Lawn Rehab!
April 9, 2007 8:52 AM   Subscribe

Lawn Rehab!

Help me get my lawn in shape for summer so my 1-year-old daughter can play on it.

Here's the current situation (yikes):

High-res version

Located in Milwaukee, WI. We tore out a lot of bushes and small trees and put up the fence when we moved in in August 05. Tried seeding and twice daily watering last year, grass started filling in but then mostly died before winter. Wet weather and dogs has taken care of the rest. The back of the yard has moss growing, which appears to be impeding the grass growth. How do I get rid of the moss?

My plan is to lay sod in this area:

and seed the rest aggressively. (or, i guess, just sod it all - There is another part of the lawn which is not as bad that I will seed as well.)

Is this the best, quickest, and easiest way to go about this? Any sodding tips? What's the best seed?
Advice and ideas are needed and appreciated.

I know I will have to keep the dogs away from some areas, but please, no "get rid of your dogs"- type suggestions. We bought a house with a backyard specifically for our dogs.

posted by bradn to Home & Garden (14 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Ok, the images didn't get past the preview.

Current Situation

Plan is to lay sod in this area
posted by bradn at 8:55 AM on April 9, 2007

Why not sod the entire thing? (Not in the British sense of the word, I mean). Doing adjacent sections in sod and seed will leave you an obvious difference for a very long time, and it's a bitch getting the soil heights to match up smoothly.

The conditions that are creating an ideal environment for the moss have to be fixed, otherwise, the moss will come right back. Moss likes poorly drained, damp and shady conditions, which are roughly the exact opposite of what lawn grasses like. Anyway, blast the moss with a moss-death product (avail at hardware stores, there's a bunch of different brands) and remove it after it's died off. You can try shoveling or raking it out w/o killing it first, but you'll leave behind lots of spores which will happily re-colonize. After the moss is gone, rototill (rent one from a hardware shack, for that amount of lawn you'll be done in a few hours at most) in some amendments. Your dirt looks very compacted and you need to fluff things up before using seed or sod.

Here's a recent thread about dogs and lawns and backyards.
posted by jamaro at 9:18 AM on April 9, 2007

Lots of rain, twice-daily watering and the baldest patch is right under the downspout. Before you drop bling++ on sod, I'd check the drainage.
posted by DU at 9:22 AM on April 9, 2007

Every bit of grass growing knowledge I say here is passed along from a friend who is a landscaper (and is helping me with my lawn). He also has advanced learning in related fields - biology? ecology? Something like that.

I have similar problems with moss. Moss is a shade-loving plant. It looks like your yard is pretty shady, so moss will be pretty happy there. I don't know of any treatments that get rid of it. Personally, I use a hand rake - slow, and rough on the back, but it seems to work.

I would NOT mix sod and seed. It will be uneven, and won't look right until the seeded area has done a LOT of growing. I would do seed, not sod - cheaper, and besides, that's what my guy recommended. I'd break down the seeding into two parts. First, the barest part of the lawn. This is raked (or rototilled if the soild is really compact). Then work in fertilizer (Home Depot can probably help you here). Then add the grass seed. I think you'll need a shade-loving variety. Then work it in so that it is just (1/4") below the soil. You could also just add a 1/4" of peat moss at this point. Put in more seed than recommended - the birds WILL get to it no matter what. Second, for the parts of the lawn that are just bare, you can "over seed". Work the area with a rake, add peat moss, add seed and work it in as above. For both areas, don't walk on it for a while (I forgot what my guy said - I think a couple weeks).

The most important part of getting the seeded areas to grow is watering. If you have a sprinkler system, have it go on three times a day, for 15 minutes each. This is better than one big watering.

If you haven't already, do NOT use crabgrass preventer (the Scots "early spring" product) if you're about to seed. It works by preventing germination.

You didn't say where you live. Some folks with more knowledge might be able to provide better info if they knew.

Good luck!
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 9:51 AM on April 9, 2007 [1 favorite]

Link to a lawn site:

Seeding or sod will not be successful unless you prepare the base soil properly.
posted by JayRwv at 9:53 AM on April 9, 2007

Is that the whole area? It looks pretty rough, yet compact. I think you might want to consider reseeding the whole area. Consider tilling the soil, but at the very least put down some new topsoil mixed with peat moss and fertilizer (I like Ringer's Lawn Restore, plus you might want to add some seed starting fertilizer). Fill it in about one inch deep. Seed, cover with moisture retaining pellets and water it once or twice a day as necessary to keep it moist. In a month you will have a new lawn.
posted by caddis at 10:28 AM on April 9, 2007

In my Master Gardening classes, the turf lady spoke about one guy who ended up just promoting moss growth over his whole lawn, as it was too shady to grow grass anyway.

Also, your local Master Gardening program was built for this. They can give you recommendations for the best types of grass to grow, when to seed, when to water, etc. You can also check the Cooperative Extension Service (which is nearly always linked to the Master Gardeners anyway).

