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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I'm Kevin and I'm located in a suburb of Des Moines. Growing up, I always enjoyed mowing the lawn. Actually just the yesterday, I found a picture frame my dad gave to me with the first dollar I earned mowing lawns on April 22, 1998 when I was 11 years old. I mowed my barber's yard for $20. I had to put $10 into savings but the other $10 I was allowed to do whatever I want with.

I'm trying to do more than just mow the yard and have learned a ton so far.

I have a lot of different grass types in my lawn, so beyond calling it a mutt lawn, I'm going to call it turf-type tall fescue since that's what I'm trying to grow here. I'm a first-time homeowner, and I moved in on Memorial Day weekend last year. The house was built in 1970.

The front yard is in decent shape, but could be thicker and greener. There is an area between the parking pad and the driveway where the owners a couple of generations ago had some shrubs and other plants but the previous owners tore those out and it was just dirt when I moved in. I started growing grass there shortly after moving in but it was taken over by crabgrass.

The side yard was in decent shape until I used the truck to pull out a bunch of bushes at the fence line that separates the front and back yards. Now it's a lot of dirt and some tire ruts.

The back yard is where the magic is needed. To preface this: the previous owners didn't like gardening/lawn care so they did as little as possible. The owners before them actually live in the house directly behind me, and the wife enjoyed landscaping... so the pressure is on for me to bring it back to a glorious state.

First, there's a terrace-like area in the very back along the fence line, behind a retaining wall. When I bought the house (winter) there wasn't anything back there. Fast forward to when I actually closed and moved in? It was a jungle. Very bad. My girlfriend pulled all those weeds and sprayed RoundUp (we need to do this again this year). After clearing out the jungle, it was revealed that there are lots of rocks in the soil from previous landscaping efforts I have hired a landscape architect to make plans for this area (as part of a master plan for the whole lot). In the past 9 months or so, I have removed 4 trees/bushes from this area. There is also pea gravel all around the house.

As for the back yard itself, myself and at least the past two generations have had dogs, so this yard is not in the best shape. I have a 70+ lb Chesapeake Bay retriever mix (named Amber) and we just got a boxer mix puppy (named Wednesday) in December and they really did a number on the yard over the winter (plus my neighbor's husky mix, Cooper likes to jump the fence to come over and play). There are some wear spots at the bottom of the deck from dog traffic, some spots where Cooper and Wednesday dug together (Wednesday will only dig if Cooper is over), and a hill under a tree where Wednesday likes to lay and chew on sticks. There are some other unexplained bare spots throughout, and there's a bare spot on this side of the fence where we pulled some bushes out from the side yard.

I'm going to start looking through some pictures I have and update the thread on what I have done so far!
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·


Screen grab from May 29, 2016, after the first mow. Notice my retired neighbor's immaculate back yard...



June 17, 2016 - I forgot to mention the deck will need replacing soon, currently slated for next spring or later this fall, dependent on funds. Did I also mention there's an ash tree that runs right through it? It's great for shade but I will probably end up removing it when I replace the deck. The dog is Amber.



July 17, 2016 - Listing photo from Decemberish 2015 to then-present day.



July 20, 2016 - It rained a lot this day. It was a mess.



August 28, 2016 - Vole holes I'm guessing? I've filled these in with top soil and they haven't re-appeared yet, so that's good, I guess. Amber is a good vole hunter and I suspect she may have taken care of this problem for me.
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·


September 5, 2016 - The bare dirt around the garden box.



October 4, 2016 - A view of the back yard from the terrace.



October 9, 2016 - By this time I had lopped off a bunch from those bushes along the fence and started leveling out the area around the garden box.


October 22, 2016 - I traded my Jeep in for a truck, so what better way to celebrate than ripping those bushes out?
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·






November 20, 2016 - I haven't really done much with this area yet, but it needs some work. The front steps will be a part of the hardscaping master plan. They are pulling away from the brick stoop and it's a little dangerous. I've seen way too many people get tripped up on that top step.



The south fence line is in pretty poor shape.



You can see the huge ash tree that goes through the deck in this picture. You can also see that there is lava rock mixed with the pea gravel on this end. The paver brick patio near the middle will preferably be replaced with something better in the hardscaping master plan.
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
We removed a few trees in the terrace between then and here, but I didn't get any pictures. One cedar, one bush-looking tree, and another evergreen-type tree was taken down.


December 25, 2016 - The day after we brought Wednesday home from the shelter. This is when our backyard neighbor's dog, Cooper, started jumping the fence. He has an affinity for Wednesday, apparently. It had been raining for a few days this week and between Wednesday, Amber, and Cooper all running around playing, I suspect most of the wintertime damage to the lawn happened this week.

