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The severe drought in the midwest has killed my yard. The Fescue I planted in the spring (which took nicely) has completely died and is being replaced with crabgrass and native grasses. Other parts of the yard are full of random weeds and dead grass.

With the recent rain we've gotten I'm interested in redoing the lawn. I'm trying to find the "best" blend between manual labor and cost savings. I am trying to choose all 3 of lazy, stingy, good-lawn, but I know I can only pick two.

Half of my yard is heavily shaded by a large maple tree (but the grass is still dead and weedy). A third of the remainder is covered by a heavily-producing pear tree (which we might mulch around to promote the tree instead), and what's left is exposed to sun. Trees are slated for the near future, so shade will be coming in 5 years.

My question:

How do I go from my crappy dead, weedy lawn to a gorgeous lush lawn? I have available to me:

  • Weed & Feed
  • About 25lb of Fescue blend (grew well in all areas before I gave up watering)
  • A "chick-chick-chick" sprinkler and a "wave" sprinkler on a long hose with a timer. I don't have enough hose or pressure to water the whole yard at once.
  • Access to an aerator (PTO on a riding mower)
  • Access to a tiller (manual, this will conflict heavily with my lazy streak)

I am not against any chemicals or fertilizers.

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3 Answers

At the risk of stating the perfectly obvious, you've answered your own question really. You say your fescue seed, which you sowed in spring, 'took nicely' and 'grew well in all areas before I gave up watering'.

Any living plant requires water - newly planted (within the last year) plants require more frequent watering. Sounds as if it's safe to assume that, if you had kept on watering, the grass would have been fine. If you think you can keep up with the watering in future, regardless of the weather conditions, then it seems you have to prepare the area by removing all weeds and unwanted grasses and resow your fescue.

Regarding shade from trees - whilst that might stop the grass from being fully exposed to hot sun, the trees themselves will be sucking the area surrounding their roots dry of moisture, so any benefit gained from sunshading is probably counteracted by the trees' requirements for water. It's wisest to assume that any trees you plant will need to have an area of at least 3 feet at the base of their trunks kept clear of grass. Even so, as they get larger, their roots will extend further and will still take away moisture from the grass.

Given the drought you've experienced this year, and it being hard to predict whether this will be a regular occurrence because of climate change, consideration should perhaps be given to artificial lawn. I hate saying that, being a horticultural person, but these artificial lawns have improved quite dramatically in the last few years - and they're certainly very low maintenance.

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Consider using a different sort of grass, or giving up on grass entirely.

You say the native grasses took over--why not foster them? Crabgrass isn't so lovely, so perhaps weed that out (a chore to be sure)--but why waste water and fertilizer fighting your natural biome? There are many other drought-tolerant grasses to choose from too, and a mix of those and other grasses can help you cover your bases if the weather shifts.

Groundcovers like clover can also be quite nice. We have a small lawn that is more clover than grass now, and it's extremely low maintenance--and it didn't die back even in this dry summer, with no watering.

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Fescue and Zoysia have both been selections already for grasses to repopulate the yard with (we had a heat-blend of Fescue anyway). This was just a particularly bad drought. I'm looking for specific recovery steps as well as species advice. –  insta Sep 4 '12 at 14:50
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You're biggest problem is one that is common to all would-be gardeners. You don't have(or take) the time a flourishing garden requires. It sounds like a half hour 2 or 3 times a week would give you time to water your lawn and pull the weeds.

Gardens are like kids - they need care and attention or they'll start growing weed.

If you don't have time to take care of your garden you have 3 choices:

  • Hire some one else to do it - expensive
  • Give up and have your neighbours hate you - lowers property value, also expensive
  • Choose garden plants that will grow with less effort - UGLY!

All bad options.

My prescription is this: set aside 3 half-hour time slots. Evenings are best because you'll lose less water to evaporation and it'll be cooler for you. Take this time to water and dig some weeds. When you lawn starts to be looking healthy, get a lawn chair and potable (beverage) - it'll give you time to unwind after work. Your garden will be more enjoyable because of the attention and you'll enjoy it more.

Maybe my answer should be moved to relaxation.stackexchange.com ...

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