Tilling the yard advice please

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I have a small backyard (18' by 30') and the lawn is several kinds of grass and has been overrun by crabgrass and clover. There are also hard bald patches where I can't get grass to grow. It's mostly sun and the soil is fairly clayish. New York City area.
The local Garden World place suggested ripping it up with a tiller and putting down lime, starter fertilizer, and seeding. I should then cover it with some soil so the birds don't eat all the seed. I can rent a light or medium duty tiller at the local Home Depot and I'll likely do it this Saturday.
I've read that the existing lawn should be killed with Roundup or another broadleaf herbicide, but I let my cats go into the yard and don't want to put down anything that will harm them. They eat the grass.
So my plan is to till it and try to remove as much of the existing foliage as possible. It's really only around 400 sq feet of lawn so it shouldn't be too backbreaking to get the stuff into bags once I rip it up.
Actually my plan is to do it twice. The first time I get out the old stuff, then put down the fertilizer and lime and such, and then till it again to get it all mixed up well. Then seed.
Am I just wasting my time to try this without using Roundup? Should I be mixing in peat moss?
Any comments greatly appreciated. Thanks.
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I live in a completely different part oif the country than you (Florida) but have just gone thru the same procedure that you are planning...twice.
The first time (a year ago i did it without putting any roundup on the lawn) I tilled the lawn and laid down sod on top of our good soil here. withing a few months the weeds were choking out the grass and I had to do it all over again.
This time I put roundup on the lawn and killed off all the weeds and existing grass. I just finished tilling it and have raked off all of the dead weed and roots and stuff. All I have is nice black dirt waiting for the sod which will be delivered tomorrow.
Keep the cats inside for awhile while the roundup does its thing,
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I'd also suggest going the Roundup route. Roundup breaks down quickly, so you can seed as soon as the existing grass and weeds are dead, which is about a week to 10 days. I'd just keep the cats off it till it's been tilled.
I'd also suggest putting this off till Fall, which is by far the best time to do this. You will have less competition from weeds, won't have to worry about crabgrass, and with declining temps and Fall rain, nature is on your side. If you do it now, you need to be able to keep it well watered, including during the coming summer, when the new grass won't have deep roots. If you do this in Sept, the grass has a lot more time to establish in cool season Fall/Spring, which is what it wants to do.
You can do it now, but be prepared to deliver a lot of water and to deal with weeds.
Mixing in peat moss or similar organic matter is always a good thing. It's just a trade off as to what you have available and how much it costs vs what soil you have and how much it needs to be improved.
I would not cover the seed with soil, unless you have some method to do that very evenly and lightly. Just raking the seed in lightly should do the trick. Make sure you use the right type and best quality seed.
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On 17 Apr 2007 10:49:20 -0700, snipped-for-privacy@optonline.net wrote:
...

Thanks, I've read that the best time is the fall so maybe I'll wait. Another summer of bad grass won't kill me. But that Roundup looks grim. A long half-life apparently.
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Roundup does have a half life, but a cat isn't a grazing animal. If you were re-seeding a pasture where you were raising cattle, that would be one thing, but for cats? Not a problem.
One option you do have is solarizing the grass by laying plastic sheeting on one section at a time. Late this summer, you could buy some large plastic drop cloths and cover (say) 1/3 of your yard at a time for a week or so, then move the drop cloth to another area. That'll kill the grass and weeks, then you can till without having to resort to round-up.
KB
wrote:

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...

Thanks, I was sort of afraid of that. But I just looked around for the toxicity of Roundup and came across this:
http://www.alternatives2toxics.org/catsoldsite/round.htm
Doesn't look too promising. Without the cats I might be willing to do it but with the cats? No, I don't think so. There seem to be some safe crabgrass killers such as this:
http://www.crabgrassalert.com/safe_herbicides.html
but I how do I really know that it's safe? Arrgh.
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more toxic.
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That may be, but I don't let the cats drink mouthwash. I don't drink it either. But they would eat RoundUp if it's on the grass.
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weeds that were sprayed with round-up. Never happens in 100 years.
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dgk said:

And, since they're not made of plant material, they'll be fine. It may make them puke, but the grass would do that anyway. The minute dose they would receive from the few blades they'd eat would do nothing to them. You're fsking clooless.
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I went to school to become a wit, only got halfway.

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Steveo said:

Ain't it funny how sometimes "random" becomes quite opportunistic? =)
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snipped-for-privacy@hotmail.com wrote:

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If the std for what is acceptable and safe is to google the internet and find a website that says something is bad, there isn't much left that you can use. You can find some extremists websites that say just about anything will kill you, is unsafe, and should not be used. All dgk has to do is keep the cats off the lawn for a few days to a week after the Roundup is applied. After that, it all gets tilled, so what's there will be decreased by an order of magnitude. Seems very reasonable to me.
BTW, if he doesn't like Roundup, I wonder what he thinks of genetically modified crops like soybeans, that have been created to be Roundup resistant? Those are sprayed with Roundup to kill weeds, but not the crop. Better not eat those. Or how about how is he going to deal with weeds in the newly seeded yard? Hmmm, if Roundup is bad, what about broadleaf weedkilller? Maybe he should stick with what he has now.
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On 19 Apr 2007 15:28:03 -0700, snipped-for-privacy@optonline.net wrote:

