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Ok, I admit it… this is a picture of my lawn. I chose this photo to show the worst of what I have to work with as I start thinking about how to begin the recovery process.
As you can see, what little grass is left is thin and patchy with lots of moss, while there are significant numbers of broad leafed weeds mixed in such as dandelions and clover. I will also admit that I am not one to lavish care and attention on my lawn; in fact I view “lawn” areas as future garden space and think of it as primarily un-planted territory in need of very little attention from me.
I know that I am not alone in my neglectful attitude towards lawns, there are many landscape styles and designers that have done away with the traditional lawn in favor of more drought tolerant plants, ground covers or other materials due to increased demand for low-maintenance & less thirsty landscaping alternatives. I do enjoy a small patch of turf and like the look of lush green grass as it provides a canvas for the flowers and foliage of my garden to be displayed against; I also like how grass feels on my bare feet! For years now, I have been slowly decreasing the size of my lawn as I create more and larger planting beds; I am just about down to the right size for me to maintain so it is now time to renovate it and bring it back from the brink.
I have identified the primary problems found in my lawn and shown in the photo: moss, weeds, and thin patches of grass. Now, let’s look at each problem, one by one.
Step 1: Treat the Moss
Yes, I have considered trying to have a lawn made entirely from moss… just as my regular turf needs water during summer months, so does moss and it quickly turns brown if not adequately watered. To take care of the moss I can use an Iron-based product called Moss Out; it can be applied as a liquid or spread by granules and works quickly to kill the moss. Once the moss is dead it needs to be removed with a stiff rake to expose bare soil for my seeds to lie on. After doing a basic soil test at home I will also apply lime; moss prefers acidic soil conditions while most turf grass grows best in nearly pH neutral soil. The lime application works to prevent future moss growth.
Step 2: Kill the Weeds
Depending on your attitude about lawn and lawn care, you may be the type who waters your lawn all summer or you may let your lawn go brown and dormant during the dry months. I live in southeast Portland where most of us allow our lawns to go brown for the summer; these months of drought and stress are hard on turf grass and can often lead to invasive weeds that encroach and survive better during lean times. Clover (a common lawn weed) is ultra-drought tolerant and often the last remaining green bit as my lawn goes dormant for summer. This extra growing time allows it to gain ground and often out-compete my week, stressed turf even when more favorable conditions return. Cool, rainy weather can make it difficult to apply herbicides and many products require temperatures to be in the 60’s for ideal performance. Weed Beater Ultra by Bonide is effective on over 200 hard to kill weeds and works in temperatures as low as 45 degrees. It has visible results in just 24 hours and is rain-fast once dry; the area can be reseeded two weeks after application.
Step 3: Lawn Prep
Once the moss is gone and the weeds are dead I can prepare the soil by topping with a thin layer of compost; I’ll use topsoil to fill in low spots and holes to create a level, even surface.
Step 4: Time to Reseed
The ideal time for spring planting of grass seed is early May to mid-June. If seed is sown earlier it will germinate and grow slower than if done during this ideal time. My lawn area is in full sun so I will choose my seed appropriately and since I am over-seeding my thin, patchy grass I plan to use about 5lbs. / 1000 square feet. After spreading Dr. Earth Super Natural Lawn Fertilizer with a drop spreader over my base soil layer followed by my seed I will lightly rake it in. Once the seed is down I will apply a thin layer of mulch, no thicker than 1/8-1/4 inch; I like to use Black Forest Compost for this job. Once these steps have been completed it is crucial to keep things irrigated, thoroughly at first followed by light repeated watering for the first week or two or at least until the seed has germinated. Our typical rainy spring weather will work to my advantage but just in case I have my hose and sprinkler ready for action.
After these steps are completed I can sit back and enjoy my lovely lawn as it grows; it is important to wait about 3 weeks after planting before mowing and I plan to apply another dose of Dr. Earth fertilizer about 4-6 weeks after planting to stimulate rapid growth. I think I will water my smaller, nicer lawn this summer and see what difference it will make the following spring; it only takes about 1 inch of water weekly to keep turf grass green!