Help me get started

lalitharJuly 22, 2012

Hi all,

I am looking for advice to get started with an organic lawn. I would like to understand the options and the considerations and in general educate myself before taking an major decisions like taking the old lawn out or reseeding or putting in new sod. We bought an older home and have been remodeling it for the last year. The lawn is at least 30 yrs old and has not been watered for several months and is in a bad shape but even before we stopped watering, it was balding, had a lot of weeds and the ground seemed really hard. There is about 2000 sq.ft of lawn total in the front yard and backyard combined. The backyard is full sun but the front yard is mostly partial shade and full shade from the redwoods and the beech trees there. We are in northern California/ bay area. I have no idea what kind of grass is here. Pictures below.

My questions.

1) should I try to recover this lawn or redo completely. My garden guy says I should get rid of it and get new sod. See pictures below.. But he does seem to favor quick fixes so I take that with a pinch of salt.

2) what is the type of grass i have? I would like a choose a grass type that can do with less water and look good with an organic maintenance program. Can I use the same grass type in the front (shade/ partial shade) as well as the sunnier backyard?

3) I have read mixed reviews for leveling or not leveling the ground. I would like a level ground that is easier to mow and feed and does not trip people up. I am not sure how to achieve this.

4) what is the organic routine I can follow...

Dry backyard grass with ful sun.

Front yard in partial sun

Partial shade

Bald patches in shade with moss

Side yard in shade

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1. Before doing anything get a good, reliable soil test to see what that soils pH is and what the levels of Phosphorus, Potash, Calcium, and Magnesium are. Then dig in with these simple soil tests,

  1. Structure. From that soil sample put enough of the rest to make a 4 inch level in a clear 1 quart jar, with a tight fitting lid. Fill that jar with water and replace the lid, tightly. Shake the jar vigorously and then let it stand for 24 hours. Your soil will settle out according to soil particle size and weight. A good loam will have about 1-3/4 inch (about 45%) of sand on the bottom. about 1 inch (about 25%) of silt next, about 1 inch (25%) of clay above that, and about 1/4 inch (about 5%) of organic matter on the top.

2) Drainage. Dig a hole 1 foot square and 1 foot deep and fill that with water. After that water drains away refill the hole with more water and time how long it takes that to drain away. Anything less than 2 hours and your soil drains� too quickly and needs more organic matter to slow that drainage down. Anything over 6 hours and the soil drains too slowly and needs lots of organic matter to speed it up.

3) Tilth. Take a handful of your slightly damp soil and squeeze it tightly. When the pressure is released the soil should hold together in that clump, but when poked with a finger that clump should fall apart.

4) Smell. What does your soil smell like? A pleasant, rich earthy odor? Putrid, offensive, repugnant odor? The more organic matter in your soil the more active the soil bacteria will be and the nicer your soil will smell.

5) Life. How many earthworms per shovel full were there? 5 or more indicates a pretty healthy soil. Fewer than 5, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service, indicates a soil that is not healthy.
to see what else about that soil needs help.

Possibly, once you know more about the soil and can make knowledgeable decisions about what to do about the soil to make that into a good and healthy soil, then you can decide if tilling, which can help with leveling, or total removal of the present sod (often not necessary) and replacesment with some kind of soil and then laying sod or seeding, or whatever.

    Bookmark   July 23, 2012 at 7:47AM
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I'm trying to kill my sod to start a meadow. You're already there! I don't see anything to recover.

You're in a perfect starting position to re-assess whether you want that much lawn, or want to do something else with it.

    Bookmark   July 23, 2012 at 9:49AM
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Oh, and redwoods work best with no grass under them. When was the last time you went to a redwood forest and saw lots of grass? Never.

    Bookmark   July 23, 2012 at 9:51AM
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Kimmsr --> looks like our county extension here in California will not do a soil test. I am looking for options. Do you think one sample is enough or I should send samples from different parts of he garden? I wil do the drainage hole and the mason jar test.

Watch nerd: I do not have grass directly under the redwoods. But the shadow from the redwood falls on the lawn.

    Bookmark   July 23, 2012 at 10:37AM
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What city are you in?

The local California Native Plant Society chapters have pretty extensive information about dominant soil types.

    Bookmark   July 23, 2012 at 10:29PM
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