Bringing a lawn back from the dead

Hello gardening types, I just bought my first house last year - in winter. The health of the lawn wasn't even something I considered. Last year I was too busy with the renovations to worry but now I'm interested in outside. I've had hedges planted, cleared the weeds out of the garden and planted some nice flowers - and then looked around and - my lawn sucks. It's got grubs, ants, and is almost all weeds. Mind you, cut every week, the weeds don't look bad from a distance. They look better than dirt anyway.
I had a lawn care company over today. They confirmed that there isn't a lot of lawn left. Here is the note they left in my mailbox:
"Your lawn is dry, needs a lot of water, and is really compacted. Your lawn is also thin, which gives way to weeds, and you have ants. We can't really save your lawn, we could get rid of the weeds with round up but it will kill everything. You will ahve to sod or take Ecology Program to take care of weeds and gree the little bit of grass there is, with an aeration to help water go in and OVSD (that is a double core with seeds) but you would have to put down a lot more seeds and merit for grubs. but the results are hard to guarantee."
So what is the difference in cost between doing what she said, basically killing all the weeds and then slathering seed about, and going out to get fresh sod. I presume the latter is more expensive. If you lay sod don't you have to lift up a few inches of dirt that is already there and cart it off first? I mean, if you don't doesn't that make your lawn several inches higher than the sidewalks and paths?
How long would it take if I just let the lawn company kill everything, then reseeded? I don't mind waiting a bit, if that is likely, with their help, to be successful. Don't advise me to lay the sod myself to save money. I have a bad back and I'd wind up being laid up for days. So I'll have to hire a landscaping company to do it. The lawn in back is about 2,000 sf and the one in front about 1/4 of that. Should this sort of thing be done now or in the fall or in the spring?
I'd be grateful for even a very rough idea of pricing, if possible. I'm in southeastern Ontario
Dave
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Sounds like a pretty honest lawn company, which is more than you can say for most of them.
If you believe that lawn chemicals end up somewhere you don't want them (which is true, but many people like to pretend they don't know), you can still fix the lawn without them. But, there's one factor you didn't mention. How much patience do you have? If it took two years get grass to dominate the weeds, would that be acceptable? This is possible with nothing but watering, seeding and mowing properly. As far as it being compacted, you can hire a landscaper to do that.
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On 14 Jul 2006 14:35:01 -0700, "Big Purple Nose"

Sod is much more expensive than seed, but it gives you an "instant" lawn. Yes, laying sod will raise your lawn a little, maybe a couple inches.

It takes 3-7 days for RoundUp to kill everything. It can be seeded immediately after that. But, after everything is killed off, this would be an excellent time to till in some organic matter (compost, manure, lime if needed, etc). Tilling and adding compost will solve the compacted soil. A soil test is well worth the small cost--this will tell you exactly what to buy and save you money in the long run.

You have a small lot. You want a couple months of non-freezing weather for the seed to sprout and become established. Probably best to plant now as you can easily keep this small area watered. Get 3 or 4 estimates from different landscaping companies. If you do the work yourself (or even hire some kids) I'm sure you will save a lot. Do not be too concerned with weeds until next spring. Chemical weed killers are very harsh on seedlings.

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this is also what we are faced with at a rental (zone 5). what we are going to do is: 1. weed B gone 2. spread some bagged type manure all over the lawn 3. dig up the stems of the worst weeds (burdock) 4. water the lawn almost every day it doesnt rain 5. send DH out with his soccer cleats to aerate (golf cleats would work better) 6. more fertilizer and some seed in fall 7. put in some plugs if the existing "grass" doesnt seem to be doing it .... we dont have grubs, but there is milky spore for that. once the roundup goes on, or pre-emergent you can forget seed. the only way to get sod to "take" is to have the existing "sod" skinned off, the dirt has to be augmented, sod laid, rolled, watered. it is expensive.

