Trouble with my Lawn

saltywaltyMarch 12, 2007

I bought my first home last summer and have had some troubles with my lawn that I don't want to repeat. I was hoping to get some feedback and tips on how to have a healthy, good looking lawn.

My first issue has been compacted soil. I was going to hire a kid to aerate this week. The question I have, is it to early in the year? In addition I need to re-seed the entire lawn to try and revive sections, So if I aerate how long should I wait to seed?

I am also wondering if anyone has a good lawn maintenace calendar?

Thank you for the help

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As warm as it has been, it's probably not too early to aerate the lawn.

As far as seeding goes, you can seed right after aerating. In fact doing so will increase the seed-to-soil contact. You might have better luck seeding in the fall than in the spring. When you seed in the spring, the grass doesn't get a chance to get established well enough before the heat of the summer. If you seed in the fall, the grass has the fall and spring to get established before it heats up.

If the lawn is in really bad shape, you may have to seed in the spring, but if you do, you may want to seed again in the fall.

Once the grass starts growing, DON'T water every day. Believe it or not, the biggest problem faced by most Utah lawns is too much water. Even in the hottest driest part of the summer, there's no need to water more than twice a week. In fact, if you can get the water do soak in enough, you can cut back to once a week. That may sound unbelievable, but I only water once a week. Doing that can reduce the amount of water lost to evaporation, promote deep roots and cut back on weeds.

Mowing at the highest setting on the mower also cuts back on water use (shaded roots) and also reduces weeds because their shaded and don't get water often enough to sprout.

Mulch mowing also returns water to the soil and helps with the compaction, as well, because it adds organic matter and encourages worms.

I don't really have a calendar, but I usually wait until the grass is actively growing and it hasn't rained for a week before turning on my sprinklers (usually some time in early June).

I fertilize the lawn with used coffee grounds from Starbucks (free for the asking even if you don't drink coffee--they're saving a bundle on trash costs). I just toss them around as I get them, starting in one corner of the lawn and working around until the whole lawn is covered, then repeating. I do that until it gets hot out, because the smell bothers my wife when it's hot. Then, when it cools off, I start over again until there's snow on the ground.

I also usually hit the lawn with one application of high N fertilizer after the topgrowth has stopped but while the grass is still green. The goal is to get 1 lb of actual N per 1000 sq ft of lawn. So, if you have a 2100 sq ft lawn and buy 21-0-0 fertilizer, you need 10 lbs of fertilizer. To get the amount of fertilizer you need, divide the sq ft of lawn by the first number on the bag and then divide the result by 10. For example, I have about 4000 sq ft, so if I buy 21-0-0 fertilizer, I divide 4000 by 21 to get about 190, then divide 190 by 10 to get 19. Since it comes in 20 lb bags, I get one bag--that's close enough.

The late fall high N application often keeps my lawn green all winter. At worst, it makes my lanw the last to trun brown in the fall and the first to turn green in the spring.

    Bookmark   March 12, 2007 at 9:23PM
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songbirdmommy(UT 5)

bpgreen, are you a Master Gardener? You sure sound like one! LOL
I was going to give nearly the exact same advice-the only thing that I would add it take a long screwdriver or sharp dowel and poke it in your lawn. See how far down it will easily go. This will usually tell you how far down the water is actually penetrating. Some lawns, sounds like yours is one of them, only go down an inch or two, that's it!
At that depth(or lack thereof) the roots can not function properly and your lawn will look 1/2 dead because in a way it is. It would be like humans living their entire lives in homes that a hobbit would feel cramped in.

Aerating could help some, but you may want to think about more drastic measures if after a year or two of bpgreen's suggestions, it seems to get worse.

The extention agent from Weber told us about a church that was having problems with their lawn.
He went out, poked in the lawn and at about 1- or 2 inches it stopped.
He then found out that when they the construction crew was working on this church, they paved the entire building lot first.
When the church was finished, they brought in about an inch of top soil, laid it over the asphalt and then laid the sod.
To fix the problem, they brought in more dirt, LOTS more dirt, dumped it right on top of the old sod, two feet deep!Then they resodded. Now it looks better.

Maybe you do not have asphalt underneath, but you might have hard pan. If that is the case, you may have to do what the church did to make your lawn healthy and look great.

Good luck & keep us posted!

