The Q&A Archives: Bad Lawn

Question: I just moved into a very old home where the lawn was terribly neglected. I have very little nice grass, mostly clover, crabgrass, etc. It has apparently never been thatched (is that necessary??) or fertilized. I read the answer for another question about weeds, how I should dig them out, root and all, and seed. What if more than 50% of my lawn is this? Is there an easier way to get a nice, soft, green lawn without digging it all up and reseeding? I have a 1 year old and I want her to be able to play in the yard without getting stuck by prickly weeds, or covered with dandelion fluff!

Answer: There is a fairly broad definition of what makes up a "lawn". (For instance, I remember my daughter having lots of fun blowing on dandelion puffballs in the lawn, but I do eradicate thistles.) In my experience, the absolutely "perfect" lawn is a lot of work! If you are truly intent on having a weed-free lawn quickly, and your lawn is currently predominently weeds, then you will probably need to use an herbicide such as glyphosate to kill the existing vegetation and start over from scratch and eventually achieve that picture perfect lawn. The other option is to accept a slightly less than perfect lawn and achieve it over time. You will encourage the lawn grasses and discourage the weeds through proper mowing (both height and frequency) and fertilizing combined with soil improvement based on the results of soil tests and perhaps spot applications of herbicides for truly pernicious weeds. You might also need to reseed in some areas where the lawn is the worst. You can learn more about the basics of good lawn maintenance (and establishing new lawns) in "Lawn Care for Dummies" by Lance Walheim ISBN 0-7645-5077-2. Your County Extension should be able to help you with soil tests and interpreting the results and may also have some localized lawn care information available.

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