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Merit for grubs? Did they actually dig for a test patch of grubs and count and figure out the species? Do you have mole problems? If not, I'm a little wary of that recommendation.
You might be able to salvage with a combination of core aeration, a dicot-selective herbicide, and proper fertilization, overseeding and proper mowing and watering. Or you could go the sod route, which is faster, more expensive, and maybe a bit more sure... but that pains my Scots ancestry terribly.
What I'd probably do is to decide how much time and effort you want to put into it, and balance that with money. I'd probably water the lawn you have now enough to get the perennial weeds growing again, and then nuke the whole thing with Roundup or other glyphosate preparation myself. Or, in a sensitive watershed area, I'd consider using either a light occlusive mulch (cardboard is cheap but the neighbors probably won't care for it) or solarize with clear plastic (and the time for that is probably right now -- and it will also look quite unsalubrious.) At any rate, I'd kill what's there now with the idea of starting over early this fall.
In the meantime, I'd send out for a good soil test, and do a shake test on my own. When you get the soil test results back, it will probably include recommendations for amount of lime and fertilizer. The shake test will give you an idea of the amount of clay and sand in your soil --- if badly tilted one way or the other, I'd consider purchasing compost or other organic matter to add to the soil. If you luck out and have something like free-for-hauling municipal compost, I'd definitely add that to the soil. Gypsum is also a useful soil amendment if the soil is very clayey.
Anyhow, once the soil test results are back, and preferably in the next 4-6 weeks, I'd nuke what plants are there, making sure you choose an herbicide (if you're using one) that will be ok to plant after at the proper time to seed in your area -- my guess is that it's probably the first part of September for you. Just before you intend to seed, hire someone to rototill the area for you at least 6" deep, working in lime, gypsum, and compost as they till. Choose your seed cultivars carefully (I'd suggest you might want to look at some of the high endophyte cultivars if you want a more disease and insect resistant lawn), seed and then walk it into the soil, or get someone to roll the seed in. Or, if you've got that free municipal compost, just scatter an inch or so of the compost over your seedbed. Water religiously, start mowing next spring. Baby the lawn next summer, and after that you should be able to mow properly and keep it fertilized and it should remain looking good.
Kay
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Dave. Only my opinion ok, given for what value you place on it. You have actually been given 3 options.
reseed entire lawn put down sod refurbish what you have
first can be fun if you have some time and energy to do it yourself. Otherwise probably cheaper than option 2. second option is quickest and most direct to a perfect lawn. Also most expensive and not a dyi in my book. third option is most satusfying long term I reckon. Will take you several years to get right most likely. Something you can do yourself.
depends on whether you can do this stuff yourself. If not, simply ask yourself if you want the cheaper or more expensive option. Lots of good advice given by others on all 3 options.
rob
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Thanks, all, for the advice. I think I am going to pass on the resodding for now. Not yet entirely sure whether I go with the nuke and replant, or nourish what's there with overseeding. I think I'll speak to the lawn rep about what the odds are of nourishing and building on what's there - although there doesn't seem to be much there. I have the patience, and some money, but little time to devote personally. What personal time I do have available is being used weeding and feeding the new hedges, shrubs and flowers. One problem is the lawn care company which looked at things (Nutrilawn) is not a landscaping company. They'll kill weeds and add fertilzer, do core aeration, etc. etc., but they don't do seeding or sodding so I'll have to check out a landscaper interested in a small job.
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Look up the word "overseeding" via Google. That (done at the right times of year) and fertilization are two things you may as well begin with, since they're the cheapest. Homeowners and golf courses are the two largest sources of chemical pollution on this continent. If you adjust your expectations a bit, learn to be patient, and do just a little work, you *can* have a decent lawn. Not perfect, but that's a pointless goal anyway.
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On 15 Jul 2006 06:06:31 -0700, Big Purple Nose wrote:

