Yard needs major rehab - former hoarder house

PizzaMuttSeptember 4, 2013

Hi All,

I moved into my first home in May 2013. Imagine my surprise upon talking to my neighbors in finding out that the previous home owners were major hoarders. Allow me to explain how owning a former hoarder home has brought me to a gardening forum.

The previous owners completely neglected the lawn and garden of the entire large yard for the many years they
lived in the house. I didn't realize this as I was looking at the home before plants came up and while there was still snow covering much of the yard.

My boyfriend and I have managed to keep the front yard looking reasonable using manual weed removal (LOTS of burdock, garlic mustard, creeping charlie, pretty much any thing you could imagine), mowing and some herbicide. The back yard is another story. It is entirely weeds that we have tried to control through mowing etc but could only keep about half of the yard in check. There is the added problem of trash and debris that had been dumped in the yard. We've raked through a few times and still it is like an abandoned construction site. Nails, glass, garbage, dissolving plastic sheeting. I guess snow can hide a lot!!!

We are looking to buckle down and get a lot of work done in the fall to prep for the spring and winter and I am looking for advice on what we should do to get a head start on controlling the weeds for next year. I would like to develop a plan that would enable us to plant the back yard with a mix of grasses and wildflowers. We would like to keep a small area for entertaining but we don't have kids and only cats who would probably enjoy a natural yard. It seems like now would be the time to start this project but I am really at a loss for where to start; rototilling, herbicide, mulching? Please help and I appreciate your guidance.

Warm wishes.

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Hi Pizzamutt,

I know that feeling - where to start??! We moved to a new (old) house this year and while the yard was not full of debris it was very overgrown, neglected and weedy. 2/3 of the lawn area was infested or completely taken over by weeds.

We want a small grassy area but most of the yard will become a large garden bed for shrubs, perennials, japanese maples etc with lots of mulch for low maintenance.

Because we're in our 60's and not as strong/fit as we used to be we finally decided to hire a landscaper to help us. First they came by (3 weeks ago) and sprayed the whole 2/3 area of lawn that was uber weedy. They used something called organic horticultural vinegar. After 2 weeks the area they sprayed was good and dead. They spent yesterday cutting back all the weedy vines, saplings, scraggy bushes and raking up all the debris, pulling weedings, trimming stuff back and carted it all away. Now we can really see the potential of this yard.

Next week they come back to rototill the sprayed dead area of lawn and add 2 cubic yards of triple mix. We'll let it settle over the winter and plan to plant next spring.

If you're stronger and more energetic than us you could probably do this your self. Good luck!

    Bookmark   September 7, 2013 at 10:21AM
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I cant say that in our younger days, and having bought our first home when I was only 20 years old, that we didn't hoard ourselves. Hubby just refused to throw anything away.
The excuse.."they might come in handy ....one day.

As far as weeds, you cannot EVER destroy a weed by cutting it...that only makes the weed come back stronger than ever.
Weeds must have their roots, either kiled...or removed entirely.

I guess that speaks then of a glyphosate...i.e. RoundUp...and after being killed, they have to be removed.
Then the slow, yearly approach to caring and repairing, and growing from scratch all what has to be done to get a lawn worth something.

What you have to do is take stock of what kind of soil you have and what it needs to grow grass.
Was the dethatching necessary......was the ground compacted so much that it didn't harbor moisture long in it.
Was any compactness the reason why you have weeds....not likely.
You have weeds because they are very easy to grow...and they fight like h*ll to live.
When you have a semblance of weed free ground, then the ritual of keeping it free and add organic matter to your soil which will help retain moisture and adds nutrition to the soil''s nitrogen, phosphurus and potassium levels.
Every spring....whether you believe its necessary or not, overlay a 1/2" - 1" of good compost, triple mix or quality topsoil over the lawn, then do an over seeding.

Let your grass grow to 3" - 3 1/2' and maintain it at that level.....don't cut lower at any time. You may have to mow more often but keeping it at that height will ...in time, shade out weed seeds.
A pre-emergent might be considered and spread at the optimum time in your zone. Any nursery can tell you when 0the best time is for your area. Pre-emergent kills most of the weed seeds produced through summer and fall. Much of the weeds that are produced from their seeds will be prevented to show up the next spring.

But....a pre-emergent will kill grass seed. So you must wait until the pre-emergent has done its job before over seeding the lawn.

A fertilizing schedule must be maintained as per the type of grass you have. Liquid grass fertilizer is a waste of money....most of it runs away if drainage is not what it should be.
If possible....your mower cuts the lawn and is able to leave the clippings to remain....then follow that procedure.
Some mowers are unable to disperse properly the clippings without leaving clumps in different areas. If so... use a bag and save them in a garbage bag and use in a compost pile for later use as an organic to spread on your lawn in the spring. I have one like that....a TORO that has a gate you open to let the clippings go into the bag...otherwise, it collect at the gate and drops at the most inopportune time.
So, I use a bag almost exclusively and feed a compost pile with it.
I use it to overlay my lawn and feed my garden in the spring.
I seed every spring....
BUT....fall is the BEST time to seed a lawn because there is less competition from weeds
But.. again.....its now past the optimum time to seed a lawn which must have soil temperature long enough --high enough--to germinate in time before hard frost arrives.
So think spring.

    Bookmark   September 13, 2013 at 10:33PM
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jim_1 Zone 5B Illinois(5b)

Weeds self sow. It is a simple fact. If you can keep weeds from setting seed, then you have a start. I don't use Round Up. However, I do use Weed b Gone (is that spelled right?). It acts on Broad Leaf weeds such as dandelions. It is a start.

If you till, and the weeds have set seed, then you still have a problem as many of those seeds will stay in the soil, trying to get back at you for many years. It will take a lot of diligence to try to eradicate them.

You have to spend a lot of time out there working to get it to the way you want it. If nothing else, you can tell your doctor that you are getting that Vitamin (whatever) and exercising, too.

Personal opinion here: take care of the inside first. That is where you will spend a lot of time. The neighbors have seen this mess for a while, they'll understand that it will take a while to undo what has happened. Make big-time friends with your neighbors and try to get them to help you with your outside chores. Of course, food will go a long way to entice them on that.

What you need to do, is take lots of before pictures. 10 years from now, people won't believe how far you have come. Bragging rights and all that!


    Bookmark   September 24, 2013 at 4:15PM
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Thanks everyone for your advice. I think we are planning on doing a weed eradication yet this fall, tilling, and solarizing over the winter and see where we are in the spring. I expect the seed bed to be pretty prolific so I think we will be dealing with it for awhile.

Thanks for your tips Jim! Fortunately the house was gutted before I moved in so it is actually looking pretty good. All in all the house and front yard are in good shape, so I think the neighbors are pretty relieved to have us. It is just the back that is causing us headaches. And we are relieved to have a nice bunch of neighbors on a quiet street.

    Bookmark   September 25, 2013 at 11:39AM
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