Whether it got that way by your own neglect or you are moving into a new home with a weed covered lawn there are some simple steps you can take make your yard the envy of the neighborhood.
First thing to do is get a Soil Sample test.
Almost every decent garden center can take a quick look at a sample from your yard and tell you if your soil is in good condition. Get a plastic bag from the market and with a small hand shovel take a bunch of random samples about the size of a small egg and bring them in for testing.
You don’t have to keep all the samples separate because what you are looking for is the overall condition. They will immediately look at your dirt and tell you if it has too much clay or sand or no organics.
The fact is if your yard can grow weeds then it can probably grow grass just fine but it is nice to get a PH test and talk to someone.
Weed Killer / Fertilizer
The next thing you need to do is apply Pre-emergent crabgrass and weed killer. This will come mixed with fertilizer and that is the best way to get two jobs done at the same time. You want to apply this stuff as early in the spring as you can. Actually the best time you can do it is as early as you feel it is comfortable working outside. Don’t wait until it gets warm out. But if you do start later in the season then you will want to cut the grass or “weeds” back as short as you can before you apply it. Put your lawnmower on the first or second notch.
Applying Lime is a great way to condition Clay soils. It will also reduce your PH level from acid levels which is necessary in almost all areas of the country. You can apply Lime at the same time that you fertilize but it is best to find a day that is nice just before a day that you expect rain. That way the lime and fertilizer will dissolve into the ground.
Spot Weed Killing
Once you have applied the weed and feed fertilizer you can wait a week and then start to spot kill dandelions and other weeds with a liquid weed killer in a 3 gallon pressurized spray applicator. It is important that you are safe when you work with any herbicide or pesticide. Remember to wear gloves, old clothes and get a shower after you are finished. Don’t wait all day to get cleaned up. Apply the Killer directly to the weed. Yes this will take quite some time but it is worth your effort.
Weeds will start to brown up overnight and new weeds will appear. You will need to repeat the process a few times. Don’t cut the weeds or the grass until you have made a few passes over a weeks time.
Week 3 or once there is no chance of frost
Preparing for Planting
Now that we have conditioned the soil and removed many of the weeds we will want to remove as much of the dead grass and weeds as we can without damaging the the good grass. To do this you have three choices. You can use grass rakes to rake the entire yard. This is good if you have kids that are too active and you want to tire them out. You can attach a De-thatcher attachment to your lawnmower or tractor and then collect the dead grass or you can hire a professional that will use an aerator / dethatcher to prepare the soil for seeding. Hiring someone is not what we are about but it is not a bad idea if you have more then an acre or two and need the job done quick.
If the grass grows between the time of thatching and the time you plan to plant seed then you will need to cut it back as short as you can. Use your first or second notch on your lawn mower and use a bag attachment if you have one.
Now we can start planting.
You will find that Agway ServiceStar centers have the best deals on grass seed. You can buy a dogfood sized bag I would guess about 20 pounds for about $25. Since you will be planting on top of the soil it is best to over seed with extreme prejudice. If you have large bare areas you will have apply the seed then cover the seed with about a half inch of topsoil and then do a double seed over the top. The reason that you want to apply so much seed is that only a portion of the seed in the bag will grow and then only a portion of the seed you apply will grow so over seeding will improve your chances and at a low cost 2 bags per acre should be enough to get lush results.
Once you have planted the seed you will need to keep it moist every day for about 10 days. Do not walk on the lawn anymore then necessary to provide good water.
It is best to water at night or once the sun begins to set to reduce evaporation. However it may be necessary to water any large patches that were covered with topsoil more then once a day.
It is important to do this work early in the spring but after the last frost. This is the best condition for starting grass. Once the summer approaches the hot sun will dry and kill the seed before it can start growing. If you must plant in the summer then you will have to take special care to keep the seeds moist.
Do not cut your grass for 3 weeks and then at that time you will want to use a regular setting so your grass is about 3 inches tall when cut.
For the first season you should take precautions not to walk over any large planted areas and in the fall you will want to apply another batch of weed and feed and maybe replant any stubborn areas.