You'll probably want creeping red fescue, or a mix that is mostly creeping red fescue. It's a good grass for a shady lawn. You can find lots of details on the Cooperative Extension site on how to get things established (though really the best time was in September).
posted by schroedinger at 10:37 AM on April 9, 2007

From the picture, your soil looks terrible. A sod lawn will not do well over compacted soil. Ask your local agricultural extension about soil testing to see what your soil composition is and how to fix it. Chances are it's going to need some building up of organic material as well- moss is a good indicator of nitrogen deficient soil. If possible, I recommend seed lawns over sod; you can get the perfect type of seed for your situation with a little investigative work. Sod is primarily a type of grass that will tolerate the manufacturing process for making rolls of sod, and contrary to what a lot of sod enthusiasts would like the consumer to believe, requires just as much soil preparation in order to be successful as seed lawns. A seed lawn, depending on type, has the potential to require less water and feeding and tolerate more adverse conditions (like shade). To refresh a lawn you have planted from seed, you can allow the grass to grow long enough to flower and produce more seed, not usually possible with sod. Sod also contains plastic mesh in order to make it portable, and I have a general aversion to a product that creates unnecessary trash.
posted by oneirodynia at 11:07 AM on April 9, 2007

I had a yard like that (that's me in the other dog/thread linked) and I have already fixed my front yard. It was easiest to start with because it was more compact.

First, rent a tiller or something from your local home improvement store. We tried renting a sod cutter and it was way to hard to use. However, it does take off a good layer of old mess and dirt, so if you are a strong guy, it might work for you.

Then get some organic soil additives, the internets or your local extension service can tell you what you need. Also, I used some dirt called something like "lawn starter with new growth fertilizer" new grass can be burned by regular fertilizer, so get the new grass stuff. Turn that organic stuff and the new soil into your existing soil and over seed like crap. Water alot, keep the dogs off, you should have some nice stuff soon. I used shade hardy fescue . Note, you will need a lot more top soil than you think, bring a truck.

Try to keep the dog off it until its not so young and tender, then make sure they pee on the pretty stuff. They make dog food additive that makes dog urine not so bad for the grass. They also make dog spot repair stuff, that will fill in the inevitable yellow dog spots.
posted by stormygrey at 11:22 AM on April 9, 2007

I agree with the folks saying you need to till first. That soil looks pretty compacted, and nothing will help more than breaking that up first. Next, mix in some compost. Organic gardeners will tell you that 90% of your common problems can be solved with some good compost.
I can't tell if it's just because of the fence, but it looks like the bare areas are a little bit shady. Consider a more shade-tolerant variety of turf grass. St. Augustine is pretty forgiving, but a little thirsty. There are also some varieties of Zoysia that can handle shade. Fresh sod will need to be watered at least once a day, maybe even twice, just so you know.
posted by Gilbert at 12:20 PM on April 9, 2007

Kids grow faster than lawns. Personally I wouldn't get bogged down in an elaborate landscaping project. If the goal is for your daughter to play out there, then throw away anything that could be a safety hazard and let her run free. While she is playing, take a small hand tool and poke at the dirt to un-compact it. Let her throw down grass seed and discuss how water and sunlight make it grow. Take her outside to see the first miniscule shoots.

I have successfully gotten grass to grow on compacted soil that looks worse than yours by allowing my 3 yr old and his friend to throw cupfuls of grass seed on it, then watering once daily for a week. Our yard looks like absolute crap, but my son's friend thinks it's a fairy playground. The faries are named, for reasons unknown, "Laura" and "Helpful Zamboni."
posted by selfmedicating at 12:48 PM on April 9, 2007 [2 favorites]

Moss likes acid soil. Get it tested, and proceed accordingly. Dogs are quite rough on lawns, especially a newly seeded, delicate lawn. You may need to decide if the dog will get full access, or be on a line, at least until the lawn is established.
posted by theora55 at 2:12 PM on April 9, 2007

Here is the quick and easy! I do this every couple of years when mine starts looking like yours.

I hope I'm not too late! Tilling is awesome but not necessary with this project. Get one of the $15 pokey aerators (home depot etc.) that have two prongs and you step on, and hit the yard pretty evenly. Space about a foot apart between sets of holes. You'll end up with stuff that looks like small poops but that's ok. Aeration is great because it stimulates the existing roots which means you can skip seeding.

Then fertilize, I use weed n feed, and water. In two weeks it'll need some serious mowing! Enjoy!
posted by snsranch at 4:30 PM on April 9, 2007

Just a quick note about compost. Here in Florida I can get free compost from the local landfill. I was weary of this at first as it's landfill compost, however they use yard trash from yard trash days to make the compost, and it's totally free! Last year when I was starting a vegetable garden I went to a local seed/feed store and the guy actually recommended the landfill compost over store-bought bags, saying he grew the best tomatoes he ever had with it. In the landfill, there was a huge compost pile and since I don't have a truck, I just shoveled dirt into grocery bags and then wrapped them in plastic trash bags to transport in my car. Bags at the local store may only be $1.50 for 40lbs, but considering I used about 100-200 bags of dirt for my project, it saved me some cash.
posted by mojabunni at 8:55 AM on April 11, 2007

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