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ursula 01-19-2010 10:42 PM

lawn needs help
We live in North Eastern Washington state - cold winters, warm to hot summers and average rainfall of 17". Last year our lawn went bad despite regular care. Many dead areas with some straggly strands of grass, some grass okay, some mushrooms in isolated areas. The lawn was cared for by a professional company and we followed all of their recommendations. The lawn gradually went downhill over about 3 seasons and finally just gave up so last summer we minimally cared for it with the plan to rejuvenate or replace this year. Any information on the best approach is appreciated. We own a bobcat and can dig the whole thing up if that's the best approach. House faces South, front lawn is okay but not great. Back lawn is on West and North sides of house - no lawn on East side of house. Thanks!

user1007 01-20-2010 09:40 AM

My first reaction is that it just got too wet over a period of time and there are some drainage issues? The plants just got drowned? Was it aereated as part of the lawn care regimen? You might want to have a civil engineer out to see if you need to regrade when you have everything dug up.

Second thought is that it got over treated with fertilizers and things. Some of the lawncare companies go a little crazy with nitrogen applications for example. And not their fault, but heavy metals get hidden under the inert ingredient laws for fertilizers which is kind of scary.

Third thing given the amount of moisture would be some sort of fungus other than toadstools? Grubs or other insects would create the bare spots too as they chomped off the roots.

I would get the soil tested before you do much else. It is not an expensive process and could save you a lot of aggravation in the long run. Your county or university extension office should have a list of soil labs that will tell you how to prepare the samples. They will be able to tell you what is going on with the soil itself and what you might need to add to balance it.

Was this a sod lawn laid down on clay soil? Sometimes the sod layer never really takes to the soil.

If you do decide to dig it all out and till everything up do look into hydromulching/hydroseeding as it yields great lawns. It is much cheaper than sod and establishes faster. Hydroseeding is a process where a slury of seed, nutrients, and protective crust is sprayed on in a thick layer.

Don't forget to call your free utility locating service before you start digging and tilling though!

ursula 01-20-2010 09:51 PM

Thank you very much for taking the time to help me with this. The lawn was hydroseeded on soil transported from a small vegetable farm (the land was sold for development) and has been very good soil. Too much moisture MIGHT be a problem, but your theory about heavy metals sounds the most suspect to me at this point. Lawn was excellent for many years.
Hope your lawn(s) is doing better than ours!

inlikeflint 01-26-2010 02:15 AM

Light application of Ammonium Sulfate. Grab a bag and run a test strip in the back.
Maybe you have soil compaction and could use some gypsum...

They have soil test kits that are available though some farm and feed places.

Maybe the lawn could use aeration?

You are on the West coast and I know that there is a gypsy moth that can cause problems with lawns.

user1007 01-26-2010 05:54 AM

Just remember ammonium sulfate is not a balanced fertilizer. It is pure nitrogen. It will green things up though.

GardenConcepts 01-26-2010 06:12 AM

17" of rain- per year, per month, or what? Is the area always wet? If it stays wet you should regrade the area to get proper drainage/runoff.

I would regrade, loosen the soil (rototill), and add compost if you have a clay based soil. I don't believe hydroseeding is all its cracked up to be. Grass seed, IMHO, does best when it gets direct contact into the soil, and lightly rolled/compacted.

ThisIsMe 01-30-2010 11:15 PM

Do you have standing water on the lawn directly after a rain storm? If your lawn is thin and no standing water after a storm I would not worry about drainage. A healthy growing lawn will absorb 1 inch of water a day. Dormant is another matter.

Seeing that your lawn was good at one point, that rules out a lot of issues.

Being a cool season grass get a soil sample off as soon as you can to prepare for spring. Knowing these "pro" companies your PH is way off and the mushrooms (if they appear when the lawn is not too wet) shows that the ph is off as well. Do not use the soil tests you can buy at any store as they are worthless. You local county extension might do them or the local university (internet is your friend here). The small cost of the test is well worth it. Do not do anything until the test results are returned.

As soon as you can work on the lawn in the spring, apply lime at the rate mentioned in your soil analysis. Also fertilize using the rate and recommended fertilizer in the soil analysis. Aerate the lawn at this time as well.

If you have bare spots in the lawn (you can see patches of dirt more then 2 square inches, you need to think about overseeding at this time as well if you have a fescue or rye grass (most likely), if you have bluegrass (less likely) you can bypass overseeding with bare spots up to 3 square inches. If you get the lawn healthy the bluegrass will heal itself, but overseeding could not hurt bluegrass.

Once you get your spring time work done make sure your lawn is damp for at least three weeks to help the overseeding along, either by mother nature or watering with a hose.

Since your lawn is in need of repair, use 1.5 times the fertilizer that is recommended in your soil test and spread it out over 4 applications during the year (like some of the 4 step programs that the fertilizer programs).

