Bring my overgrown yard back to life.
March 25, 2020 4:49 PM   Subscribe

The yard of our rental needs some TLC. From what I can tell, little of it was mowed last summer and the leaves were not raked. We aren't talking impenetrable overgrown brambles or anything, but the long dead grass and rotting dead leaves are matted on the ground now the snow has melted. I'm thinking I should rake everything, then mow on the first dry day we have? Is there a better way? Please give me a step-by-step plan of action for clearing up this mess in time for the little baby grass shoots to thrive! Assume I am new to caring for lawns, but generally handy with my hands and with plants.
posted by Grandysaur to Home & Garden (9 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Could you send a picture? The amount of sunlight, neighboring plants, etc, would be helpful. Also, what do you want at the end? nice view? Eco-friendly? Low maintenance? Golf course?
posted by The otter lady at 5:11 PM on March 25 [1 favorite]

More details: hardiness zone is 4b. All I want is a lawn I mow sometimes. Its mostly grass, with a hearty amount of weeds and thistles. Mostly the yard gets full sun. I don't plan on spraying or watering or fertilizing, I literally just need something mow-able. It is a rental: I'm not looking to spend any money, or to landscape the thing. I just want to fix it so I can mow it all summer long to keep the landlords happy and so I can find dog poops.
posted by Grandysaur at 5:39 PM on March 25

The easy way:
-do not rake
-mow when dry, this chips up debris into mulch
-water thoroughly with a sprinkler (inspect mulch and soil underneath to make sure it is moist to 2" depth)
-buy grass seed for your local area
-sow grass seed per directions on bag
-water as directed on bag
-mow when 4'' high or as directed on bag of grass seed remove anything that is not grass by hand, or just mow more often

It will look green, and be short enough to look like a lawn soon. You and your dog will enjoy it.
It will not look like the lawns on the advertisements for the weed killers. If that is what you insist on, then you must use the poisons. But if you want green, neat, short, and practical, this
will work. If you get regular rain, great; if not water when dry.
posted by woman at 7:28 PM on March 25 [1 favorite]

Bonus of not raking: you might get healthy wormy soil instead of dead wormless soil.
posted by aniola at 7:49 PM on March 25 [3 favorites]

I do rake and do not fertilize or herbicide. I don’t remove the detritus but spread it around or mulch .
posted by waving at 9:16 PM on March 25

There's an Ask This Old House segment about precisely this problem. I'm on my phone, so linking is difficult, sorry. From memory, you'll want to rake any remaining loose material, de-thatch to remove the built up crap that keeps the roots from breathing among other issues, aerate if the soil has gotten compacted, and mow, in roughly that order.
posted by wierdo at 12:26 AM on March 26

If the dead leaves and grass is thick you will probably need to rake or it will smother the green shoots.

You have several options:
1. Wait till it's dry and rake. Downside is that really tall grass will catch in the rake tines.

2. Wait till dry and mow. If it's not too terribly thick (meaning that you can see some bare spots every two inches or less) you can just go with another mow in a few days to further chop up. Or if the first mow results in a thick layer you then rake which is easier than option 1 in my opinion.

3. Call landlord to discuss and create an open dialogue that indicates your commitment to yard maintenance yet establishes a low stakes pattern of communucation. This opportunity is a good easy way to gauge further interactions if you are a new tenant.

4. Option 3, above, plus 1 or 2 or landlord's alternative idea.
posted by mightshould at 4:41 AM on March 26

I'm less experienced with wet leafy climates, so I don't know if it will work to wait for all the muck to dry and use a blower to corral it all off to the side and then dispose of. It's easier than raking, but might not be powerful enough.

I would advise spending the $10-20 on one bag of feed'n'seed, a basic brand (your hardware store will carry the most popular grass types for your climate). Put on gloves and hand-cast it, make sure it's getting a lot of water for two weeks and then a reasonable watering schedule thereafter. With a little fertilizer and care, the grass will choke out almost everything except dandelions, creating a less-thistly pooping ground for your dog. Without doing a full thatching-aeration-amendment production, that grass will probably not last to next year, but you just buy another bag and do it again.

This is my rental philosophy. My dogs are now old enough that they don't immediately kill the yard romping on it, so it works almost too well now. I also find the money well-spent to have lawn service come knock out the front and back grass in about 9 minutes - they don't even bring a mower in the back, just a string trimmer - but if you want to do it yourself the trick is you have to do it often. In peak season, weekly is almost too long, it grows so fast it shades and/or cooks itself and the weeds get traction.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:03 AM on March 26 [1 favorite]

If you have thistles, pull them out before you start. Wear gloves, grasp firmly at the base and twist. For giant ones, use a shovel to stab through the root first, aim for 6" under the plant.

If the grass is super tall anywhere, weed whack and rake up the clippings before doing anything else.
posted by ananci at 10:07 AM on March 26

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