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newbie questions - help us save our new lawn!

Hello - my husband and I are first-time home buyers/renovators. The house came with a weedy awful backyard. This past june, we paid a landscaper to remove the debris, river rock, old weed cloth, garbage, weeds and rats (!) from the yard, grade it, and put in 3" of new topsoil. Then we laid sod ourselves. We bought the sod from a highly-recommended sod vendor, and spread a thin layer of commercial lawn fertilizer (according to package instructions) on the new topsoil prior to putting down the sod.

It went in easily, we watered regularly for a week, then tapered off the watering over the next 2 weeks. The lawn took off. Within a couple of weeks you couldn't see the edges of the sod and the lawn was lush and deep and we were so pleased!

Then, we got busy with house renovations and a toddler and life, and forgot to mow it for, umm, like 3 or 4 weeks. In the height of an Illinois summer and it was growing like mad and got very deep.

My husband mowed it (with a cheap push mower, as it's a very very small yard) and we noticed that underneath the long deep green grass there was a lot of dead grass. Then we did that again (I know, I know). Another 3 or so weeks, it got deep, we mowed again and suddenly our lush green lawn looks TERRIBLE. Below the thin blades of green grass, there's a thick thatch of brown dead grass that comes up loosly if you tug at it.

While we haven't been watering, that's been by choice because it's been raining fairly regularly, and mushrooms pop up pretty often so I do not think that it ever got too dry. It always feels damp if I put a finger down into the roots and soil.

Help! what did we do to our beautiful lawn? Did we kill the roots by letting the blades get too long?

I read that when a lawn is stressed that's NOT the right time to fertilize, so I haven't done that.

Any suggestions, besides do what we know we were supposed to all along and mow weekly, taking less than 1/3 of the depth of the grass at a time?

Thank you!

Here's an image:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/shares/66A8ga

A. Spruce
Re: newbie questions - help us save our new lawn!

All a lawn really is, is mowed field grass. Yes, it has been bred for a finer, softer feel, but it naturally grows very long and tall. By letting it grow "wild" as you described, the soft, fine stuff kind of clumps and chokes out, while the thicker and more sparse "brush" type grass takes its place.

The cure should be as simple as cutting it more often and probably a small dose of fertilizer to spark new growth.

Re: newbie questions - help us save our new lawn!

If the fertilizer did NOT include weed preventer, a little over seeding wouldn't hurt. September is an excellent time to grow sod in your area.

Re: newbie questions - help us save our new lawn!

Try one of the Jerry Baker cures. Mix a cup of ammonia, a cup of sugar, a can of beer and a cup of liquid (hand) dishwashing detergent (Lemon scented is best). Use this in a 20 gallon hose end sprayer and spray the lawn. This mixture will breakdown the thatch into an organic fertilizer and feed the micro-organisms in the soil.

Also set your lawn mower to about 2.5-3" high. Do not mow too close. Mow twice a week and you will soon have a beautiful law again.

Re: newbie questions - help us save our new lawn!

Grass should be mowed higher during the heat of the summer. Don't remove more than about a thrid of the blade at a time. In effect, longer grass provides shade for itself. Further, "scalping" the grass is removing all the green upper leaf. This is where the photosynthesis takes place, i.e. the conversion of light to sugars to feed the plant. If you totally cut away the green, you are starving the plant! Regular watering and higher mowing should straighten things out.

Take it easy on fertilizer in the heat of the summer. The grass wants to go into preservation mode and fertilizer tries to fire it up. The healthiest growth takes place in spring and fall. This is when fertilizer does its optimum best.

Re: newbie questions - help us save our new lawn!

Let me add a note to the formula above, do not use an anti-bacterial dishwashing detergent. The beer and sugar provides nutrients and enzymes that feed the micro-bile in the soil, which in turn breakdown the fertilizers in the soil to feed the plants. The micro-bile in the soil is like the pro-biotics in your intestines.

The dishwashing detergent helps the formula penetrate the soil and the ammonia gives it a shot of nitrogen for a quick recovery. You can use Murphy's Oil Soap instead of the detergent if you wish.

Re: newbie questions - help us save our new lawn!

Since we are splitting hairs (we do love that, don't we?)

Liquid laundry detergent would be far better than dish soap. Liquid laundry detergent has no "soap" in it, as it is just a non-ionic surfactant* which has the effect of making the water 'wetter' thus penetrating the soil and organic material much easier.

*plus some colorant and fragrance

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