I thought I had gotten a good panorama of the yard at the end of the winter, but apparently not.



March 28, 2017 - You can see the bare spots around the tree and in the southwest corner between the fence and the retaining wall. This is the hill under the tree I was talking about earlier that was a little worn out because that's where Wednesday likes to lay and chew on sticks.





March 30, 2017 - Around this time I was getting bids to get the chain link fence replaced. This shows the sad state of the terrace in the back yard.



April 8, 2017 - More deforestation is taking place. Took down another evergreen-like tree from the terrace. The power company came through and lopped off the top half of the tree last fall and it just looked horrible. It made more sense to me to remove the tree to avoid that and plant another tree somewhere else in the terrace that would be a better fit.


Removing that tree didn't take very long at all, so we went to the nearest Ace Hardware store and rented a stump grinder. Got 5 stumps ground down within 4 hours. I thought it would be harder and/or take longer than it did, but it is still a hard workout. I was going to hire someone to grind these stumps down, but I'm glad I didn't. I probably saved a ton of money.
 

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Discussion Starter · #10 ·


April 9 - panorama of the lawn status.



April 22-23 - lawn rehab day. The chain link fence has been replaced with some nice 4' black vinyl-coated chain link so I'm giving the project a green light now that contractors shouldn't be making divots or wear patterns in the yard. Just replacing the old galvanized chain link with the vinyl-coated made the back yard look SOOOOOO much better!

This is the seed blend I settled on. I wanted something blended locally and sold locally. This is Earl May's "Marvel" blend of turf-type tall fescue. I talked to some athletic turf managers (including some who have experience at Wrigley Field!) and city park turf managers and that's how I arrived on TTTF. I wanted something that will look good, be tolerant to moderate drought, and be tough enough to stand up to dog traffic. I don't mind overseeing every year.

I rented an aerator and a slit-seeder machine. Both were made by Blue Bird but rented from two different hardware stores. I double-aerated the front and back yards. What a workout!

I was not a fan of the slit-seeder machine. I don't know if there was something wrong with it, but I had to go back to the nursery twice to get more seed. I quadruple-checked my math and according to the label on the seed and the settings on the seeder, but it seemed like it was still putting out a lot of seed. It especially dumped a lot of seed at the beginning of my passes when I engaged the tines. I also couldn't see a lot of slits in the dirt, possibly because my yards are a little lumpy. If I were going to do it all over again, I would probably aerate like I did and just seed with a broadcast spreader.

After I seeded, I spread Scotts TurfBuilder Starter Food For New Grass Plus Weed Preventer mainly for the mesotrione to avoid the problem I had last year in bare spots with crabgrass taking over. Then I spread Milorganite.

I don't have pictures for a lot of this. I didn't think I would be journaling everything. Pictures were going to be my girlfriend's responsibility but she spent most of the weekend sick and sleeping.

I fenced off half the yard to keep the dogs out (especially the puppy, she can get into anything). I had the fence company keep the longest portion of the old chain link for this purpose and went out and got 10 T-posts from Tractor Supply. It was supplemented in some areas by the green Tenax fencing available from Home Depot and some shorter U-posts I had laying around from previous failed attempts to keep dogs out of the bare areas.

The next day (Sunday) I spent time laying down peat moss on the bare areas and the areas that need just a little more attention. I used about 20 cu ft of the compressed ProMix Premier Sphagnum peat moss. I especially laid a bunch down around the trees.

Then I put together an above-ground sprinkler system like this. I did order some of the parts off Amazon, but most of the parts can be found cheaper elsewhere. I found the cheapest 50' hose at Mills Fleet Farm, the flow-through sprinkler bases at Mills Fleet Farm, Hunter sprinkler bases from Home Depot ship-to-store, the Hunter MP rotator heads from the Sprinkler Warehouse and the risers from Rain Bird. The price for a lot of these parts were up to 3x higher on Amazon if I didn't shop around.

I'm using six sprinkler heads in the back yard, three sprinklers in each zone due to water pressure. Currently watering 20 minutes three times a day, give or take, depending on soil moisture. I'm hand watering some areas of the front yard since I rain out of hose to put two more heads up for the front.




And now I wait. It has been rainy but the temps have been low so there's not much germination happening.
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
Thanks for the welcome everyone! I'm glad to be here.

One thing I enjoy after working in the yard is a nice cold #lawnbeer, preferably something light, local, and one I haven't had before. Here are the two lawn beers from the second day of the lawn rehab: a Sierra Nevada Sidecar orange pale ale,



and a Peace Tree Kiss from a Gose, which was very good and I don't even like tart beers!

