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Old 04-09-2013, 09:25 AM   #1
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Brand new but want to get my lawn in better shape - what's the first thing?


I am guessing this is a pretty oft-asked question but here goes anyway. So I am a technical/science type guy who not only has a job in those fields, but am also a big DIY'er. The one thing I have neglected in the past 10 years of owning my home is my lawn. I mean, I mow it and whatnot but have not done much more than that. I believe the reason for this is because I am somewhat of a perfectionist (though I attempt to stifle that as much as possible) and the idea of getting started with my lawn project seems so overwhelming and time consuming, time being a precious commodity around my house. However, 2 of my kids are now 14 and 15 and I think they are old enough to help their old man out with the time thing so I am ready to tackle this project.

My only issue is that I do not really know where to start. As usual, I have researched lots of information on lawncare and have seen some great tips; however, the one thing that seems to be lacking is a starting point. What is the first thing?

I have not yet had any pH testing done yet; however, here is a brief scenario of my current situation. I live in SW Virginia, which is in hardiness zone 7a (if that even matters). I am fairly certain that I have a fescue/rye/bermuda mix, but the "evenness" of the types varies depending on where you are in my yard. The soil is very clay like and I can barely dig a hole even in the driest conditions without the clay/mud sticking to the shovel.

My backyard is essentially a big hill and the grass grows more evenly there, but is less dense, if that makes any sense. Additionally, it seems there is a lot of flowering blades on that hill. Hard to explain, but will have to take a picture when it comes in.

I also have 2 trees in the backyard that are very shady and there is nothing but dirt under them. One of them I think will have to be landscaped sans grass but under the other we used to have grass. I then dug a big hole for a swimming pool, but have sense removed it and no grass ever came back. It is not fully shaded all the time though.

I do have weeds (lots of the wild onions on one side of the house and random other weeds, along with crab grass.

The color over all is actually pretty good. I don't have too many brown spots. Either it is quite a dark green or no grass at all.

My biggest complaints are the bare spots, the lack of uniformity, and the fact that when you walk on the grass barefoot, it feels lumpy and sharp in some places and generally overall provides a very uncomfortable experience.

So, besides mowing more often and at not too short (what would be a good length for this mix?) what would be the best first step to getting this long process on the road? I was thinking mow/water/and herbicide but not sure when to start. We have had a span of some warmer weather and the grass is already starting to grow up, so a first mow might be in order this weekend, in fact I am sure of it.

I look for any sage advice and appreciate any comments. Thanks!

Mike

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Old 04-09-2013, 09:41 AM   #2
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Brand new but want to get my lawn in better shape - what's the first thing?


Please post some pics of what you are dealing with. How much land is it? Do you have an irrigation system? Do you know if you have any topsoil on top of the clay?

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Old 04-09-2013, 09:55 AM   #3
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Brand new but want to get my lawn in better shape - what's the first thing?


Thanks for the reply. I am at work and do not have any pictures at the moment, but will get some and post it when I can. It is about 3/4 of an acre and I would say I have very little topsoil from what I remember. I do not have an irrigation system in place. I will post the pictures, but it might not be until this weekend when I get out there. Thanks again!

Mike
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Old 04-10-2013, 09:16 AM   #4
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Brand new but want to get my lawn in better shape - what's the first thing?


First issue is I hope you do not have fescue, rye and bermuda because you have to decide which you want.

Bermuda grows by rhyzomes and needs to be mowed quite short to look its best. Bermuda usually goes dormant and turns brown in the winter. Did this happen to you?

The others do best if mowed taller. I will post a nice chart on grass growth again this year when I find it.

Regular feeding is one of the best things you can do for your yard. In the turfgrass management industry, when budget allowed, we sought to apply 1 pound of nitrogen (first ingredient in the NPK ratio that are those three numbers on the label) per 1,000sf per month. Because they are shallow rooted fertilizer can leach past the roots on things like Bermuda before the systems can take it up.

Now then, you can buy food in bulk but even though expensive, programs like Scotts are rather a no brainer for the homeowner and it is relatively hard to screw up.

Especially in clay soils you should aerate ever year or two at most. You can rent one but the business is so competitive I am sure you have services climb all over you to do it for next to nothing. Aerating leaves those plugs on top of the lawn. With clay you might rake them up and fill in with something that over time MIGHT start to give you some deeper drainage.

You have to be really careful not to overwater clay or it will just plug up and deny roots any root space and your goal should always be to water longer but less frequently too.

De-thatching is also something to consider if you can see an obvious layer of dead plant material along the soil in the turf. Again, a service can do it easier than you unless the DIYer in you really wants to do it.

Now then balancing your soil is important so it least get the Ph part of things done ASAP. You are just wasting nutrients if the soil cannot break it down for the plants to pick it up.

That should get you started other than laying down pre-emergents like crabgrass preventer and post-emergent herbicides for dandelions and so forth. Again following the Scotts or other such program will guid you through all of this although with some reading you can accomplish the same thing much cheaper.

Regular mowing is important of course. Never water later in the day than the turf can dry out if you can help it.
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Old 04-10-2013, 09:23 AM   #5
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Brand new but want to get my lawn in better shape - what's the first thing?


I think this is pretty good and shows how the different types of grasses grow. Click on the red buttons to get started if you do not want to work the whole module.

http://www.ahnrit.vt.edu/ProjectPort...ultimedia.html
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Old 04-10-2013, 10:05 AM   #6
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Brand new but want to get my lawn in better shape - what's the first thing?


