Lawn and Landscaping WoesPlease Help (Pics Inside)

golfcourselawnOctober 18, 2008

Hello and thanks to all who have helped get my lawn/landscaping to where it is today. By way of background, I moved into my house in late March 2008 and undertook a major lawn restoration project (on a budget). For photos and details refer to this GW post: http://forums2.gardenweb.com/forums/load/lawns/msg051115205341.html

After 5 months, the front lawn is coming along well with regular watering and fertilizing per my local extension and GW member "Texas-Weed." Fortunately or not, Ive come to the point where I can see what is working and what needs help. To better assist readers, Ill break the issues down into categories:

1. Front Lawn

As you can see from the pics, this is the best part of the total landscape. The seed took well, and I trimmed the lowest ring of branches off the Bradford Pear tree to promote additional sunlight and access to water.

2. Side/West Lawn (sloping)

This part of the lawn isnt bad and rarely gets seen. For the most part, it gets lots of sun, especially hot afternoon sun so the Bermuda does well. However, it also gets little water due to the difficulty of placement.

3. Side/East Lawn (dry and mostly shady)

Without question, this is the worst part of the landscape since it is visible from the street and is a barren wasteland. If you looked at the prior GW post, youll see that I sprigged St. Augustine here, but applied roundup two weeks ago since it looked ridiculous. You may also be able to see the pachysandra I planted as a test to see if it would work there. Its only been a week so still too early to tell.

4. Back lawn (house side of slope)

The back yard as a whole is struggling, but the area on the house side of the slope is the best of the worst. The closer you get to the apex of the slope and the base of the pines, the worse it gets. The grass here is mostly Bermuda, although Ive over-seeded with perennial rye since it was thin anyway. I did not seed perennial rye anywhere else as I dont want to interfere with the young Bermuda root system, at least in the first year.

5. Back lawn (fence side of slope)

If this area was ever seen, it would be the worst. Fortunately it is not seen and currently is a complete waste of square footage as the slope is too severe for my kids to play and is really too difficult to mow regularly. You may not be able to tell from the photos, but in the center of this area is pre-existing St. Augustine grass with Centipede at the base of the hill. Of course, both are contaminated with large amounts of various weeds. I also planted all the Leland Cypress tress you see in the photos to give provide some privacy from our back neighbors in the coming years.

6. Front beds

The larger more established shrubs and trees were there when I moved in. They are comprised of crepe myrtles, sweet bay magnolias, and various types of holly bushes. The nandinas around the power box, box holly around the telephone box, and all annual/young shrubs, lorapetelums, ornamental grasses, nandina firepowers, mums, knockout roses, and climbing roses were all planted by me. The common problem for all beds is soil. Its clumpy and mostly clay. The baby shrubs all have wet feet and the soil rarely dries even though it gets full sun.

7. Back beds (near house)

I transplanted several of the shrubs and ornamental grasses you see in the photos from the sides of the house. They are doing fine for now, but these beds have the same, if not worse, clay soil as the front beds and NEVER dry because they all received only part, if any, sun. Ive also test planted a couple of creeping-jenny specimens in the shadiest/wettest bed in hopes that it will thrive.

8. Back bed (top of slope)

Fortunately, this bed is well drained because of its location and Ive managed to remove most of the clay and replace with local top soil from the back part of the back lawn. All that you see in the photo was either purchased or transplanted by me: haite hibiscus, radican gardenia, dwarf gardenia, traditional gardenia, tulip magnolia, sweet olives, crepe myrtles. I planted a different type of ground cover in this bed, which is a golden sedum variety. Almost all of the plants you see in this bed get good sun throughout the day.

9. Finally, Ive some sort of pest that barrels under the ground and leaves large mounding trails of dirt. Its only in the back yard near the top of the slope. Ive never seen the pest nor any hole from which it would escape. Im guessing its a mole, but I have no proof. I do have a photo of one of the trails.

