My Lawn: Am I beating a dead horse?

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I have a ranch on a 1/4 acre of land. My lawn isnt huge but there is enough of it. Here's the link:
http://i231.photobucket.com/albums/ee225/trusso11783/frontofhouse.jpg
Yesterday, I really decided to tackle my terrible lawn. I have multiple issues. Maybe some of you can help. Yesterday, I rented a power rake from Home Depot and thatched the lawn. Here is what came out of the lawn only for the front yard. It may not look like a lot but there is a lot and I already got rid of a few pails:
http://i231.photobucket.com/albums/ee225/trusso11783/thatch.jpg
What is the next step? Do I put lime down? Do I seed? Do I fertilize? I do not know what kind of grass to use. I have planted Scotts seed last year and the grass is so different from the grass I already have. Instead of thin dense grass, the Scotts grass is fat and grows way faster and higher. I went to a local nursery yesterday and the guy insisted that the taller Scotts grass was weeds and not grass and he had no idea what kind of grass I already have. How can I find out. When I patch the lawn, I want it to match so that it isnt so obvious because of the differernt kinds of grass. See here:
http://i231.photobucket.com/albums/ee225/trusso11783/grasstype.jpg
One other question: How do I level the lawn? It dips down a bit in the middle. And I want the lawn to be higher by the house and grade down as it goes to the street. Do I add soil over the grass to level it or do I have to rip the grass out and then add the soil. Here is a pic but its hard to see the dips:
http://i231.photobucket.com/albums/ee225/trusso11783/slope2.jpg
I am trying to sell my house so I am not looking to pay a lot of money for a landscaper, which is why I am doing this myself. I am on the verge of a short sale and I would be happy to sell to break even and lose the $150,000 I paid these past 5 years rather than the kill my great credit. Do I have any hope or do I need a professional landscaper? I cannot believe dirt and lawns are so friggin complicated. Thanks for any help you can give.
Tony
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*There were a few episodes of "Ask This Old House" where Roger addressed lawn issues. Maybe they have reruns online. I remember in one episode they got a machine to aerate the lawn which was nothing more than putting spikes in and pulling out slivers of dirt.
You can add soil on top, but it should be in thin layers.
I would try another nursery (Not a home improvement store) and see what they have to say. Another thing you could do is contact a few landscaping companies and pick the brains of each person who comes out for a look. If you belong to a golf club, try and talk to the greenskeeper. He will be an expert on grass.
Doing the power rake was a good step.
My personal preference is Zoysia grass, but for selling purposes it is not worth the expense and time.
I would also suggest some shrubbery directly in front of the house. Flowers are always nice.
My parents used to always add clover to their lawn which blended well with the grass and did a good job of filling in where the grass was thin.
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good job on the thatching. it would depend on your soil type as to what to do next. if it were me...i'd throw some blue grass fescue mix and water and stray it. works great here in a heavy clay zone 6.
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It would help a whole lot if you told us where you live, different grasses for different areas of the country. Also, there are short- term grasses you could use to sell, but that would not be durable for more than one year. It is called annual ryegrass. There is also perennial rye. Zoysia I thought was only for very warm climates and would not survive a Chicago winter, for example.
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Tony wrote:

Sprinkleing soil over the low spots a little at a time, raking to lift the grass so it isn't buried and killed will bring it up slowly. Don't try to do it all at once unless you want to start the grass over in those spots.

Nothing you can do other than re-sodding is going to fix it in a hurry. Over a period of months, overseeding, fertilizing, and regular deep watering will make a big difference. Lawns do a lot better with a little food. Also, mow it LONG. Perhaps as high as your mower will go. This helps it grow better, as the leaves gather more sun, and the roots will grow better, and the ground will be shaded so it needs less water. Plus, it just looks greener. Mow regularly. If you wait too long, you take off too much leaf, leaving mostly stem, and the grass suffers.
When putting in new seed, rake the surface so the soil is loose. Sprinkle the seed evenly, and rake it lightly to cover the seed, or sprinkle a little soil over it. Roll it gently, or tamp it down with your feet, so watering doesn't float the seed to the surface. Then keep it moist until the seed has sprouted. This means don't let it dry out, even once. A sprinkler on an electronic timer, set to sprinkle for 5 minutes several time a day will really help here. All it needs to do is get it moist - don't over water it. Once it has sprouted, then you want to water much less often and much heavier, so that between waterings, the roots grow downward towards the deeper moist soil.
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Some top notch advice above, you readers of this NG. I can only add that you may have a university extension service or similar, that could have insights specific to your area. Good luck, it's going to be a lot of hard work.
Joe
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Tony wrote:

