ft X 7ft.

I dug a 1 ft hole like you said and it wasn't hard to dig but the soil is light colored with a lot of clay. Our soil has a lot of bentonite in it which is expansive soil. I saw one little worm but no other bugs. My grass is really growing fast right now. I have been mowing twice a week since the first of May and that is really not enough. I mowed monday and as of today (wed) it has grown and inch! Is that good or bad? 
 
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With your grass growing that much, you don't need my help!  You're doing great!

The soil color is a little worrisome. So is the lack of worms.  These things should be fixed with time and good lawn care practices.
 
                              
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Thanks for such a great article, it sounds like we're doing everything wrong.  We're going to try some of your suggestions from now on and see what we get. 

We live in the south where the state is covered in bermuda grass and we're trying to grow fescue.  I know it's hard here, but my parents have a lawn full of it and I just can't let it go.  So first, should I do the infrequent watering even when the grass is trying to grow from seed?  I wouldn't think so... If not, how often should I water it then and when should I go back to watering infrequently?  We planted it in early spring, so it's taken off pretty well now, but it looks like we're going to have to reseed next year and I don't want to blow it...

Also, we have this crappy grass that somehow got mixed in with our fescue, we used Scott's seed and I can't imagine that they would put this type of seed into a bag of fescue seed, but it got in the lawn somehow... It looks like perennial rye (and may in fact be that, I'm not sure...) It grows quickly and in clumps and is lighter green than the fescue, the base of the grass blades are wide and circular, think like a stylus pen from a PDA, and the base is purplish.  We've tried removing them by hand but they're EVERYWHERE.  Next year we were going to try a pre-emergent to try to control it, but I'm not really sure how they work and if they will work on this type of grass.  Any info would be greatly appreciated...

Thanks!!

Colleen Dixon
 
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If it never freezes where you live, I wonder if using a cool season grass is wise.  This is an area I know virtually nothing about - I've always lived in areas where it freezes and warm season grasses are simply not an option.

 
                                        
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I will try the deep digging idea on a customer's lawn and let you know how it went.

We are going to do a small garden next to the lawn, so I will go really deep and see if we can get the worms going.
 
                                    
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I live in the South with Kentucky Tall Fescue and Gem II Turf Type Grass in my yard. Last fall, I had about 3000 Sq reshaped and sewed with new grass. They brought red clay field dirt, 2 loads of it to fill in the whole area. In about 2 weeks the Gem II grass came up nice and green. The new area looked good, but had some thin spots. After the first frost came the grass went dead quickly, but the rest of the yard did fine. I had another area in the yard, a part of a former field disc up by a tractor and then I seeded it. This part of the yard is doing ok. The new area that was wasn’t disc up still looks brown and never has recovered the dark green color it had last fall. Basically, it is not growing at all. There is no root system with the new grass. Is there anything I can do now to help it now or should I wait until this fall?

What should I do with the side yard this fall? Bring in some loads of topsoil or compost and disc it up with the tractor and start from scratch? I bought some Ringer for this fall when it is time to seed. I had a friend recommend that I try Kelp Lawn Starter when it is time to sew new grass. He used to work on a golf course and they used it there. He mentioned that it helps develop the root system. What do you think? Could I use them both on newly sewed areas or just put Ringer down this fall when it is time to seed?

Thanks for the help.

Todd






 
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Most lawns in the united states are "Kentucky Bluegrass" which is a very thirsty variety of tall fescue.  I prefer almost any tall fescue over "kentucky."  If you have ruminents on your land, you might look into QMax:  an endophyte enhanced tall fescue - where the endophytes are ruminent friendly.

I have no idea what "gem II" is, but it sounds like an annual grass:  germinate quickly, grow very fast, lush and thick, and die horribly at the slightest frost.

Kelp lawn starter:  it can provide some help, but I would be too cheap and lazy to mess with it. Your friend is right - keep the nitrogens off until the grass is better established.  Of course, if your soil has too much P and K (the macro nutrients in the kelp stuff), then the kelp stuff would make a bad situation worse.



 
                                    
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Thanks for the help. What do you mean by ruminents?  Cattle or sheep? I have no animals on my land. Gem II is a turf type fescue and here is a link to it. It is not an annual grass, here is a link: http://www.turfmerchants.com/varieties/TMi_TurfGemII.htm   

It is made by Turf Merchants. Landscapers in my area use it and you can find it on your local golf course. You can’t find it at your local hardware store, but it is sold at a Turf grass store. I planted it in the rest of my yard, and the spots where I put bags of manure soil then seeded it really looks great, even in full sun.  I had a soil test done with my local Co-op and my lime was fine. Their only suggestion was 5-10-5, 20 lbs, per 1000 sq feet 3-4 times a year. Well, number one: 5-10-5 is really hard to find, and plus I have about 20000 sq feet of lawn. In order to cheap and lazy I bought some Ringer, and at 20.00 a bag it can add up. I want to be all-organic, so I’ll just have to stretch the bags out. Also, in applying Ringer in the fall do you aerate and seed first then wait to a couple of weeks to apply the Ringer? I was going to try and get away with twice a year, April and September, but may need 3 times.  I was reading earlier that you don’t fertilizer when over seeding, and to wait until the grass is growing a bit. True?

