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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Green Thumbin'

Strange how we spend all 12 months of the year working on our yards when – at least in NC – we are allowed only about 5 or 6 actually enjoying the fruits of our labor… I moved into my house August 2009 and the yard was a weedy mess, considering the house had been empty for several months, save for the contractors who did the work on getting the new carpet/paint/appliances/etc. together for them to sell the house. That being said, we were bare minimum as it related to the yard and I would have my work cut out for me, and I didn’t bother taking a SINGLE picture of the yard for the whole of the first year we were in the house.

[Phlip note – the brutal weather we had last fall and winter also led to this, more on that in a bit]


From August 2009 through October 2010, I cut the grass about once a week and that was it, knowing that I would be doing some more extensive work in the coming months.
Then it started raining once a week – sometimes days at a time – for the whole of October through December, at which time it started snowing 3 or 4 pretty heavy snowfalls at that. My plans were placed on hold and the decision was made that I would pick up the work with what I knew beginning in the Spring months, April to be exact.
With April 2010 upon us, I started with a 4-step lawn shaving, where I cut the yard as low as I could get it with my mower. Then I borrowed Granny’s seed spreader and copped a bag of Scott’s Turf Builder weed/seed, and spread it about the yard in the dewy morning (that is the time of day to do this per the instructions) and let it do its thing. The weeds were mostly gone within a couple of weeks. I maintained my once-weekly cutting schedule, when weather permitted, of course. Later in the spring/summer, I read an article about the benefits of nitrogen on the soil (more on this later) and began working a little cheap trick for that.
By August, I had pretty green, kinda thick grass and pretty diagonal lines from front to back. I was pleased with it, but it was not as healthy as it could be. I knew not what type of grass it was and it was not AT ALL resistant to weeds spreading.


(taken 08/08/2010, 11:49am)


With summer winding down, I went into “just cut the grass” mode, knowing what I would be doing once fall hit… With that in mind, let us build a toolkit.

Lawn Mower:
[imagine there is one here, they all pretty much look alike, see it over there next to the house in the above pic if necessary]

Dinky little aerator sandals:



[Phlip note – don’t judge me]

Seed Spreader:

[Phlip note – Granny told me to keep it until she asks for it back, and she still didn’t until like early April]

Grass Seeds:

[Phlip note – I chose Kentucky 31 Tall Fescue at the suggestion of someone who landscaped in the city for 10 years.. I would later change my mind, more later]

Coffee Grounds, and a lot of them:
[imagine a mound of spent coffee grounds here, you should know what they look like]

A little black fertilizer machine:
(and sometimes he does adorable stuff too!)

Scott’s Turf Builder:
(somehow the picture got missing... Get the "Weed Control +2 one)

… and now you’re ready to rock!

Start sometime between late September/mid-October and SHAVE the yard again. This time I employed a 5-part process over the course of 2 weekends…


(Taken 10/11/2010, 18:26... yes, it pains me to see my grass this brown EVER, but no pain no gain!)

Now, prepare yourself for some work, break out the sandals (or a pitchfork with strong shoulders, or just pay someone to aerate) and iPod and just walk around the yard poking holes. No picture necessary and do not expect a video of it either.

Now you break out the seed spreader and spread the grass seeds, then the coffee grounds all over the lawn, then water it.

(yes, it is watered... taken 10/23/2010 16:08)

Now, if you're lucky, then whom/whatever you pray to (even if just your Twitter login, lol) will bless you with at least 2 more weeks of 60-plus degree days and rain at least every other day like mine did for me. If not, water your lawn every other day for 2 weeks, back down to 2 times a week after that and then let it "die" for the winter (like you had a choice anyway).
You will have also been blessed that the ghetto folks next door had been feeding some stray cats for about 2-3 months (but ironically not their own dogs?), so there will be no birds dropping in on your yard to eat your seeds before they've had a chance to fulfill their destiny.

Wait a couple weeks for the leaves to fall and cut your grass once more for the season and put the mower and all your stuff in storage. You should have some of your seeds and supplies by now(early November now), since they cost less this time of year than they will in the spring, and KEEP collecting coffee, as it is a constantly usable item for what you're doing. The benefits of soil enrichment and pest (bugs/slugs, animals, etc...) prevention are all reasons to use it, while I see none yet NOT to.

About that coffee… If you’re a regular coffee drinker, amassing a bin/large bucket full of coffee grounds is SIMPLE what with what you should be discarding in the course of a week… If not, go to your local Starbucks and just say “may I have your discarded coffee grounds?” and they will usually hand you a trash bag full of them and ask no more questions. They’re used to that, what with every third hippie calling themselves “composting” these days. I did both.

