Battlefield: Lawn

The year is 2010. It is Spring.

2 years have gone by since I moved into my current home. In that time, I sat by and watched a the front and back yards go from bad to worse. I wasn’t completely idle – repairs inside the home prevented me from taking on the overgrown shrubs and severely damaged lawn. The front lawn is thin, overrun with weeds and can only be described as “lifeless”. The back lawn – well, there is no back lawn. A sea of rocks cover dry soil.

Determined to put an end to this insanity, I formally declare war on the front and back yards. And so, Battlefield: Lawn is born.

Putting the drama aside for a moment…

Over the past 3 years, I’ve been slowly rehabilitating the lawn around my house. It has been an uphill battle – with victories and failures along the way – but I’ve learned that with a little research and diligence, you can make a world of difference in the appearance of not just your lawn, but your entire home. I hope some of the tips, pictures and experiences will help you on your own current lawn battlefields or to start a new one.

Before getting into some of the details, let me make one thing clear…

<rant>

EVERY HOME-OWNING DAD SHOULD KNOW HOW TO TAKE CARE OF HIS LAWN.

Yep. I said it. One of my biggest pet peeves is seeing a perfectly healthy and able dad living in a house with an absolutely miserable lawn and yard.

Caring for your lawn – or at least attempting to – is an American institution for fathers. Mowing your lawn and watering it for the first time is (and should be) a sacred rite of passage for every home owning man. For many of us, it’s our first and only bond with the earth. All flowery language aside, with as much information on lawn care that’s readily available, there’s no excuse for dads with bad lawns.

I’m not saying your lawn has to be perfect. To be clear, these are the bare minimums:

  • Your lawn should be mowed to a reasonable height (which is well below your knees)
  • The ‘grass to weeds’ ratio should be biased towards grass (nobody needs that ‘tall grassy meadow with wildflowers’ look in their front yard)
  • No patches or holes in your lawn (leave the potholes for New York City streets)

</rant>

Now back to my lawn battlefield…

The Front Lawn

My first objective was to get the front lawn in better shape. It was overrun with weeds and dead grass. After trolling around the Internet for a while, I realized that lawns are generally resilient plants and that a mediocre lawn isn’t too far away from being a good or great lawn. In other words, if you’ve got a lawn in place, you may not need to rip it up and start from scratch to get it in shape again. Starting in early Spring, I did the following:

  • Rake – A good raking was helpful in getting out the dead grass that was woven into the good grass. It also helped aerate the top layer of soil.
  • Fertilize – I prefer Scotts fertilizers, but you can use anything you feel comfortable with or can afford. Check out your local garden center. I put down fertilizer with a crabgrass preventative. This was to ensure the lawn had a good first feeding and to keep away the different varieties of the dreaded crabgrass. Putting down fertilizer incorrectly can further damage your lawn, so follow the instructions carefully on the package. Scotts offers a nifty online tool to help you determine which fertilizers to use based on time of year and your geographic location.
  • Water – You want to water your lawn regularly. There are some variations between geographic locations – different varieties of grass grow better in different regions of the country – and their watering requirements. Regardless, you want your lawn to get water regularly but be careful not to over water. You also want to make sure you’re watering deeply (longer watering duration) to penetrate the root zone of your grass. This encourages the lawn roots to go down deeper into the soil, ensuring a stronger lawn. Shorter watering duration contributes to weed germination. Also, water early in the day. Watering too late in the day can contribute to lawn diseases like fungus. You can find plenty of lawn watering tips online.
  • Mow – Set your lawn mower to a high cutting height. Mowing your lawn too short can cause a scorched lawn due to heat, and stress your lawn too much. Mowing your lawn too short also encourages shallow root growth, which we don’t want. Mow high. Also, I recommend using a walk behind mower that has a mulching feature which leaves some or all of the lawn clippings back on the grass. This leaves more organic matter on your lawn, helps preserve moisture and discourages weed germination.

I started seeing results a few weeks in. My lawn looked greener and healthier. By early Summer, I realized there was hope for my lawn and that I could be a victor in this theater of battle if I kept up with my regimen. I followed up with fertilizer treatments for weed control and some weed killing spray to keep the weeds at bay. Today, three years later, I have one of the greenest and healthiest looking lawns on my block. It’s not perfect – I still have a weed and thin/bare spot here and there – but it looks great and you can tell that the lawn is cared for. A good green lawn in the front of the house adds tons of curb appeal to your home as well, if you’re looking to sell it.

My back lawn was a different story.

The Back Lawn

spreader-seedingBecause of the nature of the soil – dry, brittle and lifeless – and the fact that I didn’t have any notable amount of grass growing, I decided to seed a new lawn from scratch. This was a lot of work, and I was fortunate to have a buddy to help me (Thanks, Steve!). What really did a number on the soil was the fact that we allowed our dogs to run, pee and poop wherever they pleased. The soil’s pH was not favorable for lawn growth. While I could easily address this with some lots of lime, the first thing I had to do was prevent the dogs from running all over the lawn. I hastily created a fence (a.k.a. the Doggie Containment Field) with some lumber to corral the dogs to a dog run – a mulched area on the side of the house where they were free to do their business. We decided to take them for more walks to get their exercise in.