As for Qmax, I have never heard of it. I googled it, but did not find too much on it.

Thanks again,

Todd
 
                                    
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The above link was missing a letter on the end of it.

http://www.turfmerchants.com/varieties/TMi_TurfGemII.html
 
paul wheaton
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Creepy.  They say "mix", but they won't say a mix of what.  The phrase "synthetic cultivars" also gives me the willies.  I would pass.

Yeah, sheep, cattle, goats, horses ...  They can get sick eating some varieties of tall fescue.

>  do you aerate and seed first

I never aerate.  That's work!  That's the earthworm's job.  If you don't have earthworms, you should investigate that.

Seed first?  That's work!  Are we talking about large patches of bare soil? 

If there is grass already growing there, but it's kinda thin and patchy, it will grow thick and lush with the right care.  Overseeding without correcting the soil problems just makes for lots of work and you'll end up with an even worse situation.

 
                                    
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I am pretty sure that I am low in the earthworm department, especially the area of yard that the red clay field dirt was brought in and the Gem II was planted. In my area we are in a drought, but the area mentioned above never came back up from last fall. It is brown as it can be. I think it's in desperate need of some compost this fall. Even when we have had some rain this area it has not perked up at all, very little.

As for over seeding this fall, I really don't have any bare spots in the yard, very little here and there. I have a "hodge podge" of grasses, Tall Fescue, Kentucky Fescue, and some Gem II. Kentucky Fescue does the best. It is really thick and drought resistant. Even during our drought, the Kentucky stuff is still fighting hard and growing. I really would like to have one kind of grass, Tall Fescue, but over seeding on thick areas of grass make it tuff for it to germinate. I went and looked at the Tall Fescue's at Lowes, and they have Rebel's Elite and Rebels Tall Fescue Plus. My neighbor has Rebels Elite, and his yard is dead because of the drought, but my front yard with the Kentucky Tall Fescue is still kicking it..I don't water any parts of my yard because it is too big, and we have a well.

Thanks
 
                      
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I have several clumps of what I think is crab grass (it's a wide blade, course grass that grows in clumps) that is starting to take over more and more of my front lawn. Is there any remedy for this? Will your method of lawn care eventually choak out the crab grass or do I just live with it if I don't want to use weed killer? I have been following your cheap and lazy method since the begginning of this spring. Luckily, I have always used organic fertilizer and no chemicals since the sod was put in to protect my dogs from toxic chemicals.
 
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I think what you have is actually quack grass.  These techniques will usually beat it.
 
                                    
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I threw some Ringer out last week by hand and then we had about 1.70 inches of rain over the following two days. I now have some brown patches in the lawn. Maybe I put to much in one spot when throwing it out by hand? Or at least that is what it looks like. I thought for the most part that Ringer was non burning. Should I add some water or let it go? We don't have rain the forecast for about 6 more days.

Thanks

 
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Death by too much nitrogen is brown patches surrounded by dark green (sometimes almost blue) grass.  Is this the case for you?
 
                                    
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Well the brown patches are in the back and side yards, so it is not death by nitrogen. More or less death by drought. All the GEM II areas are really hurting in this heat and drought conditions. Going to go with a more drought resistant Tall Fescue I found on my state's research page(NCSU Turfgrass School). They list a couple of kinds that Lowes/Home Depot like Rebels III. Also, I may plant some KY31 in another area to see the difference b/w the two. I just really like the dark green color that KY31 sometimes does not have, so we'll see.
 
              
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I live in Las Vegas NV and my lawn has brown spots, possibly fungus, and I cant get it to green up with the usual fertilizers(Scotts), I am also having re-growth problems. I just put a pool in and the rest of the landscaping looks awesome but my grass is on the outs. What can I do? HELP!!!
 
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scott, the key to being cheap and lazy is knowledge.  So the first thing we need to do is to figure out if your grass is a cool season grass or a warm season grass.

Does it ever freeze on LV?  Warm season grasses typically cannot tolerate a freeze. 

Warm season grasses grow mostly in the summer.  Cool season grasses grow in the late spring and early fall - they are semi-dormant in the summer.

Brown spots, eh?  Do you have pets?  How big are the brown spots?

Can you get your pH tested?
 
                                
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Hi, I mostly just wanted to say that I hate your page.  It's making me feel like an idiot, because not only did I lose the bookmark to it, but I forgot everything it said.  I am now kicking myself over the "topsoil" I bought this spring, which turned out to be nothing more than dirt -- and I was in denial until after the seeds failed to take, and the crusty dirt started to crack, making my lawn look worse than before.

Good thing I have your page now bookmarked in a much more convenient place, and I know what must be done.  I'm going to make sure my honey reads the page from top to bottom -- I think I did that when I first found it too, but maybe this time, with a big fat failure beneath us, we'll come up with a better plan of attack.

