alternative for large lawn in bad condition

Our large backyard has a large grassy area (approx. 110' X 70'), which consists mostly of weeds and crabgrass. We want to upgrade it before we sell the house in 3-4 years. Replacing it with a large lawn will take a lot of work and expense. Is there a workable alternative that would be attractive and inexpensive? A friend recommended planting groundcover, but it's hard to envision such a large area of groundcover. We live in Western Washington. Thanks for any suggestions/advice.
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Although groundcovers are great in the long run (often less maintenance, and definitely more interesting than grass), they're not going to be cheaper than bags of grass seed. If you're planning on leaving, I'd go with grass. I've seen a couple of lawns which were as bad as your description, but were successfully "conquered" by judicious overseeding and fertilizing through 2 seasons. I'd contact your cooperative extension service (http://ext.wsu.edu /), confirm the absolute perfect time for starting grass (probably soon) in your area, and jump all over the project quickly. Your three biggest hinderances will be the existing weeds, birds (eating the grass seed), and perhaps a lousy sprinkler that washes away the seed instead of watering it gently.

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tenplay wrote:

Renovating a 110x70 area is going to take a lot of work and expense no matter how you renovate it. There are things you can do that will result in lower maintenance and/or lower maintenance expense, but getting to that point is going to take some work and some expense.
You can generally reduce the work required by spending more money (as in paying someone else to do the work), and you can reduce some of the expense with harder work, but no matter how you cut it (expense vs. work), even the simplest solution is going to require a lot of one or both. (Some folks factor in time to spread the work and expense out over a longer period, but that's only spreading the work and expense out over a longer period, not reducing the work or expense.)
If you're selling in 3-4 years, it doesn't make much sense developing a great garden. Everyone has a different idea of what a great garden is, so you'd be doing nothing but eliminating possible buyers if you do too much. "Groundcover" can mean a lot of different things, but I can't think of anything that wouldn't turn-off some buyers.
This is a case where a big lawn would make sense. Families looking for big play areas won't see the potential if it's not grass. Gardeners looking for a big (relatively) blank slate to build their dream landscape may not care for a big lawn, but they'll see the potential. But either way, you're not going to need to have a perfect lawn. You don't need to create a 110x70 putting green.
It is getting close to the right time to start renovating a lawn in your area. Or if you're not selling for 3-4 years, you might be able to wait a year or two. (That would save you the expense of maintaining the lawn once you put it in place.) If you start in September, you should have it looking good enough for sale by mid-winter. So starting in the September of the year before the calendar year you expect to sell would minimize those maintenance expenses and maintenance work. The actual renovation will still be as much work and expense, but you won't need to maintain it for long before you pass it off to someone else. Here's some information on how to renovate your lawn: http://www.holzemville.com/community/landscaping/lawncare/intro.html
Now if you were planning on staying longer than 3-4 years I'd suggest working and spending money on landscaping that you would enjoy looking at, enjoy maintaining, and not mind the expense of maintaining. And if total cost is important, than because of those maintenance costs involved with a lawn, it's unlikely that a plain lawn would be the right answer.
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I planted 4 acres of lawn this way but I bet I'll get a lot of flak for this. 1) Use the weeds to your benefit. Spread rye grass/blue grass mix down. THe weeds will act as "nanny plants" to capture the seed and provide the shade and moisture needed to sprout it. Fertilize it a feww weeks after sprouting 2) There will be holes next spring so either scuff up the dirt and spread more seed or let the weeds grow in and repeat. Fertilize again 3) In the fall use a good herbacide and kill off the weeds. fertilize again
At the end of 4 years everything will have grown together into a pretty decent lawn with minimal work. THe key is having the 3-4 years to grow the lawn. An instant lawn will take lots of work. I neglect the crab grass because it to makes a good nanny plant and a thick lawn will naturally choke it out. I am assuming it is crab grass and not a different grassy weed. A different grassy weed needs to be treated differently than crabgrass. SOmetimes you have to knock out the grassy weeds with roundup.
The other thing you need to do is determine what you did or did not do to make the existing lawn so bad. THan do the opposite. LAck of fertilizer? lack of water? heavy traffic? Not enough light (not much you can do for that one)?road salt? dogs?