In that case, sod may be your best bet *unless* you have an irrigation system. As a landscaper for 22 years, I refuse to do a lawn renovation with seed unless the customer has one. Experience has shown me that 95% of homeowners will not follow the required watering routine to insure high germination.
That seed must be kept moist until it pops. A misting 2-3 times per day to keep the top quarter inch of soil damp is essential. Don't think for a second you can skimp on this, or you will be sorely disappointed. It is *the* single most important factor in getting good germination. Penn State did some studies a couple years back that showed that allowing the seed to dry out even *once* before germination resulted in a 30% decrease in seeds germinated.
After it has popped and reached mowing height, you'll need to baby it a bit for the first year, making sure it gets a minimum of an inch of water a week. A half inch, twice a week is probably sufficient, depending on the conditions at your site (soil structure, wind, sun, etc).
We can go on and on about soil tests, starter fertilizer, soil amendments, PH, etc. etc.. That's all very important, but adequate water is more important than all of those things put together.
If you're committed to proper watering, a very thick lawn can be established in just one seeding. After a second overseeding the next season, it will be indistinguishable from sod.
BTW - Don't bother with those moronic companies who do nothing but drive around in a spray truck. Proper turf care requires a lot more than simply applying nitrogen and Trimec to a lawn several times a year. Get yourself a qualified landscaper.
Best of luck.
--
Segovia

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If it were my problem lawn -
I read what you wrote, and I would first drop the lawn company. See why below, after the general comments.