Wait one day and if it hasn’t rained, water your lawn. Wait a week before cutting (and you SHOULD be mulching, not bagging or discharging your clippings) the grass. From here on in, you can play it by ear, simply cutting if it needs to be cut. If you’re in NC, it is now mid-late October, and you’re not likely to see much growth if any.
Me? I wait for the leaves to fall and chop THEM up too, you can do that as well, as long as you’re not dealing with Magnolia trees and their leathery leaves and huge cones.

Now you can take the winter off and pat yourself on the back, you will not ‘need’ to do anything until March or April now if you live in West Central NC like I do. That will be fine, because it is now Basketball season anyway. If you need to do ANYTHING outside, it will be edging things up with a string trimmer, but very little will be necessary as far as yard work is concerned.


(long pause for snow, cold, beer and weather that generally causes pregnancies, as evidenced in my last post)



Back into action, it is now late March/early April (dependent on how long your cold season lasted), and you will need to break out the Lawn Mower (which you should have had maintained over the winter), aeration device, Seed Spreader and the Scott’s Turf Builder (I never told you to use it in October)… Cut the grass as short as possible, then put the sandals on and walk around the yard a little while.

Now, IN THE EARLY MORNING or AFTER watering in the near-sundown afternoon (that is important! it must be done on wet grass to stick to the weeds) spread the Turf Builder weed and seed on the still-wet grass. Do not do this if there is rain in the forecast to take place any time inside of the next 24-36ish hours, as this is to be on the GRASS first, and then the ground. If it has not rained after that period of time, water the lawn yourself, and in 2 days, spread more of the coffee grounds and their nitrogen-bearing greatness and then water the lawn at least every other or third day, unless of course it is about to rain.

You know what you need to do now? NOTHING!!!
You have now done the things that might require some instruction and such to this point. Now all you need to do is what comes naturally. Cut the grass at regular intervals with a properly maintained mower and you will see your time investment come to fruition.

One week passed now? Get online and see what works in your locale, and then go to your local hardware/Home Depot/Lowes/Southern States and get...
  1. Fertilizer
  2. More seeds (this time I used some blends from the above-linked Southern States that included MORE Bluegrass and darker fatter blades, the Kentucky 31 fescue was too stringy for my tastes)
  3. Pebbled Limestone
  4. Weed Killer (detail on this in a few)
And now it is time to work again...
Cut, then aerate the lawn once more if you can cheaply do it yourself and put down the lime, water immediately.
Spread your seeds, water and be prepared to do so AT LEAST once daily on days it does not rain until you see grass happening.
Fertilize one week later.
A mistake I made was cutting the grass approximately one week following, instead of waiting two or three.



(above images taken 04/9/2011)

And now, about that weed killer...
As I type this, the house to my right (facing out to the street) has yet to cut their yard this season, 6 weeks in, and the vacant house on the left has only gotten theirs cut twice, meanwhile I have cut mine once weekly, except for the 2 times I did twice and once I did 3 times... With that said, they are BOTH a lot less vigilant about weed control than I am, so the weeding I HAVE done is undermined by their lack of it... I cut on Wednesday, I have new dandelions on Saturday.

After Wednesday's cut:

Friday came and it was time to retire the old mower:
(10+ years of uninterrupted cutting, despite being rarely serviced... Still runs right now, yours for $50! sold April 27)


Anyway...
Back to Southern States, they have a $9.99 product that kills 190 different weeds, and not grass... Similar to the turfbuilder, in the morning with dew on the grass (or CLOSE to sundown following a THOROUGH watering), spread it ("inadvertently" hitting as much of those neighbors' yards as possible) and DO NOT water the lawn for 24-36 hours, so make sure it isn't supposed to rain for this long either...

Wake Saturday to rain, but there is a 2-hr lull in it which includes an hour of sun, so get outside quick!




(those brown spots you see there USED to be weeds, the ones at my feet at the very bottom is NOT my land, and the big spot in the middle of the yard will be mentioned shortly)

At this point you should, like I did, should resist the urge to use your new mower for a few days, perhaps a week or two, now... When it comes back out of it's storage, it should be set to the highest setting, where it will be for the balance of the season.

3 Weeks following my last seeding, and one week following my last application of the lime to richen the soil (in spite of my fertilizer machine and his insistence on peeing on one spot near the door) and the weed control because of my damned neighbors, I was blessed with a week that included 3 good rains, one of which lasted a full day and a half... Yes, this undermined my normal cutting of my grass on Good Friday, but it is a sacrifice I was willing to accept.
As I type this, I am on the back end of that second storm, it is April 23, and I can clearly see grass growth every day.

[Phlip note - and they said a watched pot never boils]

Thankful for the rains, I waited a few extra days to let the grass grow some more. Two weeks to be exact...

(Grow, green grass, grow!!!)
Issues:

  • The part closest to the street (at the bottom of the pic, where I am standing) is the highest point on my property, so it is the most water-starved part of the yard, and is harder to rid of weeds than EITHER portion abutting a neighbor’s yard.

