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How do I kill my weed yard and put in an organic lawn? (I'm a new homeowner)  RSS feed

 
                              
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Hello,

I'm brand new to this forum (well, forums in general), and I'm a brand new homeowner, so please bear with me.  Here's my layout:

Frontyard:  The front yard faces North.  Front and center, there is some kind of maple tree that's about 3ft. in diameter and about 50ft. tall that shades the house and the yard.  Even so, the lawn is pretty good out front.  It's a bit patchy and there's a little bit of clover.  But, compared to the backyard it's great!

Backyard:  I hate to call it a yard.  It is completely weed-filled.  Wall-to-wall weeds.  Weeds as far as the eye can see.  Weeds taller than me (actually this is fairly impressive as I'm almost 6ft).  I mean you could lose a child in this mess.  Towards the house, there's tons of creeping charlie and some sort of wild violet.  There's some kind of broadleaf and just a few dandelions.  There's saplings that are a few feet tall everywhere.  My neighbors to the East have huge Chinese Elms, the West side of my yard is dominated by a Maple tree that is 8ft. in diameter.  Towards the house these trees have formed a canopy.  The yard faces South and beyond the canopy, the yard gets a good amount of sun.

My question is this:
I have a mower and a tiller and a bit of initiative.  I don't want to have TruGreen come annihilate the weeds and then plant seed.  So, can anyone give me some tips on how to kill all the weeds and start a fairly nice organic lawn this year?

Thanks for any help!  I'm really kind of lost and feeling far behind the eight-ball here.

-Cassandra
 
paul wheaton
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Yeah, that info would be helpful I bet.  Whoops.  I live in hardiness zone 5b with average annual minimum temp of -10[sup]o[/sup]F to -15[sup]o[/sup]F.
 
paul wheaton
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I think you should till it and plant pure tall fescue seed.  Make sure your seed contains only tall fescue. 

 
                              
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Tilling I can do.  Do you have a brand or website that you can recommend I buy pure tall fescue seed from?  And, in hardiness zone 5b, when is the best time to sow this seed?  Thanks for the help!
 
paul wheaton
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paul wheaton
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So I popped out onto the internet and thought I might find something REALLY good.  Specifically, I thought "this grass is probably not going to be grazed.  So the best thing would be to find some 'endophyte enhanced' seed!"  This is seed where the grass has formed a special bond with a type of fungus such that the fungus feeds the grass!  You either use less fertilizer or none!  Awesome stuff! 

After a half hour of searching, I have only come up with places that sell it by the 50 pound sack (for playgrounds) or it's in a mix.  I'm almost tempted to suggest the mix, because it you don't fertilize, this grass should easily outcompete the other grasses.


 
                              
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Yeah, you'd be right.  There are zero animals on this property.  So, can you tell me where I'd find this mix?

Also, I don't care if it takes two years to get this backyard back.  That being said, I'm wondering if it'd be a better idea to plant cowpea (or something like that), let it grow until the first frost, and then plant grass seed in the spring.  That would definitely choke out the weeds and prep the soil for grass seed in the spring.  What would you recommend?

Thanks for the help!
 
Kelda Miller
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I'll suggest something different, maybe hold off on losing the weeds. A lot of them are dynamic accumulators and are drawing nutrients to that soil and breaking up compaction.

This is definitely a matter of aesthetics, but maybe mulch the weeds and put in a garden bit by bit as you have ideas/time for it.

OR, if just to think clearly about garden design, you'd like to have the weeds suppressed, you can always scythe it and do a sheet mulch. (a quick online showed lots of resources for 'sheet mulch' info). This still leaves the roots in the soil and doesn't harm the structure that's been put into place by this veritable backyard jungle.

One big hesitation would be if there are some weeds that have rampant runner roots. I don't know creeping charlie. I know that quack grass, english ivy, and bindweed would need special sheet mulch attention to kill them. 'capped' with cardboard lid and edges on sides.

I think all the options kind of have to do with your: 1) time in getting garden established, can it be a big weekend workparty with friends or is it more piece by piece as you get resources and 2) inspiration and ideas about what the garden will look like and the best means to that end.

good luck!
 
John Meshna
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If you want a really detailed answer to this question, I've written about this.  Click these links or paste it into your browser-http://www.dirtworks.net/Establishing-Turf-Grass.html and http://www.dirtworks.net/Lawn-Renovation.html

The extent to which you go in persuit of a lawn can be great or small depending on your personal requirements.  It's up to you to decide how much or how little time and material you want to put into the job.  I've outlined the program in detail.
 
paul wheaton
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(sorry for the delay in response - internet trouble)

That is, indeed, a lot of detail.

I'm gonna go with how that is "a way".  And for those with time and money, that is a guaranteed recipe for a first class lawn. 

If I had a patch that had been wild for a few years, I think I might try to find a shortcut.  The quickest shortcut is to just mow it.  Lots of times, the grass that is there is just fine and mowing it is enough to have a "nice enough" lawn.

