How to fix this yard (dead grass, maple sprouts)
March 25, 2016 11:56 AM   Subscribe

Misterben and I bought our first house this past summer. Over the winter, most of the grass in our small front lawn died due to grubs eating the roots. Seeds scattered from the neighbor's maple tree into the resulting mud now appear to be sprouting all over.

We didn't want a lawn anyway, so this is just forcing the issue of replacing it with something else. Our ultimate goal is to replace the lawn with shrubs and ground cover plants (primarily in the Northern portion - on the left in the photos), and we have a rain garden installation scheduled for May/June which will occupy a prominent location on the Southern portion (on the right in the photos). Until we have a plan for what we're going to plant, what can we do to remediate in the meantime? Our goals are to stop the maple propagation and get the lawn into a situation where it will at least look like we are planning to do something instead of appearing derelict to everyone who walks by. We have heard of sheet mulching but don't know if that is the right option or how to do it, if so. Or would just getting a rototiller and plowing it under be good enough?

Images are here. Location is Seattle. We are willing to either DIY or to hire someone, or a mix of the two. Budget can be up to the high three figures. Neither dumping my husband nor moving out of the house are options on the table.
posted by matildaben to Home & Garden (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Can you dig it up by the roots and get rid of it? For now, cover with mulch, pine straw or other spreadable, organic ground cover. If you want to get fancy, you can get colored tumbled glass, but that's a butt-load of dough.

Plowing under the maple saplings won't do anything except delay their sprouting, so just get rid of it. You can rent a sod cutter, or hire a guy to do that.

Once you're down to dirt, put a fabric weed deterrent down, then cover in whatever stuff you decided on.

Another thing you might do is put down is a grouping of pavers, it can be a patio!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:07 PM on March 25, 2016

Paint the fence, but only if you are keeping it.

I don't think it looks derelict! It's OK to let that go for a month if you're getting it all ripped out and redone anyway. I wouldn't spend a dime on it, just move up your date for having the landscaping done.
posted by jbenben at 12:10 PM on March 25, 2016 [3 favorites]

Teach a toddler how to pull those seedlings up. Bonus, keeps them entertained for hours. Ahem.

But seriously, if you're doing work anyway don't worry about it. It'll get weedy but unless you want to mulch everything heavily (with leaf compost, not chips) to improve the quality of the soil down the line, don't bother. May is right around the corner.
posted by lydhre at 12:26 PM on March 25, 2016

The rain garden date cannot be rescheduled as it is part of an overall county rebate plan and the contractors who are certified to do this work are booked out for months due to a rebate deadline. We also don't have any other plan for the landscaping yet because we still need to find someone to create a design. No toddlers are available. We do have some leftover Montana blue stone from the backyard patio and were thinking of using them to lay down a small paver area on the North side of the front lawn to create a little seating area.

Sorry for the threadsitting.
posted by matildaben at 12:30 PM on March 25, 2016

Nothing will stop the maples, ever. You have to make it a habit to pull them up whenever you see the tiny ones, unless you can get your neighbor to cut their tree down.

Once, a relative had an amazing very low maintenance garden in a wet climate and a low-lying area (all basements in the development had pumps as a standard). I don't have an image, so I'll try to describe it in words.

Right next to the house, there was a broad belt of lavender, except where the door was. In a wet climate, you need really good drainage for that, but it is good because it doesn't really allow other plants in at all. Rosemary and sage have similar properties, but also need lots of sun and drainage. (On my own north facade, I have poison ivy, which does the same but neither smells as nice nor flowers on a north site).
From the door, a pavement came out, and spread to make a patio beyond the lavender. It was narrow, but wide enough for a long table and chairs for eating outdoors. The pavement became a series of pathways which defined six square "flowerbeds". Except they weren't actually flowerbeds. Each had one special feature and then a very dense cover of low plants underneath. As I remember, there was a crab apple tree, a mulberry tree, a rhododendron, a Japanese cherry tree, well and then I don't remember the last two. Maybe a rose in one of them? I don't remember the cover plants either, but I seem to remember they were different in some of the squares but not all. She had landscaped it so that the whole garden was almost horisontal, though there was a slight slope away from the house for drainage, and then the last part had steps down to the road and a hedgerow of bamboo which could take a lot of water. Come to think of it, she was quite foresighted in that sense.

My relative was rarely home and not a gardening person. So she worked through the garden one day, twice a year. In spring, she took away all dead material and weeds. In autumn, she would again weed, cut down everything that needed pruning, and not least, she would heavily prune the trees and shrubs, after Japanese inspiration. Because she was never there in the summer, she didn't care about shade. She wanted light in the winter months, and something that was pretty in the three seasons she might be there.

I don't know, but I suspect she had professionals doing all the earth-work when she moved in to create the right level of drainage and maybe even difference balances of earth for her little squares.

She told me that the people who bought the house really loved the garden, so it's probably still there - meaning 40 years of very low maintenance.

It would be cheaper, and maybe nicer, to have the little paths made of gravel, but then there would be more weeding.
posted by mumimor at 12:54 PM on March 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

The bare areas will probably fill in before long with something that will look reasonably lawnish as long as you mow it. The grass you have will spread and if you're lucky maybe some annual grass will start growing. I think I'd be inclined to just mow frequently enough to keep the grass/weeds from looking shaggy and do nothing else for now. If you really want to make it look better, you could spread some grass seed, but I wouldn't bother if you don't actually want a lawn long term. Mowing will take care of the maple seedlings.
posted by Redstart at 1:01 PM on March 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

Put up a little sign that says, "FUTURE RAIN GARDEN!"

And mow the maples.
posted by zennie at 1:55 PM on March 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

Pull up the new maples before the first mowing. Mowing does not kill them and they feel awful under bare feet.

Does your county have a Master Gardener program? They will have local info. Native plant sales are more common now, and learn what is invasive for your area. My mom passes along her Fine Gardening magazine which has some great info, however, I also call it gardening porn.
posted by childofTethys at 4:40 PM on March 25, 2016

Strip the sod off the lawn and haul it to the dump, there will be a compost pile to put it in at the dump. Some of the maple seedlings should come up with the sod, and the rest will be easy to spot to pull up. Get in 5-10 cubic yards of mulch to dump over the cleaned-out lawn, just enough to cover the ground, and keep it clean and semi-nice looking until you've sorted out the plan for the front lawn.

It's not difficult to scrape away the mulch in areas where you want to plant, and push it back around the plants/shrubs afterwards. Afterwards you will probably want to bring in another sizeable load of fresh mulch to achieve some depth of cover and stifle volunteer growth. Bring in new mulch annually/bi-annually to keep things looking fresh and clean.
posted by lizbunny at 12:13 PM on March 26, 2016

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