My sister just bought a place and she's asking for help getting her lawn back in order. I'm not sure the way we've come up with is the best way.

Here's my plan of attack. I would appreciate a sanity check and suggestions of other ways about it.

  1. Cut off small tree limbs < 3" in diameter, chip them onto the lawn or discard
  2. Cut the tree down, cut into logs, get 'em out of the way
  3. Grind the stumps down
  4. Till the lawn up - mixing in wood chips
  5. Rent one of them rollers. Flatten the lawn, compact the ground
  6. Seed the lawn
  7. Re-roll
  8. Water frequently

I've seen some people suggest killing everything first with a black tarp. I don't think I agree with that. Weed seeds will survive, it's not hot enough out yet, my tiller isn't going to have a problem ripping it up one way or the other. I can't figure out why I see that suggestion around.

Other option:

  1. Manually weed the lawn or try to use a spray (The grass is pretty thick and decent looking. It just has these little blue flowers popping up everywhere and other small, frequent weeds)
  2. Rent a sod cutter, peel it up
  3. Remove trees, grind it up
  4. Level ground
  5. Unroll sod
  6. Roll it over
  • 2
    I'd just add an explanation regarding the use of black tarpaulin or thick black plastic - this is not done for solarization purposes. Its meant to be spread out over an area and anchored down tightly, so as to exclude light, air and water, and left in place for at least a year to kill everything that's growing. Some plants, like ivy, will need longer, maybe two years. Solarization is a different method involving heat and usually clear plastic, though I believe black is sometimes used in hotter regions.
    – Bamboo
    May 3, 2016 at 16:38

2 Answers 2


Time is your friend; speed is expensive.

Solarizing is something you do for quite a long time, so "not hot enough yet" is really not a problem. You see the suggestion because many weeds find a quick trip through the tiller as a great opportunity to spread far and wide - they bounce back a lot faster than any grass seed you put down starts.

Likewise, the fall is the best time to seed a new lawn - whether you solarize or plant and then till in a smother crop or two, taking some time over the summer to get the ground ready will make success more probable.

Note that a lawn roller does not do the "level" step particularly well. You need to move dirt to make it level, before you start compacting the dirt.

If you seek a picture-perfect lawn in a busy weekend, turf or astroturf is your best bet.

  • I certainly don't think she'll mind waiting it out - there's enough to do there. Wait until June, cut trees and grind, solarize, till in July, cover crop until September, till, rake level, plant grass? May 3, 2016 at 15:04
  • 1
    More reasonable by my lights, anyway - though there's no particular need to wait until June to cut the trees, if you definitely plan to cut them. There's also "waiting through a year" to see what's planted where in a new garden/yard. Some small blue flowers that pop up in lawns are generally considered weeds (gill-over-the-ground, for instance) while others are generally thought of as nice things that naturalize well (scilla, for instance.) Of course, some folks think clover is a weed, while I think it makes a lovely and quite durable lawn that self-feeds a bit.
    – Ecnerwal
    May 3, 2016 at 15:16

You do not want to solarize the soil. This also kills beneficials that your lawn depends upon for health. You do not want to rototill that lawn. Make sure your lawn has a bit of a slope 1-2% to drain where you want it to drain. DO NOT USE BARK CHIPS IN THE LAWN BED. Undecomposed stuff needs nitrogen to feed the decomposer crews. Takes awhile to decompose. Don't use non decomposed anything in your soils unless you are able to wait a year or two and use more nitrogen than normal which could hamper certain plants, burn others and it would be tough to monitor correctly.

You DO WANT TO ROLL. Excellent you picked up on that. If that lawn is healthy with deep roots why would you need to renovate? Need more information about that from you. Rake and rake and rake, roll and if there are any depressions or bumps rake them out and roll again! You are maintaining or creating a healthy lawn bed. Please send pictures; up close and a wide view of all.

Maintenance techniques are your best friend to eradicate weeds and make your lawn more competitive, healthy. No weeds can grow if the grass shades the soil at 3". In addition, no weeds will thrive if you train your grass to have deep roots and only needs watering once per week at 1" each watering. The grass will be able to get at the water while the weeds with shallow root systems can not. Do not water again unless you see your footprints on the lawn. Shoot, I've written some great lawn care ESSAYS on here...please look them up! The lawn is a very curious creature that needs understanding to not eat up the bucks!

I've just written a thorough essay on lawn care...the important points are mowing height (3" no less), aeration (pulling plugs) once a year or twice, mow once or more per week, sharp blades, great fertilizer (no fast stuff by Scott's or Ortho) find slow release organic lawn fertilizer with bacteria to decompose thatch. Worth every penny and you don't need to fertilize as often (Dr. Earth for an example), always use a mechanical spreader never do by hand, no shade (give it up grass only thrives in sun) and water deeply then allow to dry before watering again. Bag do not mulch unless you've got a pasture to deal with. Grass growth slows at 3" so that you are only doing 'buzz cuts' with little debris. Trust me, no shorter than 3" and get the ruler out to make sure. Go find all the stuff on lawns on this site!! Of course these rules are different for warm season grasses than the cool season grasses that I am referring to. Not much of this information can be ignored if you want a healthy, vigorous, no weeds and drought tolerance to save on your water bill.

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