Thursday, June 5, 2008

Going Green, Part 3 - The Lawn

Two years ago, my husband and I completely re-landscaped the front of our house. It was back-breaking work. And, yes, plenty of our neighbors slowed down as they drove by to say, "Hey! what are you doing?!?" When you're up to your elbows in dirt for the fourth afternoon in a row, you get tired of answering that question.

But, being the frugal family we are, we weren't about to spend ten times the money to have a group of 4 or 5 shirtless 19 year olds doing the work for us... (Darn! I think I missed out on something there!)

Well, the point is, we did it ourselves. Yet another way to save dough. And two years later, we have a beautiful garden and lawn. I said two years... T-W-O. We learned some lessons from the work we did. I thought it would be useful to share them. (Did I mention it took 2 years?)

Out with the Old, in with the New ... Lawn

When we got started on our landscape project, we decided it would be best to get rid of everything first. My husband grabbed his 1996 Ford Ranger (basically a wheelbarrow of a pickup truck) and a chain. After about 15 minutes, we realized we'd have to call in his dad's GMC. 15 minutes after that, six evergreen bushes were out and hauled away. A great start. I distinctly remember saying, "No problem! That was quick!" Ha.

Our (my husband's) next task was to break up the old sidewalk and remove it. Yeah. A little more difficult.

I got started removing the lawn. With a spade and a wheelbarrow. Not wanting to waste, I made sure everything was composted. Did I mention I was pregnant at the time? Yeah. No more "that was quick."

So, two and a half weeks later (or two containers of Icy Hot, however you mark time) the lawn was out. We had to re-grade so that water would drain away from the house. More dirt. More back-breaking labor. No, not LABORlabor.... just hard work.

Essentially, you can tell we did nothing the easy way. What I have found since then is that there are actual tools available that would help with this whole process! So, if YOU are planning a tear-out of your lawn and plant a new one, here's what you need to do:

1.) Go to your local tool-rental place and ask for a sod-cutter. It is a machine that will actually cut and roll up your weedy lawn. What took us a couple of weeks will take you a little cash and a couple of hours. Then roto-till. Get the ground nice and broken up.

2.)Add whatever you need to the dirt to make it light and the right pH. You can use peat moss, dry manure, compost, and even some sand if your soil is mostly clay. Till it again.

3.) Get a roller to press the soil nice and even, so you don't have too many dips and bumps. It works best either when the soil is tilled nicely OR after the grass has grown and you have had a really soaking rain. Later, when you're mowing, you will appreciate that you took the time for this step.

4.) Spread a seed-starter fertilizer and the best quality seed you can find. Call your local extension office -- they will know what grows best in your area. Keep it lightly watered (I think evening watering is best) until it sprouts. After that, a soaking watering twice a week will be enough. Try not to walk on it and do not mow it until it is 3 inches tall.

5.) You may be concerned about weeds. I can tell you that your new lawn will have weeds the first season. Once you cultivate the ground, you'll expose weed seed and it will sprout. You might be tempted to seed and then throw straw all over. If you do, annual ryegrass (otherwise known as crabgrass) will grow all over your yard. It is just as easy to use shredded newspaper (or nothing) so you don't have all the weeds instantly in there. Whatever you do, and however many weeds are in there, do not use weed killer until you've been able to grow and mow the new grass 4 times (about a month of mowing). Then it will be safe to use a weed & feed type of fertilizer.

Good luck. I think, start to finish, this job will probably take 4-6 weeks.

Did I mention ours took two years?

Midwest Mom

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