    Bookmark   March 13, 2007 at 11:16AM
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stevation(z5a Utah)

Wow, bpgreen, only once a week, huh? I was bragging to my water-wasting neighbors last year that I was only watering twice a week (and my lawn looked great), but I never thought once a week was possible, except when it rains.

Anyway, saltywalty, there are a few things you need to do to be sure the lawn holds enough water each time you water it, and then you can cut back if you're watering too much. Here's a copy of something I wrote on a community forum last summer:

I only water my lawn, trees, shrubs and flowerbeds twice a week. And the yard looks great! I water on Mondays and Fridays. I let the popup (fixed spray) sprinklers run for 24 minutes, and the rotors for 42 minutes. Rotors need more time, almost twice as much, because they aren't covering the whole area all the time.

Here's the key to making this really work: You need to cycle your sprinklers so they aren't running the whole 24 minutes. Break it up into three cycles of eight minutes each. A friend told me this last year -- he heard it on the KSL radio garden show, and I have to agree with him. It works. When you break it up like that, it gives the water a chance to soak into the ground deeper, instead of running off downhill. If you have a steeper yard, you might need to use shorter cycles, maybe five minutes, and multiply the number of cycles so you still get to the 24 minutes or whatever your lawn needs.

I was even watering this way when it was over 100 degrees, and the only difference was a very small, slightly dry spot in the grass (about a foot across) where a sprinkler wasn't reaching well enough. But that dry spot has disappeared since the temps dropped a bit.

I'll post a few photos here so you can see that it really is true you can have a great lawn without a ton of water:

Those photos were taken in August.

By the way, I think I generally fertilize the lawn about every 6-8 weeks (closer to the 8, usually). But I have found that if I use the mulching mower setting (so all the clippings just return to the lawn), I can go longer between fertilizing, since all the nutrients in the cut grass are being returned to the soil.

Any questions? I'd be happy to explain anything more.

- Steve

    Bookmark   March 13, 2007 at 11:26AM
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Wow! Thank you for the reply's. Some great help here. Another issue I forgot to mention was that I have two apple trees sitting in the middle of my yard and I think they are contributing to some large bumps and rolls in the grass. What can I do?

I am also curious to know if someone may have a inexpensive way (ie. free) to get top soil or a good price on about 600 sqft of sod. I have about .30 of an acre but parts are certainly dead and need to be replaced.

Just one more question, this is a sign of just how much of a newb I am. How do I tell what type of grass I have?

I really appreciate all the help I can get. Thank you.

    Bookmark   March 13, 2007 at 5:10PM
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I'm not a master gardener. I moved here from Illinois and when I moved here, I read that most people watered incorrectly. So when I bought my house, I read everything I could find on proper watering techniques and so forth. I was watering two to three times a week until I started reading the forums here. I agree with Steve that you get much better penetration if you cycle through rather than try to apply all at once.

I should also point out that there are a few sections of the lawn that don't get good coverage from the sprinklers, so they'll go dormant if I don't take the hose to them. I just don't think it's a good use of water to water the whole lawn just because there are a few dry spots. Last year, the spots that went dry I let go dry, then overseeded with a mixture of streambank wheatgrass and western wheatgrass. They're not as attractive as Kentucky Blue Grass (KBG), but you can really only tell if you're looking really closely. And they can get by with little or no water from sprinklers. My goal is to keep cutting back on the water and keep seeding with the native grasses until I've got a nearly all native lawn.

I don't know where to get topsoil or sod. One caveat is that I think I'd rather pay a little more and get GOOD topsoil than get by cheaply and get stuff that isn't any better than what you have now and maybe even worse. I would advise taking a look at the soil first. I bought some just looking through the phone book, and it wasn't what I'd call topsoil. It was a mixture of clay, shredded bark and pea gravel. It was good in terms of drainage, etc, but not what I'd call topsoil. And as the bark decomposed, it settled a lot.

You probably have either KBG or some kind of fescue. Maybe a mixture of the two. Fescue tends to be a bunch grass, so as time goes on, if you don't overseed, your grass will be growing in disconnected clumps. KBG fills in the dead spots through rhizomes (special roots that pop up new plants every so often.

KBG also tends to have a finer blade. Fescue is more drought tolerant (but nowhere near as drought tolerant as native grasses) and often makes up a good portion of the seed in the drought seed mixes at the big box stores.

