Preparation of Existing Turf?

nutmegger(z6)March 14, 2005

About 12,500 sq. ft. of the area I want to convert to native grasses and wildflowers currently has lawn on it. Soil tests I have sent to our local agricultural experiment station came back with recommendations for the amount of limestone and fertilizer I should add to this soil in advance of planting the grasses and forbs. They recommended working it in to the top 6" of soil. Most of the reading I have done about preparation involving existing lawns suggests using sod-cutters to remove the top 3" of sod. Since I was told to work the limestone and fertilizer into the top 6", wouldn't I be better off just using a Rototiller instead of using a sod cutter? I know I have to deal with the other issue of killing the existing grasses and weeds before trying to establish a meadow.

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I hope this doesn't sound overly negative, but...

1. I don't think the fertilizer recommendations given by ag experiment stations are relevant for meadow plantings. They are geared toward increasing crop or forage production, which is not the goal of your planting. Though your natives may benefit from increased fertility, the weeds you will be fighting with will definitly love the added fertility.

2. I don't think rototilling turf is a good idea, either. Not all the turf will be killed, and you will create a great seed bed for weeds.

3. Removing sod is pretty effective if you can afford it. However, In some areas (like my yard), losing 2-3 inches of topsoil is a major loss.

4. If you do remove the sod, I think you can seed directly into the exposed soil, though perhaps some 'scratching' might be desirable to loosen the surface soil. It would make sense to do the sod removal in the fall (to reduce weed problems after sod removal) and seed in fall/winter, as is usually recommended.

    Bookmark   March 14, 2005 at 10:16AM
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joepyeweed(5b IL)

for a native planting you can skip the limestone and fertilizer... its not necessary. you are better off leaving the sod in place - dont till and dont strip your topsoil. Tilling can create a weedy mess and topsoil stripping loses the best part of your soil.

the most common reccomendation for starting a native planting is to kill all of the existing vegetation and then seed into the dead material. Existing vegetation is usually killed by either smothering the area for one growing season or applying multiple applications of glyphosphate herbicide.

i have found that smothering seems to work the best for a complete kill and weed control. its biggest drawback being that it takes so long.

the herbicide works, but in order to get an effective kill you have to apply it several times and if you do it in the spring you will still get fall weeds and if you do it in the fall you will still get spring weeds so the chemical really isnt much better than smothering, in my opinion.

the period between death of existing lawn and growth of new plants can be an eyesore, so many people do it in sections and not all at once. i have seen strips or quarters of a yard done. one strip or one quarter each season .... and by doing it in pieces you learn what works for you in terms of plants and weed control, one piece at time. And then its not so overwhelming.

    Bookmark   March 14, 2005 at 7:15PM
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froggy(z4/5 WI)

i agree with joepyeweed.
dont strip it, kill it.
save all that backbreaking work for the veggie garden.


    Bookmark   March 17, 2005 at 6:43AM
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joepyeweed(5b IL)

fyi - i wouldnt even strip a veggie garden - lasagna gardening in much easier, saves your topsoil and adds organic matter to the soil.

    Bookmark   March 17, 2005 at 7:53AM
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jeanner(SW Ohio - Z6)

I hope I am not butting in here but was wondering what is the best method of smothering? The area that I am interesting in starting has not been mowed in many years, it is a mixture of queen annes lace, goldenrod (I believe it is canadian goldenrod, a few natives - coreopsis, ironweed and snakeroot and cold weather grasses. Will weedwacking the area and letting it lay be enough to smother and will the seed heads of the queens annes lace add to my problems later? It's not a huge area, about 60feet X 60 feet.


    Bookmark   March 17, 2005 at 9:30PM
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joepyeweed(5b IL)

if you smother the area then the coreopsis, ironweed et al, will die along with the qal and the goldenrod. qal can be fairly easily controlled. cg can be controlled but its tougher and takes a little longer.

the best way to smother an area would be to mow it and then cover it with thick layers of newspapers or cardboard. then cover the paper or board with layers of mulch.

    Bookmark   March 18, 2005 at 1:48PM
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jeanner(SW Ohio - Z6)

I guess since I have more undesirables than desirables I will try the smothering. What kind of success do you think I would have transplanting the ironweed first? I am having success getting the coreopsis to germinate but still nothing on my ironweed.

    Bookmark   March 18, 2005 at 10:20PM
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joepyeweed(5b IL)

i bet ironweed would transplant fairly easily. was this area one that was planted in natives and then taken over by aggressives... or is this an area that has some natives growing there naturally. if its the latter i would focus on controlling aggressives and perhaps other native species that are dormant may start to emerge....

    Bookmark   March 19, 2005 at 10:24AM
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jeanner(SW Ohio - Z6)

This area was used for pasture many years ago and then left to it's own for at least 10 years. I have gone back and forth on how to start - it's one of the reasons that I have yet to start, I seem to be in "analysis paralysis" on this one. What would be the best way to eradicate the cool weather grasses and replace with bluestem? I think I can keep the qal and the goldenrod in check but the grasses have me concerned.

I do appreciate your help with this and I apologize again to nutmegger for hi-jacking this post.

    Bookmark   March 19, 2005 at 8:42PM
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Good luck getting the ironweed out. If it's been there for some time, it will have an enormous clump of roots that is, appropriately enough, hard as iron. I have actually cut pieces of root off the mass while it's still in the ground in lieu of digging the whole thing up and cutting it up to propagate it. Worked fine.

But it sounds like you have a lot of natives, and not a very big area to plant. How about dividing the area into quarters and each year replacing the nonnatives in each quarter with transplants? That would actually not take longer than smothering and seeding, and you wouldn't have to destroy the existing natives.

    Bookmark   March 20, 2005 at 2:57PM
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I would like to thank everyone for their comments. I am curious about joepyeweed's suggestion to seed into the existing turf after it has been killed. Do you scarify the surface by some means first?

    Bookmark   March 23, 2005 at 3:11PM
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