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Don't forget bad mowing practices.
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Jmagerl said:
<snip>

Big one you didn't mention: improper mowing (usually this means too short and not often enough). One can water and fertilize properly, and then undo it all by mowing improperly.
Oh, and keep those mowing blades sharp!
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Pat Kiewicz wrote:

I suppose the cause of the bad lawn is neglect. Other than once a week mowing when needed and some weeding, nothing was done. Actually it never was a lawn but more of just a large grassy area in the back of the house bordering a wild bird sanctuary. Re mowing, we cut it with a power mower 3-4" high. What else is there to mowing? Thanks for all the advice.
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tenplay said:

What else is there to mowing? To minimize stress and wear: Mow often enough to take off no more than 1/3 of the growth (and maybe prefer a bit less than 1/3).
Alternating the mowing pattern.
Mow with sharp blades. Dull blades shred the grass rather than cut it.
And also (from MSU extension service):
Avoid mowing during the heat of the day or when the turf is under drought stress. Mowing when the turf is under stress will damage the turf youll likely see the mower tracks on the turf in the coming week and it will look like you had Roundup on the tires. The turf will in almost all cases recover from this damage but the look is certainly not what most folks are aiming for. Mow during the morning or early evening to avoid this damage.
Then there's this (regarding water in low-maintenence situations), also from MSU:
Mercy irrigation if hot, dry conditions persist throughout the summer and youre one of the crowd that chooses not to irrigate and allow the turf to enter dormancy, consider applying a very infrequent irrigation once a month. Turfgrass can survive from five to eight weeks under dry conditions before substantial death occurs. Irrigate monthly, applying between 0.5 and 1 inch of water to ensure turf survival during these hot, dry conditions. Dont expect the turf to green up and resume growing youre just trying to ensure the turf plant stays hydrated.
As for other care, *some* fertilizing (with slow-release or organic fertilizers) would be good -- late summer (Labor Day) and fall (October, with a 'winterizer' fertilizer).
(All my advice is for Northern, cool-season grasses.)
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Nothing will be cheaper than putting in a new lawn. Take a look at you local nursery or box store. A half flat of groundcover plants will be surprisingly expensive. Many people have the idea that groundcover gardens require no care. That isn't true, especially for the first few years where there is space coverage.
I would recommend that you put down an application of lawn weed killer. Keep the area well watered to encourage growth. In the fall, even-out any high and low spots. Rent a slit seeder and overseed the lawn with a quality seed and keep moist. In late fall put down a "winterizer" treatment. In the spring, apply a turf builder with a pre-emergent herbicide. If the lawn looks spotty, aerate the lawn and overseed again. If you continue to control weeds and overseed, in a couple years the laws should look great without completely starting over. If the new buyers are typical of what I see in my neighborhood, they wouldn't appreciate a meticulously groomed lawn anyway.
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Hi..we live in SW Washington...we are in process of getting rid of as much lawn as possible by putting in mounded island beds....A few trees (japanese maples) and some conifers will be the base then will fill in with perrenials and annuals...you might think about the beds and then use the ground cover as suits your taste...might want to think about an evergreen groundcover so if house isn't sold before frost it would still look good...for an inexpensive one I like Vinca Minor, as it looks interesting even before it grows together...Or a Juniper carpet type (I like the Bluish green one..but the variety doesn't come to mind...something blue carpet...(maybe Norwegian Blue Carpet??) Or you might just go to nurseries in your area and see what they are offering at good buys this late in season...
Also some hard scape even if only inexpensive oblisks or freestanding trellis would help fill in areas...Usually at the end of the season like now you can also get inexpensive iron/wood benches...Fred Meyer has a darling smaller size (kiddies?) for around $19 that I used to anchor a smaller treed bed.
Anyway...just a thought...
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