The Q&A Archives: Establishing a New Lawn

Question: We have just moved into our new home and have 1.5 acres. 50% is covered by backfill and the other .75 acres are covered with assorted field grasses and weeds. The land was a former farm and was left to run wild the past two years. Now we are overwhelmed by Canadian thistles on every inch of the property. Our plan is to seed the front and surrounding yard (the backfill) and weed and feed the field grass section. We are going to try to bring the field grass to a somewhat respectable level for a lawn. (I have already applied the weed and feed to the back .75 acres, with little success.)

What can we do to start a lawn without giving it over to the power of the Canadian thistles? Is there an approach we can try this year to try to establish our lawn without killing everything first with Round-up Ultra or Banvel? Whatever advice you can give me would be greatly appreciated. Thank God for your web-site!

Answer: I'm glad you've found us! It's not workable to try to eliminate all the weeds before planting - accept the fact that this is a long-term process, and will be most successful if you work with nature rather than against her. Fortunately, thistles, which are "pioneer" plants that grow in disturbed or marginal soils, can easily be controled by mowing and soil improvement, as can most broadleafed forbs (a kind term for weeds). It's best to have your soil tested first so you'll know just what nutrients should be added. Your extension service can help you with soil test information. Depending on the fertility and condition of the backfill, you may need to bring in a lot of organic matter (humus, compost, aged manure, etc.) to create a soil environment where seeded grasses will thrive. Once you've done the soil improvement, mow the meadow area regularly to 3" or less, and the grasses should be better able to compete with forbs, and eventually win over. If you want book titles on landscaping or lawn care, I can highly recommend "Lawn Care for Dummies" by Lance Walheim. It covers everything you need to know to cultivate and maintain a healthy lawn.

It must feel like a daunting prospect at this point, but I hope you'll find it an interesting adventure as you progress through the project. Best of luck!

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