That is relative. Everybody, even the best lawns, have weeds, grubs, and ants. Some just have enough to be noticeable.
1) let mother nature tell you whether you have an insect problem or if you just have some insects - If you have enough insects, then moles, voles, birds, wasps, and lot of other types of critters will arrive to harvest them. Thus if you have a lot of grubs, you should have _a lot_ of birds and other creatures digging in the lawn. - no moles or birds digging up your lawn? That says there are not even enough there for a mole to drop by for lunch - just enough for a lawn company to glean a check.
2) if the lawn company had said whiteflies or the like, you would have said - ok, whatever. But grubs? OMG, not grubs! EVERYBODY knows about grubs !!! Knows just enough, that is.
3) aeration - NOW? are they nuts?
As to a plan for your lawn-
First principle - take advantage of mother nature and use what she uses, to get what you want. (The details are in the specifics below.) Any other approach creates a waste of effort and money
Second principle -keep it in perspective - Most of Mother nature's little plants and trees make toxins that make DDT look tame. (check out heavy insect infestations like armyworms and the number of dead insects and birds below trees after a week or two) Mother nature's little plants work at strangling to a slow death any other plants near them (spruce, crabgrass, and especially bluegrass if left long). Mother nature's cute little animals strip a plant of its roots, leaves, buds, and unopened flowers, the plant's very ability to live and to reproduce. It's a war in your lawn. So do not feel bad about using herbicides or insecticides, especially if you use any other additives or amendments - like fertilizer or mechnical shortening (mowing) which pollute and create an environment conducive to your one chosen species over another. Dandelions or ants are not going to die out because you kill the ones in your lawn.
Use chemicals to restore restore the balance, do not use them to create a plastic world. NOTHING you can use will be as bad as the natural alkoids plants produce. Besides, too much fussing over bluegrass makes for a needy lawn.
The plan - 1) size- you have 3000 sq ft. Piece of cake, if you are patient. (Measure it, if you haven't already, so you know the size reasonable accurately.)
2) time - Grass doesn't grow overnight. six months should be about right for a nice lawn. 18 for a great lawn.
3) action - in steps: you will kill non-grasses, water, seed, feed, treat, and mow high.
Grass needs air, water, sun, removal of competition evolved to kill it, and nutrients -- so you give grass what it needs, it will do the rest
Walk out and look at the top of the soil - if you see a half-inch to an inch of dead matter laying on top of the soil in the grass, you will have to eventually remove it. No layer is not good, less is good, a lot is bad. Two ways to remove it, sort of - mechanically, and organically. Mechanically means you use a dethatching tool to break it up and thenh rake it off. Organically means you stop putting it down (bag the grass for a year so the layer decays without being replenished ). For now, bag.
the checklist - post it on the refrigerator -
buy some lawn seed now, enough bluegrass and fescue mix to reseed 3000 sq ft, and put it in a cool dry place. (You will need it this fall, and most places you can't get seed in the fall.) buy some pre-mixed broadleaf killer and post-emergent crabgrass killer, enough of each to treat 5000 sq ft - hose-end or with a hand-wand. buy a bottle of hand-spray squirt-type broadleaf killer for later spot treatment. buy a cheap rain gauge to set in the lawn, or wash out a can and make a mark one inch up from the bottom of the can. buy enough 10-10-10 fertilizer to treat 2500 sq ft twice. buy a whirlybird hand spreader, if you don't have a fertilizer spreader. buy a sprinkler, if you don't have one. Price and kind not as important as having it cover the areas of the lawn. sharpen the mower blade. remove any branches under 8 feet above the lawn where you want grass (judiciously, or course)
a) set the mower to 3.5 inches. Give the the grass the advantage over the broadleaf weeds. from now on, mow every week, or oftener if it takes off or looks straggly.
b) Water the lawn today. Wake it up. Get the soil working. Water an inch of water (use a can or cup and water and measure,or buy one - you will be checking moisture the rest of the year.)
c) a week after watering, put down a feeding of garden fertilizer like 10-10-10 - and if rain is not predicted for two days, then water again, again an inch. Any hair roots will be up and moving in the weed and grasses after a week.
d) the next day after the second watering, treat the lawn in the morning with herbicide, to knock down noxious weeds. Get out there around 8 or nine o'clock and spray.
Use the pre-mixed. Use BOTH crabgrass killer and broadleaf killer. Most pre-mixes yoiu get here cover 5000 sq ft, so if you have 3000 sq ft to cover, use a little over half a bottle now. Mark the calendar at ten days from the spray date, so you know to check for yellowing of crabgrass and ivys then. (Note that lawn weed-killer ingredients that kill in 24 hours don't get down the roots of stuff like creeping charlie, so it's not how it looks the next day as much as how it looks in ten days.)
e) A week from treatment, if you haven't had an inch of rain that week, water an inch again.
f) Ten days from treatment, check for yellowing of flat, straggly grasses like crabgrass. Remove those yellowed straggly grassy plants -they can poison the soil. Re-treat the lawn with the rest of your herbicide. The desireable grass now has the advantage
g) mow regularly, and make sure there is an inch of rain a week until fall. This will allow the grass to fill in. (If the weather is dry and hot, bluegrass wants to go dormant to ptortect itslef during dry weather. Not yours this year. An inch a week will keep it growing.) If you see larger dead spots around anthills, you will have to kill the ants. Spot-treat for broadleaf weeds every second mowing.
h) in the fall, mid-september roughly, put down the other 10-10-10 fertilizer. It will feed the grass through the spring (bluegrass grows best in cool weather, and it grows under the snow).
i) When the first 1-2 inch snow is predicted and the ground is still bare, get out the whirlybird and the grass seed and set it for "seed". When the first flakes start to fall, spread the grass seed. Bluegrass takes maybe ten days of cool weather to sprout, and the blanket of snow makes great cover. (That is the way it sprouts in nature, that and the 10-14 days of cold-rainy spring weather.)
j) If the ground has seemed hard all through the 1" of-rain-a-week operation, or if the grass seemed weak and thin in the fall after the watering and mowing: then in the spring, plugging may be needed. As soon as practicable in the spring, have the lawn plugged, to aerate the soil and to provide more growing surface.
k) In spring, spot-treat any weeds.
l) Around May 15 for your area, put down pre-emergent. (I'd suggest using Scott's 4-step next year.) The new grass should have sprouted over the winter and in the spring, taken hold, and been mowed a couple times, and the pre-emergent will not harm it.
Scott's 4-step is fairly forgiving, and you pay for that forgiveness. (I don't use it because it doesn't have the flexibility I use on my lawn, IMHO it has too much nitrogen, and I have one lawn of 10,000 and one of 1 1/2 acres which makes it a little pricey.)
m) Make sure the lawn has an inch of water a week - supplement as required - until June 15.
If the lawn ever gets dry before June 15, WATER IT. After June 15, it can turn blue-grey for a week or two, and it won't be in trouble.
Treat any grubs next year.
fwiw...

They will take care of this - for a price? Whose lawn insn't?
Your

And they will take care of this - for a price? WHo doesnt have ants?
We

theirs, I assume - for a price?
to take care of weeds and gree the little bit of grass there

theirs, I assuem, for a price?
but you would have to put down a lot more seeds and

which they will do, for a price, I assume?
but the results are hard to guarantee."

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