    Bookmark   March 13, 2007 at 9:35PM
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stevation(z5a Utah)

Hey salty, I don't know if there's anything you can do about the apple tree roots causing bumps in the grass. You probably don't want to put a bunch of topsoil there to level it out, because it may suffocate the tree. These must be old trees if their roots are making a significant bump -- am I right?

There are two main challenges with trees right in the lawn: they don't need as much or frequent water as grass, and some trees are harmed by toxins that grass exudes (it's part of what helps grass become the dominant ground cover). If the apple trees look fine, then it may be no big deal, but if they're struggling in any way, you might want to clear the grass out from under the trees and just put mulch over that area. I have a friend whose sycamore was just not growing much, and I told him to clear a 4-5 foot circle around it by removing grass and putting in bark mulch. He did that, and the tree just shot up to 20' in no time. It can make a big difference, but it depends on the type and age of the tree, I think.

I did a little web search and found the link below that describes different types of grass. Here in Utah, I'd say that it's most likely Kentucky bluegrass.

Here is a link that might be useful: Types of grass

    Bookmark   March 14, 2007 at 12:59AM
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BP I have a slightly different problem. I have a small yard inside of my fence that is heavily used. 2 or more humans and 3 dogs. Sun/shade now but will be shadier when the trees I planted grow. The existing lawn was neglected for at least 3 years before I bought the house.

I am looking for a low water grass solution. I have been over seeding with some success with a mixture of drought tolerant KBG and RTF. And I spread nutra-mulch each spring with a drop spreader before aerating. I think it might not be the right grass mixture in the long run. And based on what you and Steve recommend I have not been watering properly.

But  and here is the problem - I want to cut this grass area on a low-middle setting so I can find and remove the dog poop. If I let the lawn get longer I canÂt find it and scoop it up. We have chairs on the grass because it is cooler than the deck in hot weather so it gets heavy foot traffic. Can native grasses take the lower mower setting and survive this kind of abuse.


    Bookmark   March 14, 2007 at 10:41AM
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Hi, on finding sod, if you live near a sod farm, you may be able to get their bits and pieces for free. We have a friend who's brother owns one in North Utah County and he just picked up the fifty or hundred square feet left over from each field as they cut it out. You would need your own truck, or access to one, but you may find someone who will let you glean what's left over. I live far too many miles from any sod farms to take advantage of this kind of thing, unfortunately.

    Bookmark   March 14, 2007 at 2:50PM
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The native grasses can take the lower mower settings, but I forget which ones are best at handling traffic. I know buffalo grass isn't all that good. I think the wheatgrasses do fairly well.

I should also point out that there's a wheatgrass that isn't native but that is getting a fair amount of use as a low water turfgrass. Crested wheatgrass is an import from Sideria, and is supposed to do very well. Most varieties are bunch grasses, but some newer varieties spread slowly through rhizomes. I can't remember the names of the rhizomatous varieties right now.

    Bookmark   March 14, 2007 at 8:36PM
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I really appreciate all the help that I have recieved. I am certain I will be back with more questions this spring and summer.

So, from what I have learned here I think I may now have a plan of action. Let me run it buy you and let me know if I have anything wrong.

I will most likely have my lawn aerated tomorrow. I will Then overseed sometime next week, around wednesday. I also need to fertilize, but I need some more help in that regard. Should I just buy the regular Scotts fertilizer (spring addtion). I have a neighbor who goes up to montana to get Goose turds for his lawn and he has told me time and time again that he would get me some. Should I take him up on it?

Again, thank you for you suggestions and input.

    Bookmark   March 16, 2007 at 11:36PM
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If you have time, mow as short as you can before they aerate and rake the clippings (at all other times, mow higher and leave the clippings). The idea is to increase the seed-to-soil contact. It'll also let you delay mowing while the new grass gets going. If your lawn hasn't started growing yet, that's a moot point.

Right now, the soil is probably still moist from the snow, and we'll still be getting rain and snow for a little while, so this is about the only time (other than dormant seeding) that you can get by with seeding and not watering several times a day to get the seeds to germinate. You don't want to let the seeds dry out completely, so keep an eye on conditions and be prepared to water for a few minutes, even if you just take the hose and lightly spray all over the lawn (just enough to keep the seeds moist).