In the case of Cassandra ...  ohhhhh Cassandra .... are we ever gonna have some fun!  If you are willing to wait, then I think it would be a hoot to plant some things to do the work for you!

Here is the seed with the endophyte enhanced tall fescue:  http://groworganic.com/item_SLL505_Tough_Turf_Lawn_Seed_5_Lb_Bag.html

And now I must tip my hat to Kelda:  She's right.  All of the weeds that are there are doing something good for you.  And, another great thought is to do something other than a lawn - this is the perfect time to do a bit of landscaping - perhaps some garden, perhaps a raspberry patch. 

But .... what I'm about to tell you is some of my favorite activity.  Kinda like a mad scientist approach.  Way cheaper than what John suggested.  And it could freak out some of your neighbors.  BWA HA HA HA HA HA!

Right now is a great time to plant some peas.  If you bought a 20 pound sack of peas and planted everything that you wanted to be grass with peas ...  then the peas would probably outcompete everything.  If your peas died off in the winter (it would be cool to see if the austrian winter peas made it through the winter okay) you could plant them again in march, then harvest around the end of june. 

The end of june is not a good time for you to plant grass, so you might then plant buckwheat. Buckwheat has freaky deep roots that break up some of the most impossible soils.  It grows quickly to about three feet tall, outcompeting almost everything.  And the stalks are super tender, so it is easy to get rid of the buckwheat and move on to something else. 

In the last week of august, plant your grass seed. 

This is gonna be fun!
 
John Meshna
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That is a lot.  It's a black box, if I had all the money and time approach.  Lucky me I had clients like that back in the day when I did those things.
Personally i can't stand lawns but I know that's an arrogant point of view because I'm fortunate enough to live in the land of milk and honey where we think in terms of acres and not square feet.
I know for a lot of people their back yard is a sanctuary away from the riggers of everyday life and a lawn no matter how small can be a necessity for one's sanity.

For large areas there are lots of options and I used to install them.  I encourage edible landscapes whenever possible.  Wildflower meadows are a nice option too.  They can be a nice option after opening up overgrown land.  They look great, hold the soil and if, later on you decide to get more formal about the landscape you can till up the flowers and make a lawn or get fancy and make anything you want there.
 
                        
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paul wheaton wrote:
Here is the seed with the endophyte enhanced tall fescue:  http://groworganic.com/item_SLL505_Tough_Turf_Lawn_Seed_5_Lb_Bag.html


Thoughts on going with mycorrhizal fungus for lawns via:  http://fungi.com/mycogrow/index.html  for already established lawns instead of a rip/replace with fescue? 
 
paul wheaton
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I haven't tried that, but I have tried some of their similar stuff for gardens.

I'm all for using that sort of thing.  Go for it! 

And I'm generally against ripping out existing sod.  That sounds like a big pile of work!
 
                                      
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Well, I'll give you my two cents from a lawn care perspective.

The easiest chem free way to get rid of a lot of weeds is to fertilize and cut your lawn high, so as to choke out the weeds and thicken up what grass is there.

It's amazing what proper management can do by mechanical means without even fertilizing, but the fert helps immensley on normal lawns.
We just took 12 acres of overgrown pasture, and with 5 properly timed cuts have taken a goldenrod infested, weed controlled  briar patch and turned it back into a healthy, clover, trefoil, and grass pasture that will be cut for some nice hay next year.
 
                                      
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By the way, it's interesting to hear someone actually WANT endophyte seed, since I'm always staying away from it because horses don't do well with it.

It's just strange to hear a much different perspective.
 
paul wheaton
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dvmcmrhp52 wrote:
By the way, it's interesting to hear someone actually WANT endophyte seed, since I'm always staying away from it because horses don't do well with it.

It's just strange to hear a much different perspective.


Look for something called MaxQ.  This is a tall fescue seed that has an endophyte that does not harm animals.  The endophyte helps the grass in a big way too. 

 
                                      
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paul wheaton wrote:
Look for something called MaxQ.  This is a tall fescue seed that has an endophyte that does not harm animals.  The endophyte helps the grass in a big way too. 





I'm going to check that out, thanks.
Tall fescue is a good choice for high traffic areas with horses, so thanks.
 
Leah Sattler
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I had no idea that there was an fescue with endophyte safe for horses! that will be filed away in my tiny brain for  future use for sure. If anyone is wondering, endophyte "infected" fescue is primarily a problem in breeding horses, causing abortion, agalactia and weak foals. it is also suspected of being related to overal poor health when consumed in large quantiities by non breeding horses.
 
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I think that most of the endophyte stuff in most grasses has problems for most ruminants.  But!  The endophyte helps the grass thrive!  And!  This maxq stuff has the endophyte and is safe for ruminants.
 
Leah Sattler
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I don't know then. i have read that it is fine for ruminents and that is is ok to feed fescue hay to goats. I was a bit skeptical,and have no pressing need to feed fescue and I have two pony mares that munch on the same stuff as the goats so I haven't looked into it much and just don't buy fescue hay. not much of it out there anyway around here.
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