You also need to learn if you had grub or fungus problems last year (read up on the internet). If you did then you need to treat for these before the 4th of July.

Ensure that you fertilize your lawn in late spring this year. Hit it with a little more then recommended as it cannot hurt. Fall fertilizer is the most important. Aerate again in the fall.

Good luck!

user1007 01-31-2010 02:55 AM


Originally Posted by ThisIsMe (Post 392003)
As soon as you can work on the lawn in the spring, apply lime at the rate mentioned in your soil analysis.

Since your lawn is in need of repair, use 1.5 times the fertilizer that is recommended in your soil test and spread it out over 4 applications during the year (like some of the 4 step programs that the fertilizer programs).

Ensure that you fertilize your lawn in late spring this year. Hit it with a little more then recommended as it cannot hurt. Fall fertilizer is the most important. Aerate again in the fall.

Add lime only if the soil analysis indicates you should because the Ph needs to be adjusted in that direction. Do plan on multiple applications of fertilizer during the season and consider using something other than a time-release blend if you can find it. If you put it on higher than the recommended rate you could burn things. Excess fertilizer usually just gets leached away so don't take the prior poster's advice in that regard.

NEVER, EVER, EVER over fertilize. IT CAN AND DOES HURT. It is wasteful, expensive and irresponsible. Excess lawn and agricultural fertilizer (and other agri-chemicals) run-off is a major threat to fresh water. I live in a State that is rapidly running out so am particularly sensitive perhaps. It is a leading cause of the degradation of life in and around rivers, streams and lakes and is destroying major eco systems. If you live in a development with a reclamation pond and with everybody using a lawn service you have a view of the situation every summer when that pond becomes a stinking, rotting mass of algae you cannot get near? Excess run-off in the Midwest makes it eventually to the Gulf of Mexico where it is shifting the balance of things to the point it is affecting shrimp and corral populations among others. The US is being sued over this by Mexico and several Caribbean countries. Several US Gulf States have sued Midwestern ones or have actions pending from what I read.

And here is one thing you will probably wish I had not told you. Fertilizers are packaged with a substantial amount of inert/inactive ingredients the composition of which do not have to be disclosed. In some cases these compounds keep the fertilizer from sticking together, allow it to be pelletized so it feeds through a spreader, etc. But, this provision basically allows manufacturers to stick whatever they want in the bag to a certain percentage (you will see it on the bag). It turns out a lot seems to be showing up as heavy metals like chrome, cobalt, etc.---stuff high tech industries use for things like harddrives and have a terrible time getting rid of. Concentrations from soil samples taken from some Midwest lawns have been high enough to raise concerns for possible effects on young children. All suspect lawns use pelleted fertilizers. In some cases neighboring lawns that did not showed no signs of the metals.

You might want to consider using fertilizers that do not have heavy portions of these non-disclosed inert/inactive ingredients indicated on the label. Many lawncare companies are switching.

ThisIsMe 01-31-2010 10:40 AM

You obviously never did any lawn work against a soil analysis. It shows. Most analysis will either allow you to select new lawn or existing lawn and base their recommendations off of that. 1.5 times is based on experience as all lawn analysis will not compensate for repair. There is not a analysis in all of the states that will recommend anything near what is quoted on a bag of fertilizer. 2lb N per squaret is high for any analysis, yet Scotts will put you at 4 lbs per square. Even taking the highest rate seen of 2lbs per square and running 1.5 times that puts you at 3lbs per square and is under fertilizing not over as you claim.

Do not use time release? Are you serious.

Enough of your sky is falling mentality. Your convoluted opinion only confuses the OP with trying to reestablish a lawn. Now put your tin foil hate back on a go back to Al Gore's website.

user1007 01-31-2010 11:19 AM

Managed highend turfgrass for almost two decades. And you? I would never dream of telling anyone what they should be thinking of adding until they had a soil analysis in hand. You're trying to convince this guy to stock up on lime already. Why not have him wait for the analysis and recs from the lab?

And what is with the pounds per square? You are not suggesting this guy put 3-4 pounds per square foot are you? That is the way I read your post.

In the industry we always talked about pounds per 1,000 square feet and over a specified timeframe. And pounds of what? All three components (NPK) of a fertilizer or just nitrogen? When we could afford we aimed for 1lb of nitrogen, per 1,000sf, per month. Some months the turf just got nitrogen. In retrospect, I think that was overkill but we were irrigating and leaching most of it away.

As for timed release? Couldn't afford the luxury of the pretty pellets nor could I wait for the reaction to see when it started releasing. Most just encapsulates the nitrogen source so it will not burn anyhow. Why pay oodles more for that and have to wait it out besides?

As for the Gore crack? At least he has a website. And a Nobel Prize I might add---like it or not. Good old Ms. Whitman, Bush's Secretary of the Environment would not dare since all she did---hailing from the State with the longest continuous burning tire fire in US History---is try to keep the environment safe enough for friends to do steeplechase.

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