 

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That's a lot of work. Especially clearing out trees and bushes and "the jungle." What parts did you seed? Any particular reason you're doing this now instead of in the fall? In the July 20 picture it looks like you have a lake. I hope it doesn't pool like that every time it rains. The dogs look like they really enjoy the yard
 

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Discussion Starter · #15 ·
Virginiagal said:
Any particular reason you're doing this now instead of in the fall? In the July 20 picture it looks like you have a lake. I hope it doesn't pool like that every time it rains.
Great question! No reason in particular other than I wanted to try to get grass growing so it's not all mud when the dogs are outside and it's wet. I know now isn't as good of a time as fall, but I'm treating the backyard as an "intensive care" case and plan on overseeding in the fall as well.

I can't remember how much rain fell on July 20, but it was extraordinary. I've since leveled out that area and haven't seen any ponding occur, but we haven't had a torrential downpour like that since then to really test it.
 

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Ok, I can understand the mud problem. I would have been inclined to just let the weeds have it (may the strongest weed win) in the bare areas until late August and then kill them and seed the good grass, but you will have grass coverage, at least for awhile, with your seeding. It's going to be hard on it in the summer because the roots will not have developed much. So, did you seed just the left side of the back yard? You mentioned the front too. Was that the whole thing or just some bare spots? What is your plan for the terrace area? What sort of things are you going to plant there? Has your neighbor told you why they did the terrace years ago? Were they fixing an erosion problem or what? In general how does rain water drain from the neighbors' and your property? Which way does it flow? Why is that tree in your left hand back corner on a little hill by itself? Since mud and dogs are a concern, you could cut down on mud (and weeds) on the terrace with mulch (like chips from some of your deforestation projects).
 

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Discussion Starter · #17 ·
Virginiagal said:
So, did you seed just the left side of the back yard? You mentioned the front too. Was that the whole thing or just some bare spots?
I seeded the entire back yard, but the left side has the most bare spots so that's what I fenced off from the dogs and put peat moss down. I figure I can do the other half in the fall. I didn't do much to the front -- I did aerate and overseed but that's about it. There is an area where my driveway meets the sidewalk that was pretty bare where the previous owners pulled out some bushes and plants, so I tore it up, seeded, and laid peat moss down like the back yard. The front yard is generally in good shape, but could just be a little thicker.

Virginiagal said:
What is your plan for the terrace area? What sort of things are you going to plant there? Has your neighbor told you why they did the terrace years ago? Were they fixing an erosion problem or what? In general how does rain water drain from the neighbors' and your property? Which way does it flow? Why is that tree in your left hand back corner on a little hill by itself? Since mud and dogs are a concern, you could cut down on mud (and weeds) on the terrace with mulch (like chips from some of your deforestation projects).
I'm not much of a "plant" person so I hired a landscape architect to come up with a master plan including the terrace area. They're going to design it but I'm going to plant everything. My neighbors aren't the ones that installed the terrace, but it seems whoever built it was using it as a drainage solution. When it rains, I can see the storm water rushing down everyone else's hills and ponding in people's backyards on this side of the block while I don't have that problem. The only time I have an issue with ponding is with a torrential downpour and that water didn't all come from uphill.

As for that tree, I'm not sure why it is on the hill like that. We suspect it was here before the house was built (there are some trees on my neighbors' lots that have been evaluated as 100+ years old!).

I am going to use mulch on the terrace. The previous owners used rock but I'm not a big fan of rocks. So many rocks all around the yard right now. SO many.
 

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Glad you don't have ponding. Maybe the terrace is slowing down whatever is coming from the neighbor behind you. In the Christmas picture there is standing water on the terrace. If you have concerns about drainage, bring them up with your landscape person. They need to know about it. You might also get their advice on the tree in the deck. It needs to come down. Who knows what's it's doing to your foundation and what it could do to your roof in a storm. The roots are bound to go under your house. When they decompose, will there be settlement issues? The landscape person may know. I hope they are coming up with plants that will hold up to dog traffic. Ask your neighbor (who used to live in your house) about what they know about the tree on the little hill (it's​ not a natural thing) and erosion and drainage issues for the neighborhood. Was dirt excavated from the yard? It looks like the neighbor to the left of you (looking out to the back) has erosion in the corner right next to you. I'd guess water collects in that corner (where Wednesday chews bones). Does it drain okay? I agree with you that rocks make a poor mulch. Hope you will be seeing grass seedlings soon, if you haven't already.
 
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