Got to a seed and fertilizer vendor's web site like Scotts.com and look at their guides for your region. You may have a state Ag extension office that can give you advice as well. Soil additions should really be based on a soil test to determine what is actually needed. Soil compaction seems to be a big issue nearly everywhere, so aeration, or if the lawn isn't worth saving, deep tilling the entire thing may be needed.
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Tony wrote:

What is at the bottom of the photo - driveway or bare soil?

If you are selling, the dip in the middle of the lawn should not be a worry, nor should the "Scotts grass", whatever that is. Just judging from the pix, looks like any blue grass would be nice if you must reseed. If you want it looking better than it does in a hurry, call your county extension agent and ask what kind of seed is good for your area. Long term, I would take a couple of plugs of the grass you have to the extension service to have them ID it but that seems pointless when you are selling.
The amount of thatch you removed is not a lot for 1/4 acre. Mow it 3-4", water deeply (1" per week if no rain), put down a slow-release fertilizer if you must. A few annual flowers might do more for curb appeal than all the lawn work.
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On Sun, 02 May 2010 16:38:41 -0400, " snipped-for-privacy@earthlink.net"

The thatch in the picture was only for the front yard of the house. The entire property is 1/4 acre. When you consider the house, garage, driveway, walkway, patio out back and a shed, there is only 1/8 grass. So, the thatch you see is probably for 1/16 of an acre. There was definitely more thatch then there is grass now.
I had some trees and plants along the front of the house and I ripped them all out so I can start over.
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wrote:

You have a lot of shade, given the size of the trees. The tree roots will deprive the grass of water. Increase watering times?

If the soil is compacted, I would use a powered coring machine (rental) and core the areas. This pulls cores out about the size of your pinky finger. The machines that have the thin "spikes", for aeration are no comparison.
The cored holes will give the ground plenty of Oxygen, and allow you to fill the holes with nutrients and new grass seed.
Where are you?
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I live on LOng ISland (Suffolk COunty)
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Photo 3 is Crab Grass not lawn grass, Ortho Weed Be Gone now does Crab Grass. Your lawn looks to short, best is cut it as tall as you can till maybe it kinda flops, not the highest mower setting but I think about 3 1/4". How do you fertilise and water, what are the tree types. Thick thatch is from liqued fertiliser. You need soil tests done and some pro advise. If it was my lawn I would spray the crab grass and fertilise, then in a few weeks seed. The crab grass is from last years seed fom the Crab Grass growing not Scotts seed. Is it real shady, it looks like it is and many types of Maples have shallow roots that make getting a good lawn near impossible.
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Doesn't look like any crabgrass I've known. Also, don't know where he's located, but it would have to be someplace warm to have mature crabgrass at this time of year. It looks to me like an undesirable grass, eg poa trivialis. Which is really bad news, because there is no selective herbicide to kill it without killing the desirable grass too.
IMO, the power raking was a waste. You only need to de-thatch if it is exceptionally thick and preventing water from penetrating into the soil like a thatch roof would. Normal thatch is not a problem.
As someone else pointed out, the only quick fix is to use sod. Trying to sell it, if you want to just do a fix that will make it look a lot better in a couple months, then I would over-seed. Mow it short, rake up all the debris, do any leveling off with topsoil if really necessary, then rent a slit seeder and apply a high quality seed appropriate for the climate, sun, etc. Apply starter fertilizer. Then keep it constantly damp, which, this time of year in USA is going to take a lot of water. Hopefully you have inground sprinklers, because if you don't it's a real pain to keep watering a decent size lawn. And be prepared to deal with weeds in a couple months when the grass has established and can tolerate herbicide. The weed and water issues are two big reasons Fall is the best time to seed. I'd check and adjust the PH with lime if needed.
For the really correct solution to the whole problem I would have done the above procedure in Fall after killing off all the existing plants with Roundup. That would get rid of the undesirable rough grasss. Also, if the soil is particularly dense, compacted, etc, then renting an aerator prior to re-seeding would be a good idea too.
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On Mon, 3 May 2010 08:00:09 -0700 (PDT), snipped-for-privacy@optonline.net wrote:

