severely neglected lawn

Discussion in 'Turf Renovation' started by JasonB_Travel, Mar 7, 2008.

  1. JasonB_Travel

    JasonB_Travel LawnSite Member
    Messages: 1

    I need some input. I just purchased a house in the north hills region of Pittburgh, PA and hope to have a lawn i can be proud of in 2 years.

    First problem - the old home owners (by old, i mean both previous, AND aged) have not lifted a finger in the past 5 years (estimated) and i have accumulated 1" of pressed leaf matter on the yard with small patches of grass protruding in areas where the moss has not taken over. the lawn is approx 80' wide by 120' deep to a forest line that is sparsely populated with mature trees and very little undergrowth.

    I have 3 very large cherry trees in the center of my yard that will yield a good bit of shade and a fair abundance of leaves to pick up in the fall but my real questions lie not with the trees - i'll let the insurance handle them when they do finally fall on the house - but with the immediate steps to take to hopefully repair my lawn.

    My plan of action was at first to completely dethatch and rake leaving a muddy mess, then heavily over seed, roll and cover to reduce runoff on the fairly flat yard. How will the mossy areas respond to this treatment? would i be better off to just rent an aerator and then seed leaving the decomposing leaves as a base for the new lawn? What type of grass should I seed with? Alot of folks around here seem to prefer a blend put out by Penn State - but it's a bit pricey for a whole yard. It works well for spot treat, and I have used it before to fill bare spots but i'm really not sure it would fit in my budget this year or not. Once the seed is down and covered with straw, what's next? obviously sit and wait...but are there any prepackaged seed and fertilizer mixes that are a little more focused on a complete restoration like this? I have seen commercial developments that use a liquid suspension sprayed on bare dirt that leaves a green mess that later turns to gorgeous this stuff easy to obtain and use?

    Sorry for the book, but every time I call a landscaper for advice and offer to pay for their time despite me wanting to do the work myself - they clam up the minute they find out they arent' going to get the whole job - and I really don't blame them...i'm just frustrated at the whole ordeal. things like this don't show up on the inspection report, and when the yard was snow covered the entire time we went thru the buying process it's kinda hard to discover.

    Anyway, i'll take all the advice i can get...thanks in advance.

  2. LawnSolutionsCP

    LawnSolutionsCP Sponsor
    Messages: 907


    The process is easy and you will have the lawn you want by this fall.

    1. How many trees do you have on your property. If you don't have sunlight you won't have grass. Too much shade often causes moss to grow. You might need to have a few large trees removed. This parts is by far the most important if you want a nice lawn.

    2. Wait until temps are consistently around 65 during the day and then do your clean-up, dethatching, raking, and then power seeding. For the seeding, I would use a high quality Turf Type Tall Fescue. Contact your local extension office for help in selecting a type of grass for your area. They normally will do a soil test for free or a nominal fee of $20. I would also recommend doing a soil test early (now) in order to get the results prior to (Spring Seeding).

    Don't expect you lawn to look like a golf course from the spring seeding. This is the 2nd best time to seed. It will come in nice, but then you have to fight summer heat, spring weeds, and crab grass.

    3. Make sure you water as needed during the summer heat.

    4. Power seed again 1st week in September. This is by far the best time to do this type of work. This is also the only time most contractors would even touch this type of job, due to cost and customer expectations. When I did power seeding jobs, I would only do them in the fall unless the property was very, very bad. I would inform the customer that it would probably need over seeding again in September.

    Hope this helps.

    Again, make sure you don't have too much shade, do a soil test, talk with you local extension office.


    David Cook
  3. Smallaxe

    Smallaxe LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 10,082

    David makes a lot of sense here. What I would try to do a little different is keep the mulch cover. It is a lot of area to till in, but then cherry leaves break down quickly. Once they dry out you might be able to grind them up with a lawn mower. Either mulch or side shoot. (Couple of times)

    If the mower does the job for you - spread your seed using the mulched leaves for cover along with some compost to avoid rotting the seed.

    If your soil isn't that great in the first place - mulch the leaves, bring in topsoil and plant in that.