The only thing most of the soil in Utah needs in the way of fertilizer is N, which is the first number on the bags of chemical fertilizer. If you're using chemical fertilizers, something like 21-0-0 will do the trick (no need to get anything fancy like spring edition or name brands, just the cheap generic 21-0-0 will work).

The usual recommendation is to apply 1 lb of actual N per 1000 sq ft, three times a year. If you don't mulch mow, you should probably apply it once in the spring, then once in early-mid fall, and once in late fall. By late fall, I mean after the topgrowth has stopped, but while the grass is still green (probably early November). The late fall application is probably the most important application of the year.

To get the amount of fertilizer to use, divide the number of square feet in your lawn by the fist number on the package, then divide the result by 10. Then get the package closest in lbs to that number. For example, I have about 4000 sq ft, so if I buy 21-0-0 fertilizer, 4000/21 is about 190, divided by 10 is 19, so I buy the 20 lb bag.

If you mulch mow, you can skip the spring fertilization.

I'm assuming your friend is getting either a fertilizer made from goose turds or actual goose turds. I'm a little intrigued if it's actual goos turds. Why does he need to go to MT? Don't geese poop in Utah?

I think either way, the goose turds would be better for your lawn in the long run than the 21-0-0 would be. One of the problems faced by most Utah soil is a low level of organic matter (it's why our soil is yellow instead of black and part of why it's so difficult to get water to penetrate).

If you have a Starbucks nearby (or on the way to/from work), you can stop in and pick up used coffee grounds for free (this only applies to the "real" Starbucks, not the ones in stores, the airport, etc). It doesn't matter if you drink coffee or not; there's no need to buy anything. They save a tremendous amount of money by giving the grounds to gardeners rather than paying to have them hauled off. They should have a bucket with grounds for the garden neatly packaged. If you don't see one, ask. Even if you do see them, you can also ask if they have more behind the counter that you can take. Some outlets don't get enough people asking for them, so they stop saving them (the one in the Gallivan Center is an example). But if you call ahead, they'll save them. And if you let them know you'll stop on a regular basis, they'll probably save as many as you can carry. I bought a plastic storage bin to cart the grounds in so they don't leak out.

My wife doesn't like the smell during the summer, so I compost them during the summer. The rest of the time (when the ground isn't snow covered) I just toss them on the lawn. I start in one corner and work my way around the lawn, then when I've covered the whole lawn, I start over again.

Coffee grounds are a source of N and also add organic content to the soil. So now I only fertilize once a year, the late fall application of N. I generally prefer organics, but I'm not a purist, so I often use chemical sources for the late fall application.

    Bookmark   March 17, 2007 at 12:16AM
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I skimmed through this thread, so I have no idea what was offered up as advice so Ill just saya few things here.
If your going to reseed it all anyways, Id consider tilling it all and skipping the areation. that busts it all up and lets you level it out again. If your talking about overseeding? do the areation, then go ahead and seed it.
if you took a small diameter pipe and pounded it into teh ground a bit, then pulled it up and looked at the plug inside it, youd get a better idea of what you have as far as compaction goes. as far as trees causing the rolling and lumps? trees keep roots deep, even shallow rooted trees keep them underground, the exception to this and what causes alot of the problems, is not enough water, as the soil is dry and stays that way for an extended period of time the tree starts sending roots closer to the ground to get the water thats in the lawn. Keep the trees watered well and it helps alot to avoid that.
In my own thoughts I prefer the grass be cut away from teh tree base about 4 feet so that the water that hits there can get into teh trees roots with out the lawn stealing it.
I like that area mulched as well, makes it look better and helps retain moisture.
Worms while they areate the soild do cause problems with lumpy lawns as well. start having the kids hunt worms and take them fishing. some worms are great for your lawn, to many, are going to cause the rolling lumpyness you find.
As far as the fertalization stuff goes, thats a whole other topic I think. Im not going to go into it now, but I will say that youll never have the lush green lawn everyone wants with out some aid in fertalization and pest control.
Also right now (soon as the snow we got last night melts off) is a great time to start fertalizing. go with one that has a preemrgence in it. once thats down yuor weed problem is cut to small problems instead of major ones. Some weeds can only be killed off right now before they start taking a hold. Crab Grass is one of those. Treat it now and as long as you dont do any digging and break the surface of the lawn your pretty much done with crab grass. Morning glory is a bad weed to deal with and you need to kill it off in the fall. Round up is a contact herbacide and while ti kills off the plant up top it is also nondiscriminating and kills off everything. an astemic pest control is what you want in the fall for that crap.
In the fall it starts taking in nutrients to its root system to live over winter and send up new chutes adn grow in the spring to summer. let it take in teh poisen then and your rid of it. Sometimes takes a yaer or two to kill it all off but with repeated treatments you can be rid of the morning glory and the clover.
I realize I typo more than I type, stick with me, Im getting better and on days that I feel like taking the time I type it into word so I can use a spell checker before pasting it here for the public to laugh at my rantings and typos.
One final thing, someplace I say somethign about free top soil and sod ?
you obviously have internet access, so skip on over to I often see it advertised for free in the salt lake city section. Iv seen alot of top soil, fill dirt, and sod for free the last 2 or 3 weeks, so long as you are picking it up.