That's not a bad suggestion. The lawn is green and is better than the crap on my two neighbor's yards. And clover is not awful and is a natural part of the lawn. Still, over the 10 years or so that I've owned the house, I've made the mistake of using different grass seeds and it just all sort of looks different.
There are also patches where I can't get anything to grow. The ground is hard and it just doesn't seem possible to fix it without major renovation. The base of the lawn is a thick web of interlocking roots and runners. Pulling out clover by the roots and runners is not a time-efficient activity in my experience.
I'm wary of a lot of chemicals. No Luddite, but wary. I'm a med bio grad and spent a few years as a microbiologist before discovering the joys of computer programming. Just in general, we have unleashed stuff into the environment over the last hundred years that have never existed before, Roundup being one of them. I think caution is deserved. The studies proving its safety are all funded by Monsanto and I prefer my studies to be done independently. None the less, it has been widely used for quite some time without clearly being dangerous.
I think this time I'll just till the mess and use the opportuity to get some lime and peat moss in, and reconfigure the yard, adding some space for more tomatoes and string beans and such. Perhaps a little house for the cats to play in and maybe a waterfall thing. But those are so hokey.
If the crabgrass and clover come back too quickly, I'll consider the roundup route or cover it up with plastic sheeting.
Thanks everyone for the advice. We're finally going to have a nice weekend here in NY so I'll probably do the deed tomorrow. It's guaranteed to be a big mess.
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dgk said:

Clover is better for your lawn than you may think. Do some reading on "nitrogen fixation".

It's 18x30. Just rent a sod cutter for a day, cut the old sod out and discard it. Rake it smooth, working in a bit of organic matter, and lay the new sod in place. It's that simple. You could, by yourself, prep that area in one day, and lay the (less than a) pallet of sod in less than an hour, the next day. That's such a small area, it would seem to me to be the most logical, quick method. All that's required after that is regular waterings until it roots in. If you want cool season grasses, now's the time to resod, for sure. Tilling isn't really all that great for the soil structure. You stated that your soil is mostly clay. You hit it with a tiller, you're going to have 60 sq/yd of big, hard, clay "rocks", in a few days. Have fun raking /that/ smooth. ;)

What I suggested above is about as "major" of a renovation as you can do. You completely replace the turf. But you do it /without/ disturbing the substrata. It takes a nice weekend, and probably less cash than you think. Call a local sod farm. You only need 60 yd. A pallet is about 70 IIRC. Local rental shops should have a sod cutter, or the sod farm would know where to rent one, I'm sure. It's worth looking into.
[...]

How much peat do you think you'll need for that area? Are the rest of the plantings in the immediate vicinity, acid-loving?

I dunno. I've never seen cats play in a waterfall thing. Might be kinda entertaining. =)

Crabgrass is easily prevented using a pre-emergent. If the Forsythia are still blooming, or it's been unseasonably cool in your area, it /may/ still help to put it down. I'd rethink killing the clover, if you're actually going to till the area.

Yup. And, one that will probably take you a while to fix. Good luck. =)
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Eggs Zachtly wrote:

some species that "fix" nitrogen (mainly legumes such as wild indigo, Carolina lupine, and clover that make air nitrogen available to roots).
auto aeration :)

Hi Eggs, I been sitting back watching this thread thinking don't waste the time with a tiller in heavy clay soil. Man Eggs, your solution is indeed a good use of time and will produce more bang for the buck. all I'd add would be the use of a star tooth aerator, with just as much weight as I could get on the thing, be run over the area just prior to laying the sod.
best 2U, Jim
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On Fri, 20 Apr 2007 20:26:46 -0600, Eggs Zachtly

Ok, I'm convinced. I hold off on tilling. One other thing I should have mentioned is that there is no way to get anything into the backyard without going through the house, so sod is going to be awkward. But, I never heard of a sod cutter before and it certainly makes sense that tilling clay can be messy.
Instead of heading off to rent a tiller, I'll look around at sod cutters and the availability of sod. I suppose they put roundup all over the sod but at least I won't know about it. Maybe.
Thanks for the advice. I'll head over to the local Garden World for a start.
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dgk said:

[...]
A sod cutter resembles a heavy mower, or tiller. It has a blade that sits parallel to the ground, and the depth of its cut is adjustable. As the cutter propels itself along, the blade moves side to side, as well as front/back, in order to cut a long strip of sod, leaving behind a fairly smooth (barring any rocks) surface.
You then cut the long strip into smaller ones, making them easier to handle. Just roll them up and carry them off. The new sod comes in small rolls, that you just unroll in place and snug up against the previously laid one.

Nope, no need to spray anything. Just cut it up and haul it away. =)

Good luck, man. Like I said, I'm not sure who'd have one, but someone will. =)
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On Sat, 21 Apr 2007 12:44:42 -0600, Eggs Zachtly

Garden World (which is familiar with the local soil) says that I likely wouldn't have much problem with clay after a few passes with a tiller, but that I would need to compact the soil, or sink every time someone walked on it.
That's a problem with having an attached house (row house) since getting anything into or out of the yard usually means going though the house. There is really no way to get a big roller back there. It also means some heavy and messy lifting for sod.
So I went the conservative route for this time. I spent Saturday digging up the bare areas and filling them in with peat moss, topsoil, and some lime and seed. I then did the topping suggested by the link from Data. I spread peat moss all over the lawn, then went over it with lime (pellets). I also did the areas reserved for vegetables. Then I watered (lightly)
Sunday I fertilized and watered (lightly) and had the first barbeque of the season. Now I wait to see how much of the see is left by the birds. Much of it is buried under the thin peatmoss layer so I should be all right.
Thanks again for the advice. It won't be perfect but it won't be a big mess either.
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