Check out Fertilome lawn products and talk to someone who is knowledgeable about them. You could start with Fertilome's Soil Activator to break down thatch and improve the soil.
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Old 04-10-2013, 01:56 PM   #7
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Brand new but want to get my lawn in better shape - what's the first thing?


Quote:
Originally Posted by sdsester View Post
First issue is I hope you do not have fescue, rye and bermuda because you have to decide which you want.

Bermuda grows by rhyzomes and needs to be mowed quite short to look its best. Bermuda usually goes dormant and turns brown in the winter. Did this happen to you?
From mere observation alone, I know that I have a mixture and am pretty sure it is the one I mentioned. I do know the difference and there is certainly differences all over my yard. Parts of the lawn do turn brown and parts stay green.

As far as deciding, I am not fully sure. We are not planning on living here forever and would certainly like to get it looking it's best for sale in about 5 years or so. On the other hand, we have 3 kids (2 teenagers and an elementary age child) so I would have to take that into consideration. And I think I mis-typed in my original post. It may be bluegrass instead of bermuda. I suppose I will have to make a choice soon; however, a question I would have would be how in the world would I make the transition from the mix to only one type.

In studying the lawn last night a little bit, I realized that the large majority, 80% or more is not shaded much during the day, if at all. Also, I realized that there is what looks like little purple flowery type of growth basically taking over the layer closer to the ground in my backyard and clover has taken over something fierce in the front yard, so that is something else I have to worry about.


[QUOTE=sdsester;1156047]
Especially in clay soils you should aerate ever year or two at most. You can rent one but the business is so competitive I am sure you have services climb all over you to do it for next to nothing. [\QUOTE]

Yeah, I am a DIYer at heart, but I "know when to say when" if you know what I mean!


Quote:
Originally Posted by sdsester View Post
You have to be really careful not to overwater clay or it will just plug up and deny roots any root space and your goal should always be to water longer but less frequently too.
Great tip! Thanks.

Quote:
Originally Posted by sdsester View Post
Now then balancing your soil is important so it least get the Ph part of things done ASAP. You are just wasting nutrients if the soil cannot break it down for the plants to pick it up.
There is a coop right near my house. They offer this service, so I think I will get this done as soon as possible as you suggested.

Quote:
Originally Posted by sdsester View Post
That should get you started other than laying down pre-emergents like crabgrass preventer and post-emergent herbicides for dandelions and so forth.
This may be a dumb question, but should this be done before or after mowing. If before...how long before...if after...how long after?

Thanks again for such a thorough response!

Mike
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Old 04-10-2013, 02:07 PM   #8
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Brand new but want to get my lawn in better shape - what's the first thing?


BTW - I just looked on our GIS map, and calculated that I actually have .409 acres (17,803 sq. ft.) that is actually lawn. The rest is trees and or a bunch of underbrush junk (another thing to fix later on).

Thanks again!

Mike
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Old 04-10-2013, 03:09 PM   #9
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Brand new but want to get my lawn in better shape - what's the first thing?


When to apply herbicides will depend somewhat on the type of weed and type of herbicide; and whether you are using a liquid or a dry formula. You alright using herbicides on your property? If used sparingly and according to directions I don't have a major problem with them. There are some organic pre-emergents. You may not be able to get all you need and may have to pay someone to apply them until you get things under control. How tough is the state EPA where you are.

No reason to put a broadleaf liquid with surfacant on surfaces you are going to mow. Pre-emergents are obviously going to work in the soil or at the surface so you might as well mow, detatch and gets as much out of the way as possible.

The homeowner does not have to bag clippings like we had to for some situations so that is good. Follow label directions for application instructions and rates. Keep kids and pets off for the recommended times.

18,000 sf, if I read your post correctly, is an awful lot of turf to maintain nicely. I would definitely look into buying your feed and lawn chemicals form a seed and feed company or landscape supply house. The bags will not come with pretty pictures on them but you will save a bundles. Get some rubbermaid containers with tight lids for them.

Why not think about cutting back and planting some lower maintenance, nicely textured and colorful groundcovers. You can also switch to drip irrigation for them and water in gallons per hour instead of gallons per minute. Since drought tolerance is with us from here on out, ground covers are probably adapted better to global warming.

Nicely thought out xerescaping transition could be a real selling point when it comes time to move on? I think water rationing is going to be more frequent too!

If part of the lawn is going brown seasonally, and not from drought, you probably do have some sort of grass like bermuda. I would see what happens after a good feeding and mowing tall for a couple of months. The fescue, rye and bluegrasses will shade it so it may not do so well and it may, for the most part just step out of the way and let the other grasses take hold.
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Old 04-10-2013, 03:33 PM   #10
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Brand new but want to get my lawn in better shape - what's the first thing?


You know, thinking about it now, I don't think that what I have is 17k of lawn honestly. That is not including the house, outbuilding, driveway and parking spots in front. I also think that looking at the property lines again on the map that my lawn is much less than I had initially stated. On top of that, we have 4 very large trees and a couple of them will need to be mulched underneath as nothing will grow there at all. If I were to estimate, I think it would probably be somewhere around half that amount.

I will have to check on the EPA regs, but have not heard of anything crazy in VA.

I will try to post some pics this weekend to give a better picture of things. Thanks.

Mike

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