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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I’m looking for help in making some major decisions on equipment to buy. First off, I am not a commercial operator so I hope this doesn’t offend anyone by posting here. This post will also be quite lengthy, so bear with me!! I have been on this site for almost 3 years now and have found the information invaluable.

I purchased a 14 acre property in the country (central Illinois) to build a new house after ours was destroyed in a tornado in July 2004. At this point, about 3 acres is being mowed as turf grass and about 2 acres will be planted in prairie grass and wildflowers. The remainder is home site and timber.

The turf I have now has been established by me over the last 3 years. It is a Kentucky Bluegrass mix with the typical fescue and annual rye included. I have a New Holland compact tractor and a Hustler Super Z to work it. Following are some pics of three different areas of the lawn.

Plant Green Groundcover Tree Asphalt


The first is an example of where the grass has done very well.

Plant Grass Groundcover Grassland Landscape

The second is an example of the many areas that have not filled in well.

Plant Terrestrial plant Groundcover Rectangle Grass

The third is an example of areas I have not done much with, still has what I refer to as “pasture” grass.

I want to really get serious about building up a quality lawn on the 3 acres of turf. So I am looking at putting some money into the proper equipment. Here is what I am looking at and the reason why. What I am asking for is opinions on what I really need, and the strategy involved.

1) Core aerator. From what I have read, aerating is probably the one thing that will be most beneficial for my lawn. It is severly compacted now, it has never been aerated. I have already purchased a used Woods 72” (PL72) for this. I plan on using it each spring and fall. So that decision has been made.

2) Spreader. I will be buying a spreader to mount on the front of my Hustler. I am looking at both the JRCO and Earthway brands. Again, this is something I know is needed.

The following pieces of equipment are what I am not sure about:

1) Dethatcher. I have been looking at the JRCO 60” dethatcher for use with my Hustler. I would use this for regular dethatching (how often?) and in assisting with overseeding. If I want to overseed, I understand the best course is to mow the lawn very low (pick up clippings (see #2 below), dethatch, pick up thatch again, overseed, and the use the dethatcher again to work in the seed. I would also aerate prior to overseeding. Is this the proper use of the dethatcher? Do you recommend dethatching every year as good practice, even when not overseeding??

2) Lawn vacuum for use with the Hustler. I do not intend on using this regularly, as I always let the clippings stay on the grass. But from what I have read, if I want to overseed and do some dethatching, I need to be able to pick up the clippings/thatch. Based on this, I would only use the vac once or twice a year. A good system will run $1500-$2500 and I hesitate to spend this much on something that is used this seldom. There is nowhere here I can rent one, so this isn’t an option.

3)Topdresser. I have read many posts about the benefits of topdressing with compost. Although it would take a large amount to do 3 acres (about 35 yds acre at ¼” depth), I think this would really help. I would do this every fall for at least 5 yrs or so. I have looked at the topdressing units made by Earth and Turf. They seem like my best option. Again, is this worth $3000 or so? The compost will cost about $500-$750 year also.

Again, sorry for the length. I hope people will take the time to read this and respond.

Doug

Plant Green Groundcover Tree Asphalt


Plant Grass Groundcover Grassland Landscape


Plant Terrestrial plant Groundcover Rectangle Grass
 

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Hi, interesting post. I think you are right on target with the equipment you are looking at. The aerator being the most helpful. I dont think the aerator will fix those problem areas though. I dont know if you have had the soil in those areas tested or not, but certianly you should. You can have that done at your own county extension office for almost nothing. Just capture an envolope of soil, and label where it came from and take it down there. They will test it and tell you what the soil needs for what type of grass you are growning.

Tony
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
I forgot to post that I took soil samples in last week. I should have the results in 7 days or so. I took samples in five different areas.
 

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Skip the dethatcher. Mow at the proper height for the season, core aerate both Spring and Fall and it won't be necessary.

