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New owners of badly neglected yard and plantings

My husband and I have just taken on an old antique house on .5 acres. The previous owners did pretty much zip on the surrounding lawns and landscaping. We have the following issues:

New septic - TONS of rocks everywhere on the top soil, the previous owner just tossed some grass over the area and now we have 2 foot tall grass/weeks and tons of rocks underfoot.

Property border - Perennial beds over run with poison ivy and random weedy bushes. We have been able to find some gorgeous heirloom perennials mixed in as well. Stunning rhododendron is in great shape and 15+ feet tall so we want to cultivate and not kill it.

GIANT 100+ foot tall pine with tons of spread in middle of side lawn, a tiny bit of grass and some moss underneath

Grass situation - the back is nice tall grass with rocks underneath and lots of weeds. Front area has tons of dandelions and only a bit of grass.

We have no idea where to start, want to do most of the work ourselves and don't have too much money to spend at this point. We're not looking for instant gratification, we want to do it the right way and I know this can take 10+ years. What can we do in the meantime to prevent further damage and how do we deal with the darned rocks.

A. Spruce
Re: New owners of badly neglected yard and plantings

Well, start with what you can. A string trimmer will take care of the grass if you can't run a mower in the area, you could also rent/buy a string type mower which will be far safer to use in a rocky environment. Before you get too deeply involved, you may want to give some thought as to what your ultimate goal is. That way, you don't get too far into this without a plan

The poison oak/ivy will need to be sprayed or pulled and disposed of, DO NOT burn it, as it will release those oils which could then be inhaled and cause more severe problems. Wear long pants, long sleeves, long gloves, work boots and at least eye protection if not full face protection when dealing with it. Bag all clothing at the end of the day and wash separately from all other clothing. A soap called Fels Naptha is designed to break down and remove the oils associated with poison oak/ivy. Use care around any plants you wish to save.

Depending on the level of work you want to go to, the rock could be screened out of the soil, but this will be a lot of work, no doubt about it.

Re: New owners of badly neglected yard and plantings

Thanks so much for your reply. I'm well aware of the challenges that poison ivy will present and the erradication part is underway. My biggest concern is the lawn.

Should we try and salvage it, till it, put loam down? If we till it, how much of the weeds will come back up again. And what sort of long-term lawn schedule should we be on? I've lawys heard that fall is the best season to plant new grass but maybe that's an old wives tale?

A. Spruce
Re: New owners of badly neglected yard and plantings

If the rock is under 1", then it can probably be tilled into the soil and either seed or sod laid over it. Rock does have a tendency to work its way out of the ground, depending on the size and quantity, removal may be the better route.

Without seeing the area and the quality of the grass, it is impossible to say whether the lawn can be salvaged or not. More than likely, from the description you've given, the grass will always be coarse and shaggy. Mowing, fertilizing, and water will make it green, and green is better than mangy brown, but it's doubtful that you'll ever get a pristine lawn back from it. IMHO, it does no good to apply herbicides if you are going to work the soil in any manner. Tilling the soil only brings new weed seed to the surface, so anything you kill now would be a moot point. Using Sod will help smother the weeds out because you're putting a thick blanket over the seed that prevents it from getting light and warmth for germination. That is not to say that weeds won't grow, only that their ability will be seriously compromised. If you use grass seed, then you'll be hard pressed to ever control the weeds.

Grass seed is best in the spring when the ground is warm enough to germinate the seed and the weather cool enough not to damage the tender shoots. You can have success in the summer as well, though it may require more water depending on your climate. Fall is when things normally go dormant, as well as the days/light is shorter and cooler/cold. IMHO, not a good time to plant seed and expect growth, however if you've already got an established lawn, then overseeding in the fall will have that grass thick and full come spring bloom.

Sod can be laid as long as there is no frost. Like seed, it will be dormant in the late fall and over winter, however as long as it doesn't get frost bite, it will take root as the days and earth warm.

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