Why did my grass die right after winter?

Discussion in 'Homeowner Assistance Forum' started by Gabby, Apr 17, 2003.

  1. Gabby

    Gabby LawnSite Member
    Messages: 140

    My house is on a wooded lot and the front lawn gets a good amount of sun, but the back lawn gets only a few
    hours a day. The back lawn died on me this winter and 2 winters ago. It did not die last year because we did not
    get any snow to speak of. The 2 years it did die we got alot of snow. The problem I think is that come fall
    because it is somewhat shaddy the grass stays damp. When winter comes and we get snow the weight of the
    snow seems to kill the gras. When all the snow melted this spring my grass was all flat and pushed into the dirt. I
    raked it all out and it is all dead looking with very little green grass. Can any of you give me any suggestions.
    What can I do to stop this, I do not want to have to reseed the back lawn after every winter it snows. Are there
    any professionals in my area that can give me some advise. Thanks.
  2. Green Pastures

    Green Pastures LawnSite Silver Member
    Messages: 2,457

    1. If you want grass in the back yard, you'll have to thin out the trees in the back yard. No other way around it, grass needs sun. Thin out the trees and your grass will thicken up.

    2. Have your soil tested and fix whatever problems the soil test reveals. I'd be willing to bet good $$ you soil is really acidic. Soil condition is paramount to plant condition, they go hand in hand. Imagine what you would look like after eating only McDonalds food morning, noon and night for 2 years straight. Grass needs healthy, balanced nutritional soil to be healthy. No way around this either.

    3. Cut your grass no lower than 3" in the spring, summer and fall months, higher if you can, then in the late fall as the grass goes dormant cut it down to 2" or 2 1/2" gradually. In other words don't just go from 3" to 2" in one cutting. This will help the grass to not lay over and get broken off, crushed by the snow and eventually die. 95% of the homeowners lawns I take over all have 1 of the same problems, homeowners all cut their grass way to short. Get your mower up to the top or second from the top notch.

    4. Get on a 5-6 step fertilizer and pre-emergent program, once you find out the soils needs and excesses through a soil test. DO NOT, just go out and get some fertilizer from Home Depot and spread it around. The 3 sets of numbers on a fertilizer bag mean something, they correspond to the available % of nutrients in the bag. If you need 5% Phosphorus and the bag you bought has 20%, you're not only wasting $$, but you could actually be compounding your problems by creating excessive amounts of unnecessary nutrients in the soil. Find out what you NEED with a soil test, then only put down what you need.

    5. Water the lawn in the summer months 2 times a week. Infrequent deep watering is much better than daily shallow watering. Do not water daily, water 2X a week for 30-45 minutes per section.

    6. Fescue, (grass) has about a 3 year life cycle, so plan on re-seeding every 2-3 years to KEEP your lawn thick and green even in the best of conditions. Grass does not live forever.

    7. Get all the leaves and pine straw (if applicable) up off the grass ASAP in the fall. Mulching leaves and straw causes the soil to get even more acidic, which grass does not like. If you want to mulch leaves into the grass, plan on putting down lime 2X a year. Acidic soil is horrible for grass.

    Any questions?

    It's really simple, but there IS a science to it.
  3. Gabby

    Gabby LawnSite Member
    Messages: 140

    Green Pastures, what is the best way to get the soil tested? Who do I contact or can I do it myself. Thanks alot for your time and help.
  4. BigDave

    BigDave LawnSite Member
    Messages: 148

    Great response, Green Pastures. That was a very helpful post; I learned quite a bit. I too would be interested in your advice on how to get soil tested.
  5. Green Pastures

    Green Pastures LawnSite Silver Member
    Messages: 2,457


    Here's the deal on soil testing.

    I get mine done at Lesco. If you have one in your area BONUS! They give you a computerized printout of the test results and a bunch or recommendations. Plus they have the stuff you will need to fix all the problems right there.

    If you can't find a Lesco, try local Universities with Agricultural programs.

    County Extension Agencies also offer soil testing.

    Look in the phone book for Commercial Landscapers and ask them if they offer the service.

    The thing is to do a "proper" test you need several "core" samples from various places in the yard. A good mix from the front back and sides. The thing is to get a plug of soil from the top of the dirt to a depth of 6", just digging a hole and scooping the dirt in a bag won't give as accurate of results. If you're going to do it, do it right, I always say.

    I have a core soil sampler that I got from Lesco, it's stainless steel and takes a 1/2" plug up to 18" deep. You only need a plug as deep as 6" though, from 4-6" is the norm but 6" is best. The tool was $35 though and you wouldn't buy one to use every 2 years.

    I think your best bet is either Lesco or paying a lawn service to do it for you.

    Glad I could help.
  6. Darryl G

    Darryl G Inactive
    Messages: 9,500

    In my opinion, people put too much stake in soil results. The problem is that they are not reliable.

    Soil is not a homogeneous medium. The levels of nutrients will vary significantly from place to place in a lawn, with depth, and within any collected sample, no matter how well mixed.

    The results will therefore depend greatly on what portion of the sample the lab technician scooped out to run the tests on. If there's one rock or pebble in the sample, it will bias the results one way...if they get a lot of clay or silt, it will bias the results another way.

    It gets worse. The methods used by labs often have low precision and are subject to interference from "non target compounds", or things they aren't looking for. Plus or minus 20% is about the best result you can expect, even eliminating the variables listed above.

    Add to that human error, shoddy lab practices, cross contamination from dirty sampling devices and laboratory glassware, use of out of date (expired) lab reagents and you have the potenital for your results to be waaaaay off.

    A great way to see how unreliable lab results are is to send the same sample split into two different portions to the lab, but labeled as separate samples (called a blind duplicate). It will be rare if the results are even close, or if they even detect the same things in the samples.

    I'm not saying don't take soil samples, but keep in mind that the recommendations given are based on the results, and the results may be bogus.
  7. Green Pastures

    Green Pastures LawnSite Silver Member
    Messages: 2,457

    In my experience I get much better results by taking soil samples and following the results than not.

  8. Darryl G

    Darryl G Inactive
    Messages: 9,500

    Yeah, it's certainly better than guessing!

    What's YMMV mean? I've never seen that one.
  9. Green Pastures

    Green Pastures LawnSite Silver Member
    Messages: 2,457

    Your mileage may vary.

    I was going to post previously that doing the soil test is certainly better than just guessing, but I did not want to be inflammatory. I'm glad you pointed that out in your post.

    I see people all the time in Home Depot and Lesco come in and say "I need some fertilizer for my lawn" the guy goes "what kind of grass do you have" and the homeowner goes "i don't know" right then I start shaking my head. It's not stupididity it's ignorance and there is a difference. But I've found that when I step up and try to give them some free advice about 75% of the time as soon as I walk away they do what they want to anyway. It's because doing it the right way always cost's more than the way they "feel" like doing it.

    I wish that the government would just regulate all fert and herbicide products away from consumers anyway. Why do I have to PAY for a license to spray or spead something that any homeowner can buy at Home Depot?

  10. Gabby

    Gabby LawnSite Member
    Messages: 140

    What/who is Lesco? Thanks.

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