In conclusion, Im looking for some landscaping/rehabilitation ideas for everything mentioned above. The only thing Ive got booked is a nice aeration/sanding of the entire lawn bed, and cultivating sand into the existing beds or digging out the clay and replacing with high quality sandy loam. My biggest problem is money, I dont have a bunch to fully sod the back and side areas with St. Augustine, nor can I hire someone to remove the nasty pines or do this task for me. Nothing is out of the question. If I can do it myself, I will remove trees, shrubs, grass, etc if in the best interest of the overall landscape. Id love to turn some attention to the house itself in 2009, i.e., painting, tiling, flooring, etc, but Ive got to get my yard right first. Please feel free to give me any advice you think will help, even if it will sting. All recommendations will be strongly considered, from converting to rock garden, water feature, anything!!! Thanks in advance for your help.

Here is a complete listing of the photos:

http://s289.photobucket.com/albums/ll229/dldubose/Lawn%20and%20Landscaping%20October%202008/

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bullthistle

Everything takes time especially when you seed, not sod, but I will add that cow manure and compost would be the best additives to add to build up the soil. If you have loads of soil delivered there must be compost or manure available by the truckload, they may not be the most pleasant smelling, but they will do the job better. Just make certain that you fertilize.

    Bookmark   October 20, 2008 at 12:48PM
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donnabaskets(Zone 8a, Central MS)

Hi! I live in nearby Meridian, so I have a pretty good idea of what you're up against. First, I want to say that you have obviously done alot of work already, and I don't think your landscape is bad looking at all, except perhaps in the barren side yard. Still....you're doing some really nice work there.

From what you say, and what I see, it sounds like your number one need is good soil preparation. Not easy, no. But if you do it right ONE time, you won't have to do it again. Your beds that are tight, poorly draining clay are the ones I am referring to. You will continually lose plants until you loosen and lighten it up. I learned this the hard way.

If you are strong and patient, you can do it yourself. I dig new beds in spring or fall. I try to do one each season (have only lived here five years). My way is time consuming, but cheap and effective.

If possible, do this work about three or four days after rain. I use a good sharp shovel and plunge it all the way down into the soil, making a "grid" pattern about six inches apart all over the area. I don't jump on the shovel. I balance on it, wiggling the handle forward and backward as I stand. My weight and the movement of the blade will make the shovel sink slowly into the ground. (My clay is so tight it always smells sour the first time I dig it like this. But never again.) Once I do my "shovel dance" and the blade is all the way in (about a foot), I pull back and break, but don't lift. Then I move the shovel over and do it again. I take it a section at a time and only work a couple of hours at a time.

Once I have broken the soil, I lay as many soil "amendments" over it as I can get my hands on: manure, compost, leaves chopped up by the lawn mower, grass clippings, etc. In our area, you can go to the county landfill and fill your pickup truck with their compost for free. It's black as can be, and is good stuff. Occasionally, you may find roots of spiderwort, etc. and it may contain seeds of briars or thistles, but if you stay on top of that kind of thing, it's not much trouble to clean it up, and it's FREE. (Did I say that already? :)

Anyway, I lay several inches (six is a good number) over the top of the broken soil and then I use my little mini tiller to mix it all in and pulverize it real good. Even a monster tiller will not break up my clay without doing the spade-breaking thing first, but once it's done, my mini does great. If you don't have a tiller and can't afford one, you can work the amendments into the soil by hand with your spade (unimaginably hard work). Or, you can let them sit on top of the soil for about three months and then work it in with the spade. (Check out the lasagna gardening forum.) Personally, I'd make it a high priority to get a mini tiller. I paid about $200 for my Honda and it's a honey. Do NOT buy a Troy Bilt mini. They are the most frustrating junk imaginable.

Once you have done this process, you can plant. Always mulch with a good organic mulch. Pinestraw is what I use, but leaves or shredded bark are good too. Just use plenty. I put down about three to five inches of straw each fall and that will last a year. I lay the next year's mulch right over the previous year's. Every few years, I top dress the bed with compost or manure. I put it down right over the old mulch and then lay fresh mulch over that. I have perfectly lovely soil.

This method of soil prep really works, and like I said, you only have to do it once. I have been digging and dividing daylilies the last two weeks and have been gloating continually over my butter soft soil.

By the way, your sideyard appears to be on the north side of your house. That would be an ideal place for camellias, nandinas, hydrangeas, and shade loving perennials. I have my northside done with these plants on what would be your fence side, and, on the foundation side, with a curving path running approximately down the middle. No grass at all. It's a lovely, cool place. Just be sure to prep the soil well before you plant. :)

Good luck!

    Bookmark   October 21, 2008 at 9:38PM
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