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Need lawn help

Melissa Scott


Joined: May 02, 2012
Posts: 5
Hello, I would like some opinions for our lawn. It needs help. I recently came across Paul's article on organic lawn care and my husband and I were really interested in not using chemicals anymore. We have 2 kids so that is important for us with them playing outside. We live in Southwest Iowa so we have some pretty cold winters with good snowfall and hot humid summers with lots of rain in the spring/summer months. We have 17k lot with our backyard being pretty big and it also has a pretty big incline starting about 20 feet from the house.

For roughly the past 2 months we have been mowing on the highest and not bagging the grass. The last thing we put on there was in the fall, a winterizer. I know it is only May, but the lawn looks terrible. It is the worst I have seen it since we moved into this house 3 years ago. It looks splotchy and seems like there is a layer of dead grass on top of the soil. Dandelions and clover everywhere. We have a maple tree in the yard and those helicopter things are everywhere, some trying to grow. There are a few mushrooms as well. I read about using Ringer natural fertilizer, but I don't want to spend the money on that yet until I figure out if that is all it needs. I assume not. My husband was wondering if it needs to be dethatched. We also put a shovel into the ground and it went all the way down no problems. I should add that the back yard gets all the afternoon sun.

I am attaching some pics. Please ask away!!



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Shawn Harper


Joined: Mar 01, 2012
Posts: 221
Location: Portlandia, Oregon
    
    1
IMO clover is a lawns best friend. Half the time someone asks me lawn advice I recommend it.


She changes everything She touches, and everything She touches changes.
Melissa Scott


Joined: May 02, 2012
Posts: 5
Shawn Harper wrote:IMO clover is a lawns best friend. Half the time someone asks me lawn advice I recommend it.


LOL, thanks. Can you explain why about the clover? Also, that is what we have in the 2nd picture right??

John Polk
steward

Joined: Feb 20, 2011
Posts: 6491
Location: Moving to: NE Washington USDA zone 5 Western steppes to the Rockies
    
133
Years ago, most lawn seed had some clover mixed in...makes for a healthier lawn.
Nowadays, most people are so fussy about their lawns...not a stray leaf in the lawn...that they don't routinely add the clover.
Melissa Scott


Joined: May 02, 2012
Posts: 5
John Polk wrote:Years ago, most lawn seed had some clover mixed in...makes for a healthier lawn.
Nowadays, most people are so fussy about their lawns...not a stray leaf in the lawn...that they don't routinely add the clover.


Actually, I guess I don't mind it all that much. It is more the dead grass or thatch on top of the soil. How can we get the grass looking healthier?
Shawn Harper


Joined: Mar 01, 2012
Posts: 221
Location: Portlandia, Oregon
    
    1
Melissa Scott wrote:
Shawn Harper wrote:IMO clover is a lawns best friend. Half the time someone asks me lawn advice I recommend it.


LOL, thanks. Can you explain why about the clover? Also, that is what we have in the 2nd picture right??



Yes that is what is in the 2nd pic. The reason why is because clover in a legume, it adds nitrogen to the soil, thereby feeding your grass and itself. Now I'm not sure which kind you have, normally I recommend a non flowering kind to people just so they don't get bees. However I'm pretty sure all kinds are legumes.
Tom Pavlo


Joined: Jul 22, 2011
Posts: 18
Hi Melissa,

My recommendation is that you get a soil test done. You can usually have that done by mailing in a soil sample (mixed from about ten locations in your yard) to your state university extension office. That will tell you about the ph level in the lawn. Your issue might be a PH issue which can be fixed with lime or other soil amendments. You really need to get the PH right before you bother with anything else.

Your lawn looks nitrogen deficient. Clover is indicitive of that. However, as others have noted, clover can exist with your lawn. If I walk through the older, wealthier neighborhoods of New England (where I live) most of the lawns have clover in them. It was only in the 60s (I believe) that we started to try to get rid of clover. Clover actually improves the quality of your soil by adding nitrogen. So if you have it in your lawn, it is out-competing the grass.

If you don't want to use Ringers (which I don't because I have never found it near me), I would use "Milorganite" on your lawn. I can hear the collective gasp as I write that. Yes, it is made from sewer sludge (AKA fecal matter), but it is cheap, organic, and works well. It will also add some iron (greens up the lawn) and phosphorus (which promotes root growth).

The weeds are another issue. I too have a wee one and don't like any chemicals on my lawn that are going to be tracked into the house. My recommendation is to pull them by hand. Yes, that is a lot of work, but that is how I do it.

The brown grass looks more like grass that just needs some water to me. Thatch really exists below the top layer of grass. If you are really concerned, give it a like raking to pull out some thatch before you mow next time.
Melissa Scott


Joined: May 02, 2012
Posts: 5
Thanks Tom. I will look into getting the soil test done. I have seen the milorganite in our local stores, but I also contacted True Value and they will order the Ringer for me, so may do that as well. Also, we don't have issues pulling the dandelions so that is fine. And the clover seems to have some flowers and again, we really wouldn't mind it all that much. It is kinda pretty. Our main thing is the dead sorry looking grass. I did some more reading and I understand now that the thatch is below the surface so dethatching wouldn't make sense, but what about aerating? I read somewhere that aerating is probably the better thing to do to get more oxygen nutrients down to the roots. Would this be ok to do right now in May? And at that time would we add some seed and fertilizer?

I appreciate your input!
Tom Pavlo


Joined: Jul 22, 2011
Posts: 18
Be sure to really dig out the dandeloins. They have large tap roots and will keep coming back if you leave anything in the ground.

As for seeding, I am afraid that I am not much help. Generally, it is better to seed in the fall where I am from. But I don't know enough specifics about your climate. I would just work with what you have. If you get the PH right and fertilize, the grass should come back. My lawn went from being totally brown to green in a couple of weeks this spring.

I would add fertilizer soon though. Paul usually says that clover shows a nitrogen deficiency. Around me, Milorganite goes for around $13-14/bag. Each bag covers 2,500 square feet, so you end up putting a lot down (same size bag of the commercial stuff covers around 12,000 square feet). Milorganite usually comes on sale around here for about $8-10/bag. Tractor Supply Company has it onsale this week, if you have one near you. For $50, you can probably do your whole lawn. That is going to be way cheaper than Ringers. I trust Paul that Ringers is better though.

I would also recommend that you keep up with the mowing. That will help chop down the weeds a bit while you fertilize the grass. You shouldn't need to aerate if you are doing things organically. Worms should move into the lawn and do that job for you.
Melissa Scott


Joined: May 02, 2012
Posts: 5
We do pull the dandelions all the way out so that is good. And we have a Tractor Supply right down the street so I will check their prices on the Milorganite. Thanks again for your input.
 
 
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