    The way it sounds you would not have irrigation there. If we get another killing summer you will need to be able to keep at least your most important part of the lawn watered. It is better to do one part well and keep it alive then spread your watering too thin and it all goes to kr@pp.
  4. jeffinsgf

    jeffinsgf LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 641

    The pre-packaged seed/fertilizer/mulch mixes that are available for patching are too expensive for an entire yard, in my opinion. You can do the same thing with separate seed and fertilizer and peat moss.

    The liquid suspension stuff you're talking about is called hydro-seeding. It is not readily available for DIY use. It's effective, but kinda pricey. Check it out in your Yellow Pages. Someone will quote you a price per square foot, based on the overall size of the job -- you may fall into a minimum that could be a deal breaker.

    Smallaxe and LawnSolutions have given you some good advise, but I'll add my twist. I like Smallaxe's suggestion to mulch up the leaf litter, rather than raking it up and disposing it. There's lots of valuable nutrients there for your lawn. In the future, you may need to get them off the grass in the Fall, but you should compost them and use them for topdressing the next Spring. After mulching the leaf litter and scattering it over the whole yard, I would next core aerate. Next slit seed (another name for power seeding -- it cuts slits in the soil and drops the seeds in, instead of just broadcasting the seed on the surface). Use a good starter fertilizer and then the work starts. You have to keep the soil moist, but not soggy until the seed germinates. This means frequent light watering -- several times a day for a few minutes each. Once the seed has germinated and the seedlings are growing, you need to water less often but for a longer period each time -- maybe every other day for around a half hour per section. Let the soil moisture be your guide to how long to water.
  5. Marcos

    Marcos LawnSite Gold Member
    Messages: 3,720

    I agree with the sentiment about taking advantage of the decaying leaf cover. I'd be really cool if you could find a dethatcher to not 'dethatch' the yard per se...but rather turn over the leaves while scarify the soil underneath.
    (Check the areas to see if leaves are TOO thick, though. Some raking may be needed in spots.)

    Your yard as described is 9600 sq.ft, minus any landscape, trees, buildings.
    I agree with the others who said a fescue blend would be a good choice, with at least 3 varieties on the label.
    I'm not sure exactly what you're talking about with the "Penn State seed", but about all the pros who are true seeding pros use seed that's been high on the NTEP trials around the country.

    Look for a university near you...and at the top 15-20 fescues...then call around locally.

    If you're in fact doing 9600 sq. ft, you need no more than (2) 50# bags of fescue seed, applied at a rate of about 10# / 1000 sq.ft.

    jeffinsgf is right, the pre-packaged seed/fert/mulch kits are way too expensive for what you're doing !!

    If it were me, I'd apply 1/2 the seed before any mechanical manipulation with a dethatcher, and the other 1/2 after.
    That way it ENSURES seed-to-soil contact...which is vital to germination !!
    ('ll 'damage' a small % of the seed with the dethatcher...but the better seed contact you get more than makes up for it.)

    A slice-seeder can do this too. You don't necessarily have to add seed to a slice seeder to make good use of it.

    Moss issues can be a symptom of too much shade, or it also can indicate a soil pH problem.
    It's hard to speculate on that without knowing more.
    Often you'll establish a beautiful lawn in shady situation, just to see it decline back to where it was a few years later.
    (Where in a forest do you see turf growing?)

    Can you post a few digital pics of your yard on here, giving us a general idea of the (summertime) shade % it gets ?
  6. RAlmaroad

    RAlmaroad LawnSite Silver Member
    from SC
    Messages: 2,262

    Cut those cherry trees--they're not a fruitful tree. Have the stumps ground out. No matter what you do those things will be a thorn in everything else you do. They produce acid, keep the sun away from the grass, are a danger to your house and potentially to someone else (Law suit). You lawn will thank you. I've been where you are but bought a lawn in SC that had only been mowed once a year and the packed leaves (oak) had killed most of the grass. Finally just sodded it. This wouldn't be out of the question in your case either. However you'd need some irrigation.
    A beautifully manicured lawn is not going to happen in just a year or so.
  7. Smallaxe

    Smallaxe LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 10,082

    If you do decide to take out the trees - check to see if the wood is good for anything first. Rarely do we get good cabinet wood out of the local cherry trees so - when we do it is worth money.

    To me shade is more important than grass so consider your comfort zone if you spend much time in your yard. You can always hardscape an area where you like to sit and maybe bar-b-que.

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