Help/Advice NJ Lawn Renovation
I live in central NJ and have a 1400 sq ft lawn that is mostly ravaged with weeds on one side and on the other side is mostly bare due to plumbing work that has been done. In addition there are multiple uneven and unlevel spots, some that could break an ankle, throught the lawn. The soil seems pretty decent. It isn't hard or compacted. The issues are mostly due to construction and lack of maintenance by previous owner. I would like some advice on how to go about getting the lawn looking good again.
I am assuming renovating the lawn is the proper move but I have some questions.
1) Should I kill off everything that is currently there?
2) Is now a reasonable time of year to do this?
3) Do I need to cover the entire lawn with topsoil before reseeding, or just use it for leveling things out? What methods do I use to level things out (Do I need to till everything? Can I just level or does the top soil need to be mixed in?)
4) I have seen talk of slit seeders and power rakes, etc. How do these come into play? Do I need one, both, or something entirely different? Can I rent at Home Depot?
5) Whats a good watering schedule after seeding?
6) Do I need to cover with hay (I've heard this a lot)
Hope somebody can help. I'm a competent DIYer but there are a lot of different methods mentioned online regarding this. I want to do it right and I dont wan't to waste a lot of time or money with no results.
Thanks in advance
Also, how shady is the lawn.
Those things not being known, I can only tell you what I'd do...
First of all, I would NOT kill off everything. Grass is harder to start, and slower to grow, than weeds. No RoundUp. I'd use a good strong broad-leaf killer (2-4d) and get everything BUT the grass killed.
I would also get a truck-load or two of decent composted top-soil. I recently got 2 ton, for my back yard, for $10 per ton. Spread it around in low spots, and in the area where construction has been done.
With a roto-tiller, make a good seed-bed out of the area that is bare because of construction.
Spread both fertilizer and good quality grass seed (both will be a little spendy). Only spread the grass seed on areas with bare (newly worked) soil. Work the seed in a little bit, and possibly cover over it with a very light amount of soil (it just needs to be covered, not buried).
I would water the lawn once per day, in the early morning. Soak it good. Be patient.
The reasons I would not use sod are both the expense, and the long-term tendency of sod to not work very well. (When my sons & I did a side-line mowing service, the sodded yards were the worst. It took at least several years for the sod to really grow into the dirt, and for them to really be good lawns. Some of them never did.)
I appreciate the advice - here are some follow up responses/questions.
I like Weed-B-Gone for weed control. Used with a hose end sprayer, I've found it to be very effective, even on clover. (May take a couple apps for full control) Don't use anything with a crabgrass controller if you're going to seed afterwards. Crabgrass preventers work by being taken up by young, newly germinated plants and killing them before they take root.
2. Spring, before it gets hot, is a great time to plant turfgrasses.
3. You should rototill and prepare the soil properly, especially if you have had construction equipment compacting part of it. It sounds like you have decent soil so you may not need fill or topsoil if you till deep enough. Without know how deep and wide the divets or low spots you describe are I cannot really answer your question though.
3a. Since you will be tilling it, you should add appropriate fertilizer, soil ammendments to increase water retention, root aeration and so forth. Correct the Ph if needed with minerals.
4. Slit seeders and power rakes are generally used for overseeding applications and it sounds like you need to start from scratch. You will need a wide rake or a grate you can drag around to level to grade. If you can fit a little tractor that will probably work even better.
5. Your soil should be evenly moist but not soggy when you apply the seed. Thereafter you want to keep the seed moist without waterlogging it until it germinates. The watering schedule for this will depend on heat, humidity, wind and so forth. You will probably have to moisten it several times per day. Don't let the soil dry out. If you have a sprinkler system with timer you can water a few minutes throughout the day and be fine.
5a. Once the seed has germinated you will want to cut back on your watering frequency to encourage root growth. Don't let the new lawn dry out though. Get in the habit of watering early in the day. Pest dangers increase the later you water.
6. You do want to top dress a new seeded lawn with something. Hay will work but do not use straw---it usually has too many weed seeds. Peat moss is a possibility but it sponges water. In California, when I was in the turfgrass industry, we used a fine redwood mulch. Just remember any organic mulch is going to rob nitrogen.
Other tips? Prolong your first mowing as long as you can and then mow with a high setting. Get in the habit of mowing tall unless you are planting crawling types of turf. Make sure your mower is sharp or you could rip delicate new grass shoots out. Current wisdom is to leave the clippings, especially if you have a mulching mower.
I would use something other than a time-release fertilizer high in available nitrogen for the first months of a young lawn. Don't worry about weeds too soon. You can zap them once the lawn is somewhat established.
Not sure you can get anybody out specifically for 1,400sf but a hydroseeder might add you to project list if in your area. Hydroseeding will establish a lawn faster than sod for about 1/4 the price and not that much more than seeding and top dressing yourself. The process involves spraying a slurry of seed, fertilizer, and mulch on a well prepared bed to form a crust.
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