I live on LOng Island. The area where that thick grass (that some are calling crab grass) was all rocks when I moved here 5 years ago. I removed them all and replaced with soil I took from the local landfill. I tried planting grass seed and all I got were some weeds and junk. I physically removed every single weed from the root and planted Scotts grass seed and the entire section came up green and thick but it was that crab grass looking stuff. I am afraid to patch my current lawn with that same type of seed because of the obvious difference in the way they look. I want to seed with identical grass seed so that it blends together. Going to a local nursery and then to Home Depot gave me no results. No one knows what kind of grass I have (the left sample in the picture) even though all of Long Island has the same stuff.

It wasnt a waste. There was so much thatch and acorns and leave bits that you could not see any soil. Tons of thatch came out and I have a feeling that more would have been removed had I done it more slowly.

Thanks for the input.
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Try the new Ortho Weed Be Gone that states on the front Kills Crab Grass. I have a builbing that the city did concrete work and the added crap soil full of that stuiff and slowly Ortho is getting me craby free. Crab Grass is supposed to be killed with a Pre Emergent like that found in Scotts that granual you put down in very early spring, or you need special weed killers, until recently Ortho didnt offer it and after it came up you were left crabby
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I suggest you go some googling and learn what thatch really is. It's not typical debris like left over grass clippings on the surface, which generally break down on their own. It's a thick dense mat formed mostly of dead grass crowns. A normal amount of about 1/2" isn't a problem. And a power rake, which also damages some of the existing grass, isn't required to remove acorns or bits of leaves. The only way to tell if you have a thatch problem is to take out a one foot square sample and examine the profile.
If there are any state agricultural extension services available in your area, they can be a good source of info and you can take them samples to look at, soil to be tested, etc.
It's usually impossible to identify grass from just a pic. But from the one photo and your location, I would say that what you have is a type of fine fescue. You don't have to exactly match it either. A good shade mix that you seed over the whole thing should blend in well and will typically contain fine fescues. The only BIG problem is that the nasty grass, which looks like poa trivialis to me, will still be there. Usuallly, that crap is most visible in early Spring because it's a different coloer, grows faster and stands up out the desirable grass. But in another month or so, it's no longer visible. And since the only way to get rid of it is to Roundup the whole thing and you're trying for a quick fix to sell it, I'd just ignore it.
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On May 3, 10:00am, snipped-for-privacy@optonline.net wrote:

My crabgrass looks just like that, right now in Chicago, and that tall. I use Ortho weed B gone as it now does crab grass.
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I'd have to respectfully disagree. Whatever you are seeing in Chicago right now isn't crabgrass. Crabgrass doesn't even germinate until you have daytime temps consistently in the 80s, which is why one guideline for applying pre-emergent is to put it down when the forsythias bloom, so that protection starts then. And that is for it to just germinate. Here in NJ, where it's warmer, you never see actual crabgrass in lawns until July at the earliest. Also, crabgrass spreads out low to the ground and looks like a crab, hence the name. Whatever grass is in that pic is growing straight up.
Here's a pic of crabgrass:
http://www.extension.umn.edu/yardandgarden/YGLNews/images/crabgrass.jpg
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On May 4, 8:54am, snipped-for-privacy@optonline.net wrote:

The tall stuff in the picture I look at is crab grass and it is growing here in Canada and it is guite cool still this is hard to get rid of quickly , keep it cut short and put some top soil down with good seed mixed in to it . And water this will take time , either that or dig it out and reseed the area.
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On May 4, 8:54am, snipped-for-privacy@optonline.net wrote:

What ive found is crabgrass starts to emerge when soil is 60f , there are at least 230 different types and it can grow 3 ft tall and look like his photo and what I have, not all types just spread out and stay 6" high. We have had 60 f ground temp for quite awhile. It may be something different but it has the crabgrass charicteristics of spreading and taking controll and thriving with no water, reseeding and being hard to control. I have the small type also, it all came in brought in new dirt by the city in redoing concrete. All I know is I hate it and have a hard time getting rid of it. I did see one site I cant find that showed a photo of the same grass as one of crabgrasses various types.
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