I started this in 2011, a year after I started work on my front lawn. These are the steps I took to get a new lawn started:

  • Till – I rented a tiller and tilled the soil. This was to break it up and aerate it. My soil was compacted (very hard) and I was concerned that new grass wouldn’t take root on it. Tilling addressed that concern for me. Unfortunately, it also brought a lot of rocks that were under my soil to the surface (which you might find depending on what kind of region you live in). This just meant I’d have to get them off the soil before I seeded. A bow rake, shovel and wheelbarrow allowed me to do that.
  • Top Soil Spread – I decided to add fresh top soil to my yard, so I placed a call to a top soil distributor and had a few cubic yards of top soil delivered to my driveway. This was some backbreaking work, but well worth it if your yard was as lifeless as mine. Wheelbarrow and shovel…lots of trips back and forth between my yard and driveway to transport the soil…glad I had a buddy to help. I decided to put down a layer of top soil that was a half inch thick. You can use that plus the length and width of your yard to calculate how much top soil you’ll need. We spread the soil by ‘throwing’ it with the shovel, then using a bow rake to even it out. A few hours later, I had a dark, rich layer of soil to seed.
  • Seed, Lime and Starter Fertilizer – How, when and what to seed is a huge discussion that could be a post on its own. In short, find the right type of seed for your geographic location – Scotts offers an online tool for this. Choose a good brand of seed – I used Pennington. I used a simple broadcast spreader (unless you’ve got a huge property, you don’t need a huge spreader – save your money), followed the spreader setting instructions on the packaging and put down a layer of seed. I followed this up with a layer of pellet lime and a layer of starter fertilizer. I then went over this with the back of my bow rake very lightly to help establish some contact with the soil. This will bring some of the seeds further down into the top soil. Finally, I added another layer of seed and went over it with a lawn roller to ensure firm contact.
  • Hay – I spread a layer of salt hay over my newly seeded area. This is done by hand. This serves 2 purposes – to help retain moisture and, most importantly, stop the birds from eating all the seed you busted your ass to put down. Salt hay breaks down into the soil, so you shouldn’t have to rake it up after the lawn comes up.
  • Water – This will be the focus of your life for the next month or so. Grass seed will need a lot of water to germinate, so make sure the area is moist. You don’t want to go overboard here – you don’t want pools of water forming on the area and washing seeds away. I watered twice a day – early morning and late afternoon. You don’t want to water very long either. The idea is to keep the area moist so the seeds will germinate. The seed you buy will most likely be a mixture of different grass types, each of which has different germination time periods. Read the package for more information.

A few weeks after I seeded, the first grasses started to appear. It’s actually quite a beautiful thing to see. I waited to mow the lawn – I wanted it to be firmly established. And as the grass grew, it became clear that I would be victorious in this theater of battle as well.

And we all lived happily ever after, right? Not.

Enter The Grubs

grubsGrubs – a.k.a. beetle larvae – hatched in my lawn and destroyed large patches of it. I didn’t know what was happening when I first noticed it last year, and I was slow to react. Most of my new lawn died. It was heartbreaking and a major setback for me on the battlefield. When I started noticing my lawn inexplicably dying in spots this year, I knew what I had to do. I applied a 24 hour grub killer a few weeks ago at the first signs of grub damage – I carpet bombed the bastards. While this addresses the grubs (and any other pests) you currently have in your lawn, it doesn’t ensure they won’t come back. I’m prepared now to apply grub prevention treatments at the appropriate times of year to tackle this. Furthermore, I’m not a huge fan of applying harsh chemicals or pesticides to my yard, so I’m going to research how to use organic grub prevention treatments – like Milky Spore – to tackle my grub problem.

The battle rages on

While I’m happy with my front lawn, I know that it only takes a short lapse in diligence for the whole thing to come undone. And my backyard, though it has come a long way – we actually use it now for cookouts and a play area for my son – still needs a lot of TLC to get to the level of the front yard. This summer will be interesting when the heat picks up. God only knows what kind of weather we’ll have and how it will stand up to it. So this battle rages on…and it will for as long as I care to have a nice lawns on either side of my house. However, this is a battle I enjoy because the benefits outweigh the hard work and minor setbacks. Chief among those benefits is being able to have a nice yard for my kids to play and grow up in.

That alone makes it all worth it.

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About the Author

is a loving husband and father of one son. He is the author of the best selling children's book, "Sam's Three What-Ifs". He also writes "Soul Crossing" - an online novel released in monthly episodes. He has a weakness for hamburgers that would make Wimpy look like a vegetarian and he facepalms more than Capt. Jean-Luc Picard. http://manojabraham.com



One Response to Battlefield: Lawn

  1. Pingback: From the Mouths of Babes - Dad Men Walking

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