    Bookmark   March 29, 2007 at 6:10PM
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I am wondering what to do about the bermuda grass (I'm pretty sure it's bermuda) overtaking my whole lawn. Actually it's taking over the whole neighborhood. I am no grass expert and everyone I have talked to says the only way to get rid of it is to use Roundup. That would mean RU on my whole lawn and I am on about .20 of an acre. That is not an option. Anyone have any suggestions or great success stories to share on how to get rid of it without killing the rest of the "good" lawn?

    Bookmark   March 31, 2007 at 12:09AM
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Questions for steveation and bpgreen:
Steve, Thanks for your information and pictures, you have a great yard. Just a couple of questions. What is the grass you have in the first picture, not the lawn but the grass around the border near the center of the picture. Thee other question is about your soil type. I am down the hill from you in AF and have mostly sand and cement (LOL),it seems to compact pretty hard, in your experience do you believe your watering method would do better than one long watering each week.
bpgreen, you mentioned the seed you overseed with. Can you tell us where you get it. That sounds like a great way to go. I am all for native grass. Can anyone tell me if "orchard grass is native. It seems to do well here, it grows real fast, by the time I dig out one clump another one pops up behind me. It doesn't take much water or fertilizer, in fact the worse I treat it the better it grows.(LOL) Just one more thing for all who have posted here. I am a long time lerker and have enjoyed reading and learning from the posts. But, please be careful with the pictures. My wife sees them and I end up with a lot more things on my "honey do list". Seriously, it's the posters and the sharing of their experience and knowledge that has made this a great site. Thanks to all

    Bookmark   April 22, 2007 at 2:30PM
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I've bought seed from Round Butte Seed in the past. Somebody recently posted a link to Mountain Valley Seed in Salt Lake City. They don't have quite the selection that Round Butte does, but I think their prices are better on Streambank wheatgrass, especially if you can get to their distribution center and save the shipping.

    Bookmark   April 22, 2007 at 4:23PM
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stevation(z5a Utah)

Hey gware, I'm glad you decided to post and ask questions. Lurking can only be fun for so long, you know?

That grass in the border is Blue Oat Grass (Helictotrichon sempervirens). Very nice ornamental. I especially like that it's not invasive at all -- it stays right where you plant it, because the seeds are very difficult to germinate.

And on the watering questions, YES! Most definitely, the cycling of shorter watering periods would be good for your lawn. It matters a lot when you have heavy or compacted soils, because it allows the necessary time for the water to seep in before you add more water on top of it. That way, more water seeps in and percolates deeper in the ground, since it's less likely to run off the surface this way. You really should try it and post back this summer to let us know if it helped.

I can't say for sure about "orchard grass" but I don't think it's native. Also, I've seen it get three feet high (if I'm not mistaken about what it was), so I would think cutting it to lawn height might not be all that healthy for a grass that wants to grow tall. It's also pretty coarse and might not feel good in a lawn.

    Bookmark   April 23, 2007 at 2:32PM
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When they built our house pretty much into the mountain, they cut the hill to level the yard, and what we have been trying to work with is 2 inches of alkali over either solid rock or hardpan. We planted kbg and it came up, but that's all I can say for it.We thought about covering the whole thing with 3 or 4 inches of screened dirt and starting over with a lawn of native grasses. Are there any that will be soft and live a long time without using too much water here in Santaquin, Utah?

    Bookmark   August 27, 2012 at 11:58AM
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