Consider a lawn sweep instead of a vacuum. I have one and it does a great job the few times a year I need it. I aerate at least twice a year (usually 3) and at least one of those times I collect the plugs. The sweep picks them up with no problem. It gets leaves and twigs very thoroughly. If I let the grass go a few days too long and I get some windrowing, it will sweep that right up, too.

I saved you enough money on those two ideas for you to get a good topdresser. payup Seriously, it is worth the investment. I bought an old Turfco Mete-R-Matic tow behind model off eBay and rebuilt it. If you've got some time, watch eBay. Earth & Turf has a sale once in a while, too, if you want new.

By the way, I'm a property owner, too, rather than a pro. We're tolerated here rather generously.
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
Dethatcher. One of the reasons I was interested in this was the ability to "scratch" the soil to prepare it for overseeding. If I'm going to use my spreader for overseeding, I've got to have some method for getting good soil to seed contact. I even thought I would use it after seeding to work the seed into the ground. Other ideas?

Lawn sweep. I had one of these years ago and was frustrated by how it skipped and missed pickup. I had a Woods mower then (pre-tornado) and bought a Woods vac. I loved that compared to the sweep. Maybe I just need to buy a better quality sweep. My other concern would be the amount of material it could hold. I'm afraid on 3 acres I'd be dumping it every few minutes!
The vacs I've been looking at can hold between 9 and 30 bushels.

I love the idea of a topdresser. I ran some numbers though, and got scared. If I apply the compost at 1/4", it would take about 100 yards of compost to cover 3 acres! That amount of compost would cost me about $2000, delivered. Not sure how often I could afford that! Not sure it's worth putting this much money in each year. And the topdresser will cost me about $2750.

Anyone have any luck using a manure spreader for spreading compost? I could borrow one of these from my farmer friends.
 

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Distribution uniformity would be a challenge with a manure spreader.

1/4" all at once is not necessary. Of course, cutting the numbers in half still leaves a healthy bite. Have you considered downsizing the yard and increasing the prairie planting? I chose to have one acre (actually a little less, about 35,000 sq. ft.) of irrigated, pampered turf immediately surrounding the house, and then everything else that is clear has been planted in native grasses and wildflowers. I've been topdressing 2 or 3 times a year with compost and coarse sand and it looks like a fairway now.

EDIT: That should be I've been aerating 2 or 3 times per year. In two years, I've topdressed 3 times (and I'm getting ready to do it again within the next couple of weeks).
 

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You will need a large area to dump the clippings after dethatching. You would be amazed at how much comes up. I would say 3 acres would produce 100 to 200 bushels of thatch (depending on how much thatch has built up).
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
I'm still debating whether the dethatching is worth it. I've read many threads on this forum and there does not seem to be any agreement on whether it should be done. Many say it is too disruptive to the existing turf, and that aerating is the only thing needed. I just don't know if it is something I should do, let alone buy the JRCO dethatcher.

Jeffinsgf - I already am working on establishing about 1.5 acres of prairie. I could use a little more, but most of the turf area I have isn't really conducive to prairie.
 

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"Prairie" is a somewhat nebulous term. Any piece of ground can be prepared for a native planting of some kind. In three acres I have a rocky glade, a grassy plain, a savannah and a field edge.

I also meant to add that when overseeding you can rent a slit seeder that will ensure good seed to soil contact. Couple that with core aeration before you seed, and you'll have a gorgeous lawn.

Re: your post in Organics. Compost can be all you do for plant support, but it doesn't have to be. The best feature of topdressing and increasing soil organic content is that what fertilization you do will have a greater impact over a longer period. Use less fertilizer and fertilize less often. I gave my lawn a light application of Scotts at the first of June, and it has been vigorous all summer. My late summer application will be compost and sand.
 

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Discussion Starter · #10 ·
I was considering renting a slit seeder this fall for overseeding. I guess I was just trying to get around not having to rent that and use the dethatcher/aerator combo to prepare the soil for overseeding. Maybe I'm better of not buying the dethatcher for that purpose. Do you do some overseeding every year?
 
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