  • I was late in filling that hole in the middle of the yard where a tree once was (brown spot, upper right of the pic) with clippings, so it will likely be late in the season before I have anything growing there at all.

  • The thin spots WERE heavier concentrations of weeds that have since died and now are growing in with grass... They will need to be fertilized again.

With time invested, now you set the mower as high as she would go and cut cut cut.
See:

(north-to-south, from house to street; first pass)

(east-to-west cut from driveway to neighbors, second pass)

(same stage as above, except I took break, then a minute to knock out the front yard next door)

And then I got up Saturday morning and knocked out third pass, diagonal lines.


(purchase $94k house, receive giant hole in middle of front yard where a tree apparently once was... I been bagging clippings and filling that hole. I know you see it. I am done with the bagging thing for now, mulching only)

In the above pics, you can SOMEWHAT see the first couple of passes' stripes, but I would find that you need to "train" the grass for one set before establishing a new one or mixing it up at all. At this point, though, I am pleased with my progress...
One week later?

(Taken 05/07/2011, 12:19pm... you can see by the difference in grass quality where the property line is, I was not standing in my own yard when I took this pic)

About a week later, one in which it rained about 6 times over the course of 4 of the 6 days (and I REALLY need to learn to be still when I use the phone and not the camera for these):
(Before)

(20 minutes later - after... my front yard is not enormous and I am pretty good shape for a fat dude with seasonal allergies and asthma)

Before the work that became the above pictures, I'd visited Southern States one last time for one more bag of the broadleaf weed control to help me with the stubborn spots in the middle, the shit that gets blown in along the street with traffic and the problem areas abutting neighbors' yards and a bag of Milorganite Organic fertilizer.
I went with Milorganite because it got AMAZING reviews for being effective and low-maintenance. They say themselves that it does not need to be watered like most fertilizers do, but watering only expedites the process. Once it is in action, it is said to green and thicken the yard quickly, without stimulating excessive growth. This means a lush lawn that you can still get away with cutting only once every 7-10 days, as is my wont.
[Phlip note - that is "wont" with no apostrophe, which means it is my custom]

We find ourselves now 11 days later and I have a couple of days off and largely nothing to do, I took some time outside in the morning and cut the grass a couple of times.
Before...



After...



My original plans were to have this post published by April 15, but an extended cold snap, along with money that needed to go elsewhere, caused me a late start and slower initial growth than originally planned for... Luckily, however, I SHOULD be able not have to to do ALL of this for at least a year or two to come, with only the weed control items and somewhere between 0-50% of the seeding and such. I came up with a plan to more quickly fill that hole too. I pass 3 Starbucks EVERY day, and started asking for their grounds. I then kidnapped a bin from my spare room and mixed the clippings from the back yard that you all have not seen and mixed with the grounds. This made for QUICK breakdown of both the grass AND the grounds into VERY rich soil, which quickly filled that hole. Then I topsoiled it, put some bare spot repair on it and watched it. Two weeks later, I spread Scott's Turfbuilder Summer Guard.
Then I became a father by a miracle, which delayed me a bit further in the 11th hour.
Well, this morning, I took my princess to the doctor and while she and her mother napped, I went out and got the yard cut for a reveal. I did it in 3 passes...

First pass:

Second Pass:




Last pass (change of direction):
(look at the diamonds!)






From here, I can only leave you with a few pieces of advice (and accompanying reasoning)...
  1. Cut as infrequently as aesthetically possible
    (taller grass is most often prettier)
  2. Cut with the mower as high as aesthetically pleasable
    (see above)
  3. Don't cut the grass when ABSOLUTELY dry, aim for as soon after a rain as saturated soil will allow or cut it in the morning soon as the dew dries. If you MUST, water soon after.
    (again, burning your shit out is an issue)
  4. ONLY mulch once you have the weeds/unwanted clovers under control. Only side discharge if you're using a riding mower, as you have to ride around in circles anyway and therefore will be chopping it all up any.
    (grass clippings become free fertilizer)
  5. FOLLOW THE FUCKING INSTRUCTIONS!
    (If you buy a product, the instructions exist for a reason, don't burn your shit out for nothing)
  6. Give back... Cutting and or spreading your weed control about 3-8 feet into your neighbors' yards is beneficial, as they will not be able to share their weeds with you.
    (unless, of course, they are at least responsible enough to cut their yards at regular intervals)
  7. DON'T SCOOP!!! Why ruin the ONLY equity a dog presents?
    (Dog shit is free fertilizer, just make them walk to different places in the yard)
  8. Use products according to your life situation...
    (if you have kids who play in the yard, err toward organic, if your lawn is just for show then chemical away!)

Do not ask me to do yours for you unless you’re paying me ENORMOUS money to do it, my time is quite expensive, especially now with a dependent.
That said, I am very much for hire if you ask and pay right.
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