Young grasshopper seeks grass-wisdom.
September 1, 2010 6:50 PM   Subscribe

How to quickly mitigate a somewhat busted lawn and garden -- and maybe get a small vegetable harvest out of it?

Just moved into a rental house (in Seattle), and two urbanites/utter gardening newbies now have about 700 square feet of yard. Only problem is, it's in very mixed condition, ranging from patchy grass to verdant foliage to utter disrepair littered with old cinderblocks and chunks of fencing. In between are some flowerbeds, some of which are good and some of which look like they're 90% sand... all of which may or may not have bulbs buried in them. It's been a dry summer until now and the grass looks pretty starved, especially on the west-facing front lawn.

(There's also a big Japanese Maple. I have no idea what I have to do to keep it happy... other than to admire it.)

Lease says the lawncare is our responsibility. OSU and WSU have excellent extension websites with gardening tips (as do past Metafilter posts), but they're mostly how to fix problems you've already diagnosed. I know I should pull up weeds, but that's about all I know.

How do I get a handle on this lawn, and what steps can I take over the next month to get it looking decent? Suggestions for vegetables or flowers that I can plant right about now would also be great -- looking at some peas or collards, at the moment, but I'm sure I can grow more than that in September here, right? I also have a lot of unused driveway space that I'd like to pack with vegetable containers. (I have a billion containers from previous tenants.)
posted by zvs to Home & Garden (6 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Rake all of the dead grass out of the lawn. Then water and feed according to type. If it is seriously dehydrated, don't fertilize until it was been adequately watered. I would water this week and feed next week. To green it up quickly water with some diluted Miracle Grow Lawn or some other liquid fertilizer. You can also apply iron to green it up. You can check on your extension when to "weed and feed" for your particular zone.

The cinder block/old fence thing is easy. Start throwing that stuff to the curb. Pull all of the weeds and nurse the lawn as best you can. Keep it simple with the vegetable garden. Gardening, as you know, is a full-time job. Do not take on more than you can handle.

The "verdant foliage" looks like bamboo to me. I could be completely wrong. If it is bamboo don't even think of trying to rip it out. You will never succeed. Leave it there or rent a backhoe.

Month-by-Month guides are great for new gardeners because they tell you when to do garden chores; when to fertilize the bulbs, when to prune, when to plant particular plants, etc.
posted by Fairchild at 7:59 PM on September 1, 2010

Response by poster: I think it is bamboo, yeah. I'm fine with keeping that, it looks good.
posted by zvs at 8:00 PM on September 1, 2010

Best answer: The lawn looks like it might have been there long enough to have some thatching going on. This will be blocking access by new growth to water and nutrients. There are various ways to deal with it. There's a fairly involved method here. But a simpler and cheaper method is to slam a garden fork into the lawn repeatedly at two or three inch intervals and give it a wiggle each time. Rake over vigorously, spread a little granulated soil wetter over the whole area, and water in very well. Then think about adding chelated iron and fertilizer.
posted by Ahab at 12:17 AM on September 2, 2010

Best answer: When in doubt, compost. Builds up the soil, improves absorption, improves microbial activity.
posted by Gilbert at 8:41 AM on September 2, 2010

Best answer: in my experience grass is more work than a low density garden. You have to mow it, weed it and water it and you get very little from it. If you want to enjoy the grass your city probably has a very nice park nearby. Here is what i would do (ok it with your landlord first):

The Grass area I would start converting to vegetable garden, probably 100sf every year. to do this first remove the sod layer. I use a flat bladed shovel with sharpened edge (you will have to sharpen it), by working the shovel under the grass then peeling the sod layer off the dirt beneath. you end up with a roll of sod. Once you have your 100 sf of bare dirt dig a trench along one edge, put the dirt to the side. Bury the sod along the bottom of the trench with dirt from alongside it. This is known as double digging, it is a lot of work but pays off big dividends in term of soil productivity and removes all compaction (which is very important for root growth). The buried sod layer also provides for compost down deep in teh soil. The trench should be 8-12" deep dependign on how hard you want to work. I have gotten good results with 8". Now you plant. Given the current time of year I would first spray the area with round up before you begin the above. Dont use too much you are just trying to keep weed growth to a minium next year and you want the round up to deactivite over the winter.

For the side yard are with the cinder blocks: do the above but without any sod you don't need to peel it back first. I would use roundup here in a slightly larger dose to keep down what looks like dandelion heaven. Plant shade tolerant vegetables here (brassicas are usaually good for this).

Trim the bamboo and use cuttings to start a compost pile. Find a homeowner aruond you with a big yard and lots of fruit or hardwood trees that are about to dump a load of leaves. Knock on their door and volunteer to take some of their leaves from them. It will need to be mulched first but most lawnmowers will do an admireable job at this. Whole leaves do not compost well or fast but shredded leaves make the best compost if you can combine with grass cuttings (the same homeowner will probably be able to help you here). you can just compost it all in a big pile you turn over periodically. It will compost a little better if you can keep it out of the rain this winter, but you still need to keep it wet. Add the compost with a grass rake in the spring just before you plant your starts or seeds. Enjoy.

Container gardening requires more work than a low density conventional garden and requires more input. You will be amazed how much food you can grow with a few hundred sf of good soil. I would highly recommend Steve Solomans book "Growing vegetables West of the Cascades". The guy is kinda pompous but he has lots of good advice and techniques for dealign with a mild, wet, maritime climate that the pacific northwest has.
posted by bartonlong at 9:50 AM on September 2, 2010

Response by poster: These are all really good. If anybody else wanders into this thread, keep 'em coming! And thanks!
posted by zvs at 9:54 AM on September 2, 2010

« Older Help Me Properly Protect My Pickled Peppers...   |   Photo or file upload (and upload-only) service Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.