I'm figuring that we'll try the mow high (he says he IS mowing it high, but I measured it and it was barely 3" tall), leave the clippings (which I finally convinced him of this year, by pointing out how much less work it is to mow) thing for awhile.  However, since the dead of summer is quickly approaching we'll probably not have much to mow soon.  Will watering help?  Will I be able to grow enough compost to enrich the soil enough before seeding season starts up again this fall?  Would it help to rake the surface or anything?  I think I should get seed down in mid September, if my intuition is right on that (something about waiting until the days average less than 85 Fahrenheit).  I'm approximately in Detroit (but on the cleaner side of the border) if that says anything about my climate...

I'm actually seriously considering getting the lawn aerated, and then spreading manure on it, but I'd much prefer easy and cheap anyday.  The worst part is, it would've been relatively easy to just toss a pile of manure into the pile of topsoil before it got spread around, and that's why I'm kicking myself.  The stuff looked good and brown and rich, like I imagined soil would be, and so I didn't think of it (and I didn't know at that time about the "ribbon test" that I could've done with my own two hands, to check what kind of soil it was).  Anyways, I'm wondering whether aerating will help... it's only an extra $80 on top of my "WeedMan" fertilizing/weedkilling plan, which I feel like a heel for having signed up to when all I probably needed to do was kick my lawnmowing-man in the butt and make him mow when I say, and the way I say!  Perhaps our weed-garden of a lawn this year will be the proof that I need to convince him that we actually need to cut the weeds down before they're overshadowing the grass.  Oh, that and making him read your page again.  Heh.

Well, that was fun.  I'm sorry about what I said up top.  I really do love your page, and I am grateful that you've made the info available, and interesting to read.

Long live the Cheap and Easy way....



 
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This question has come up so often that I finally added it to the FAQ at the bottom of the article.

And here it is for your easy perusal:

<b>My grass is all thin and dead-ish, what is your advice on overseeding?</b><p>
  <ul>

  Don't.<p>

  I mean it.  Put overseeding out of your mind.  Your "dirt" has such terrible issues that adult grass is struggling to survive and now you want to put babies there?<p>

  I am, right now, trying really hard to think of one case where overseeding will do any good ....  nope - can't think of a single case.  Seeding bare patches that are are at least a foot or two wide makes sense - but that's not "overseeding" (tossing seed onto an existing patch of grass).  <p>

  Improve your soil and your existing grass will thrive.  Then there is no need for seed.<p>

  </ul>

On to other stuff:  the aeration followed by compost is damn good thinking!  Generally, I'm against aeration - but your goal here isn't to aerate, but to work the compost down a bit.  I still think the big post hole idea is still better:  get those worms in there to do your work for you!  But yes!  Skipping all this in favor of patience is even better!  The cheap and lazy way!


 
                                    
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I’ll try and keep the history brief. Last fall landscapers fixed a swell I had in my side yard. He brought in 2 loads of red clay field dirt, used a slit seeder and planted Tall Turf Fescue. I think it was Millennium and 2nd Millennium. About 2 weeks after the seeding the grass looked great with a dark green color. It was a little patchy, but looked great. I kept it water and it continued to look great. I was so happy that I went and more of it and used it in others part of the yard. The first frost of the season came and BAM the grass turned yellow and was dead as a doornail. Other areas that I seeded were ok and not affected by the frost. Spring season came and the grass perked up a little bit, but not near as what it was in the fall. I did put down some fertilizer in the spring, but did not seem to help much. Basically what you see in the photos is what you get. This area of the yard doesn’t grow at all even after a hard rain. I am thinking this soil really needs some organic manner. I’ve recently gone to an organic program in my yard with some Ringer and Soymeal.

I want to repair it in Mid September and I was thinking about aerating, seeding, roll it, then compost top dressing. Ideas, Suggestions, or Comments are appreciated. Pictures on the link below.  Thanks for the help

http://www.picturetrail.com/uid3542027
 
                                
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paul wheaton wrote:
  I am, right now, trying really hard to think of one case where overseeding will do any good .... 



I can think of one case where someone would benefit from overseeding:  if they want to introduce new species of grass into their lawn.
 
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sprinks98,

What is your "soil" pH?

It sounds like you are prepared to sign up for a lot of hard work - but a little knowledge can save you from a lot of hard work.

And those pics look like you have a lot of sun to work with - I would be tempted to have a garden with a lot of that.

So .....  yeah - it sounds like you need an infusion of organic matter. 

If you are going to roll at all, it should be the last thing.

 
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Qrystal wrote:

paul wheaton wrote:
  I am, right now, trying really hard to think of one case where overseeding will do any good .... 



I can think of one case where someone would benefit from overseeding:  if they want to introduce new species of grass into their lawn.



Okay - let's suppose you want to introduce tall fescue into a healthy turf.  It will take almost 14 days to germinate.  During that time, you must keep the see moist.  And you will need to mow your grass low, so that the seedlings can get light.  And then the seedlings will still need to compete with the existing turf to get a start.  Then, your new species will need to outcompete the old species.  While all of these things are possible to manage, it just seems like an uphill battle.
 
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