The grass really *is* greener on the other side...
December 23, 2005 3:16 PM   Subscribe

We just bought a new house. The good news: the house has a front and back yard, which we have never had before. The bad news: the previous owners did not take good care of the lawn. Help!

So, my wife and I are both Seattle natives who have been transplanted to Orlando. We know nothing about the broad blade St. Augustine grass that is common here. The yard of our new house is in poor shape, having endured the abuses of four dogs living there. The grass coverage is spotty throughout, has quite a bit of yellowing (especially compared to the neighbor's lawns on either side), and also has weeds and mushrooms growing in several spots. In addition, there are areas where the dogs were obviously digging, creating hollowed out low spots that need to be filled and leveled.

So how do we approach this? I assume we need to apply some kind of weed killer and/or other treatments to get rid of the weeds and mushrooms. I then assume we need to re-seed and fertilize. That being said, I have never cared for a lawn before.

Can anyone provide tips, or recommend books/magazines/websites to help a novice homeowner take control of his yard?
posted by Lokheed to Home & Garden (8 answers total)
Fix up your soil first. Go to and check out the lawn and soil forums. They might have a Fla. forum too.
posted by Ken McE at 4:18 PM on December 23, 2005

St. Augustine is a slow-growing grass, so it will take quite some time for the grass to recover. The good news is, now that the dogs are gone, they're no longer digging and urinating. The other good news is that St. Augustine is fairly bomb-proof and will eventually right itself, provided there is enough water and fertilizer.

Depending on how bad the situation is, you really have three basic options.

1) Do nothing. Well, throw down some basic weed-and-feed and let the grass do its thing. Dig out the bigger weeds and mushrooms. Don't mow it very low at all -- use the highest settings on a lawnmower. It will grow back.

2) Wait for early spring and de-thatch and re-seed the lawn. This is probably the best idea. You can rent de-thatchers very easily, although it will be a heck of a day's work.

3) Kill everything with RoundUp, cart it away and re-sod the lawn. This is the nuclear option. But it will fix everything.

As for books, just head down to a Home Depot and look at their books section. There will be plenty of things to check out, and they'll all essentially say the same things.
posted by frogan at 4:23 PM on December 23, 2005

You can't really re-seed St. Augustine - you can, however, sod it.

Take heart, however - all is not lost...

This time of year, I'd suggest putting a decent winterizer on it made for St. Augustine - Scott's makes some good stuff.

St. Augustine is tough grass, and will choke out most weeds, crabgrass and other stuff. Dandelions are a problem for it, and grubs, in particular, have a fondness for it. St. Augustine also gets something called "brown patch" where you get large circular areas of brownish grass.

It probably needs de-thatching, some good weed 'n' feed, and some water. Putting down an anti-grub compound helps, too. There's some stuff called "Bonus S", also made by Scott's, which is specifically tailored for Auggy. Worked wonders on my lawn.

Just be patient - I made that mistake and overwatered and ended up with a grub/fungus problem on my yard.

Also - Auggy likes to be cut long - longer than you would for Bermuda. During the peak of the summer, mow it once a week to a week and a half and water at least once a week - Florida summer storms will take care of the rest.

If the damage is really bad (not like I can see it) then look at sodding it - Home Depot and Lowe's often carry platters of sod plugs which can fix it. Then patience. It does take time, but there is something really nice about a thick carpet of Auggy under your feet. Trying to reclaim mine after months of neglect as well.

If you still can't get it, try a professional like TruGreen or ChemLawn - the rates are fairly reasonable and can getcha jumpstarted.

I just went through all of this last spring/summer. It's actually pretty rewarding. Good luck.
posted by TeamBilly at 4:23 PM on December 23, 2005

As a plan of attack, I'd say that you should fill the low spots first. Once you have the lawn even, and to your liking, head down to your local Home Depot, Lowes and check out their selection of lawn products. You'll likely find weed killers that will deal with that aspect of your problem, and you may even find something designed to deal with the urine spots.

If you need, you should also be able to pick up grass seeds to cover the filled in patches, etc.

Beyond that, it's not terribly involved. Don't water any time other than in the late afternoon/evening. A hot sun, like you're going to find in Florida, will scotch wet grass and make it look like crap.

Good luck!
posted by jcruden at 4:27 PM on December 23, 2005

When I lived in Rhode Island, I got a huge amount of valuable advice through the URI Extension. I suggest you check out your county's U of Florida Extension. Their web page is here.

The people there will know all about your climate and your type of grass, and they have no interest in selling anything.
posted by wryly at 5:01 PM on December 23, 2005

I am a strong believer in spending a little time every weekend down on the ground pulling the damn weeds out by hand. Works better than most anything else, and usually far less toxic. After a few years, you find that you don't have to pull weeds as much anymore.
posted by intermod at 6:59 PM on December 23, 2005

intermod - that works as long as a) your neighbors do the same and b) you might have a fence protecting your lawn from blown-in germination. If your neighbors let their damned weeds grow, you're going to have a problem, too, because they manage to take root in your yard.
posted by TeamBilly at 7:10 PM on December 23, 2005

These "anti-grub compounds" are extremely toxic chemicals. You might need some this year, but get yourself some milky spore, inoculate your lawn with it and after about a year or so forget about toxic grub killing chemicals forever. If you have bad soil one of the best things you can do is start heavily fertilizing with organic fertilizers, not chemicals. Ringers Lawn Restore is one good brand which is widely available. Chemicals can easily get leached out of the soil, especially where you have a thin topsoil on top of a sandy base. The organic fertilizers break down slowly and release their nutrients over time. I would also have your soil tested. Usually your local agricultural extension will do this for a small fee.
posted by caddis at 7:30 PM on December 23, 2005

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