Lawn Restoration Project

Hi,
I'm about to enter phase 2 of our lawn restoration project and I'm looking for suggestions. The portion of the lawn I'm trying to restore is approximately 75' by 50'. Currently, there is decent grass on about 60% of this area.
Phase 1 involved cutting down some massive trees, grinding the stumps and grinding the big surface roots. The tree company I hired left the pile of wood chips in the middle of the lawn.
The lawn will need to be leveled as it was minimally maintained for at least the past 15 years -- I moved in about 2 years ago.
Questions:
1. Should I try and save the existing grass or should I start over?
2. Can I reuse the wood chips along with new topsoil? Or should I move the wood chips to the flower beds and use only new topsoil?
3. If I don't start over, how can I level the lawn without destroying the existing grass?
4. Are there any good web sites that give step by step instructions?
5. When is the best time (of year) to do this project? (I live in the Northeast of the US). What is the expected timeframe to go from dirt to grass? I need a good estimate to keep the wife happy :)
TIA...Joe
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Joe Smith wrote:

You said it was 60% "decent". If it really is decent (e.g. fescue or ryegrass) I'd leave it, unless your goal is a photo-perfect suburban lawn. With TLC it can probably become more than decent, especially since you won't see results till next year anyway. And that way you only have to work on 40% of the lawn, and can concentrate your efforts better.

Wood chips and grass really don't mix. The grass needs finer-grained soil to set its roots in. Anywhere you have wood chips, you'll get spotty grass coverage, and it will take a couple of years for the chips to compost into the soil.
Keep them for compost, landscaping, or other jobs.

Are there drainage problems, or are you just referring to the stump locations and general lumpiness? For the former you can cut up the lawn into sod, dig beneath and add or remove soil as needed, then put the sod back down. For stump holes, think in terms of putting in a mound of compost covered by good-quality topsoil and sod or seed, then giving it a couple of years to settle to the right level. For lumpiness, core aerate and roll.

It's not *that* hard. Each lawn is unique so what needs to be done, and in what order, is different. Myself, I would tackle appearance first, so I have a nice green lawn next year, then work gradually on the other issues. Even weeds can wait; at least they look green from the street.

You can put in a "quick and fine" grass seed now to cover the bare areas, and if you water it properly it will begin to fill in by next month. First-year growth will probably be a little spotty, though, so be prepared to wait for second-year growth when it will look much better.
Traditionally, the best time to overseed a lawn is the fall. The seeds will lie dormant until spring when they will germinate (around the time soil temp hits 55F). Doing this consistently along with scheduled fertilizing will give you a good, consistent lawn in a couple of years.
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Go get a copy of Rodales Chemical Free Yard and Garden, and check the chapters on lawn. There are some new cultivars of cool season grasses (I assume that's what you want) that are much more disease and insect resistant -- I'd strongly consider a mixture of those. The high endophyte seeds, however, produce plants that shouldn't be used for grazing, so if you've got grazing pets, they're not good ideas.

How bumpy? How weedy? What's the underlying soil like? How much cash and labor are you willing to invest? What have you got around for compost?

As the wood decomposes, it will use nitrogen from the soil. Most lawngrasses require a fair amount of nitrogen to stay thick.

How bumpy? How weedy? What makes you think you need to bring in topsoil? Compost and/or sand would be my first choices for amending, depending on the soil type.
I've gotten sorta bumpy lawns looking good by spreading a quarter inch of compost and/or sand in the low spots every time I mowed. Took a while, but it works. (I'm not fond of heavy labor). On the other hand, I've also rototilled some really bad lawns and started from scratch.
It's amazing what proper fertilization and proper mowing can do for a scruffy lawn, too.

Fall, in your part of the country. Talk to your local extension service, but mid-September or so would be my guess as to the prime time to reseed.
The last major lawn renovation I did was my mom's back yard, after some foundation work and regrading done in a November. Leftover soil got piled up and left over the winter, and then the foundation crew brought back a small bobcat and regraded the following spring. Soil was essentially pure clay. Two friends and I went down to the municipal compost heap and filled the bed of a small pickup about 5 or 6 times, and dumped it on the bare clay and raked it out flat, as I didn't have the time or energy to till the compost into the clay. (this was the following fall... I couldn't get back to work on it before then). I hand broadcast seed and lightly raked it into the compost with a garden rake, then walked it in to the surface, firming the contact with the soil. Overseeded that with oats to give the local birds something to tear up immediately, and for erosion control. Oat germination was within a week, the lawn grasses came up nicely within a couple of weeks, and the fall rains kept everything watered. The permanent lawn species kept growing well into December that year (which I had expected), and it was ready for mowing in April of the following year. The renovated area has lovely, lush grass, almost too thick to get a mower through easily.
That's a long answer to say, if you do your soil prep late this summer, and plant this fall, you should have a decent looking lawn by December, and you can start mowing the next spring, though a bit of overseeding in any bare spots then will probably help.
If you're antsy to get going on the project and you're going to be doing away with the old grass, consider planting something like buckwheat as a cover crop for the summer, and seeding in the fall. Bonus: the buckwheat will give you more soil organic matter.
Oh yes... buy your seed now and store it properly, or find a good source of seed who will store it properly for you this summer. Don't use seed that's been sitting on a nice warm shelf for the summer.
Kay
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