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I live in eastern Massachusetts and have a big project coming up for my lawn. I am planning to get part of it excavated to fix an issue. Once fixed it will be back-filled with soil and I'll move onto my next project of getting an in-ground irrigation system. Once that's done I plan to loosen up the soil around the entire yard as its very packed and I strongly feel that is contributing to spotty patches of grass and in some areas, no grass is growing. I plan to do all of this in the next 6-8 weeks in spring but I've heard core aerating in spring might not be great as it could provide more opportunities for weeds. Does this plan make sense or should I adjust:

  • Get soil test
  • Priority #1: Excavate sub-portion of lawn
  • Priority #2: Install irrigation system
  • Core aerate entire yard (is it fine to do this in spring or should I wait till fall?)
  • Depending on soil test, I may need lime, or not. I read I shouldn't lime and fertilize at the same time. If I do need lime, when should I do it?
  • Fertilize excavation site with starter fertilizer (was planning to try LESCO this year) and seed it
  • Fertilize established areas of lawn with crabgrass prevention fertilizer (was planning to try LESCO this year)

A arborist that also does yard work once told me if I core aerate an excellent thing to thicken lawn after I core aerate is to broadcast seed all over the lawn as some of the seeds will germinate and thicken the lawn. Is that correct? Or should I ignore that and really follow a traditional overseeding plan? Also, if I do core aerate and broadcast seed over it should I have then only used starter fertilizer for the entire lawn due to the new seeds?

I'm trying to understand the timing of all the things I'm trying to do and want to make sure I don't do the wrong things.

Update with pictures:

Debris pit area debris pit

Patchy lawn patchy lawn

More pictures of lawn lawn lawn lawn lawn

UPDATE as of 7/24/2017:

I've made progress on my plans and I've accomplished the following based on this thread:

  • Get soil test (completed - details are here)
  • Excavate sub-portion of lawn (completed - the issue was an old tree stump that was ground up and left to sink over many years)
  • Install irrigation system (completed)
  • Core aerate entire yard
  • Add lime (completed, need to add more in fall)
  • Fertilize excavation site with starter fertilizer and seed it (completed, looks OK, need to overseed it in fall with more seed)
  • Fertilize established areas of lawn with crabgrass prevention fertilizer (completed as part of spring maintenance)

So my next big things are to core aerate, top dress, and overseed in the fall.

So the big question is: if I live in Massachusetts, when is the best time to core aerate, top dress, and overseed in the fall? Are we talking early September? Mid September? Late September?

Also, I plan to buy good quality mix of seeds for the northeast that will contain KBG, fescue, and perennial rye. Once I do my core aeration, top dressing, and overseeding, should I still keep the lawn moist every day as if I was doing the same routine in the spring? I assume so since I need to keep the seed moist with the warm soil temperature to germinate, but I just want to confirm. If so, I assume I can flip on my sprinklers daily in the early morning for about 5 minutes per zone max just to get the ground moist and keep it moist through September?

  • I have updated this question with my progress and an additional question about my fall maintenance I plan to do – J Dillinger Jul 24 '17 at 13:00
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Truly not a bad program. BUT. It is a waste of time to core aerate until you've got a mature crop of grass. So cross that one off. The other thing that pops out is the excavation of the soil. The very top 4" is the soil you want to use. The subsoil is (NW) almost pure clay and to mix that up into your top soil would be asking for tons more work. I'd scrape 4-6" of the soil off the top FIRST and put it just outside the realm of your proposed lawn. I have a feeling that we've missed something translating your answer.

Please send pictures of the entire area. One of the things you want to do, the digging up and breaking up and excavating is contraindicated for clay soil and I KNOW the NW soils. They are very wet now and for quite awhile. Do not use machinery on wet clay soil. Do not use heavy machinery running around on this area. (go to other answers about lawns and clay soil).

Clay makes a fine lawn bed. Grading should take place when the 4-6" of top soil is very dry. I would bring in top soil instead of worrying about excavating. Grade by hand with 3' wide GRADING RAKES. Get a roller filled with water to compact. I know this sounds opposite of what I've just said but if you've got dry, friable top soil graded you have to compact to get air pockets out or you will have a roller coaster surface. Grade again, fill in holes and grade again. Do this before any rainfall. Forget fertilizing until you've got grass substantially growing.

I WOULD NOT seed. Go get sod and sod your lawn bed. Forget about any herbicide. Sod alone stops most weeds including crab grass. If you don't excavate and break up the weeds already there, the maintenance program I will outline will take care of any crabgrass. And deciduous weeds. Use the roller on your newly sodded lawn!

Herbicide for crabgrass will kill any grass even your lawn grasses or at least make your grass crop wimpy.

Irrigation is best done AFTER laying your sod AND ornamental plants in their raised beds. Truly. Hard to believe but when you know where the edges of your lawn are and have already planted your plant beds, it is far easier to design your irrigation system. Irrigation system companies go in and are able to know how far a head needs to spray and overcross with others. Lawn and plant beds should be SEPARATE ZONES. Also south facing beds and lawns need to be considered separately from the north and shaded zones.

The trench for irrigation lines (1 inch, don't fall for different sizing) is only 6" wide. When they finish you will not be able to even tell that there was any construction done. I would wait to mulch until completely done with planting and irrigation. (If you are near Seattle go look up Sawdust Supply and get Gro-Co, I won't use any other 'mulch'...this stuff is incredibly beautiful, smells great, fine fine texture, dark taupe...I envy you. In Oregon, I can't find this stuff, trust me on this).

Wait to fertilize until after the first mowing when the sod will not come up if you pull. Wait to do the irrigation until after the first mow as you do not want to walk on new sod...as little as possible anyway.

Watering before irrigation is easily done via cheap oscillating sprinklers. Shallowly and frequently. Once the irrigation system is in you need to start training the roots of your plants and grass by watering deeply and NOT WATERING AGAIN until you are able to see your footprints left on the lawn. Then water deeply again. Check by using a shovel and digging down it should be wet at least 2" at first. Then 4" (allowing to dry in between waterings until you are able to see footprints on lawn)...then 6" deep. Take 2 or 3 deep watering-allowing to dry sequences at each level. This will eventually add up to 1" per week of water and one watering per week.

During hot weather or water restrictions you will have a green healthy lawn and plants while others go brown.

Fertilizer, I have found that a bit more expensive organic slow release fertilizer is worth every penny! Check out Dr. Earth's, read the info and I am sure you'll be able to 'shop' using that information. It also includes bacteria to take care of thatch and the SLOWNESS doesn't make your grass become susceptible to disease or insects. I truly was blown away. I will NEVER use 'fast result' Scott's or Ortho again. No matter the size of lawn.

One also doesn't need to fertilize as often and helps even out the costs.

Aeration, pulling plugs, leaving them right where they fall is done once per year. A good time to pull the neighborhood together...very fast very easy very necessary for healthy lawns.

The HEIGHT of your lawn IS CRITICAL!!! Find a mower, gas (please), hydrostatic (for the Pacific NW you bet), that you are able to set to 3"!! Not 2 1/2" but 3"! Get an extra set of blades to make sure the blades are always super sharp. I rotate out blades every other mowing for large lawns. Also get gas and air filter replacements and make the store show you how to change out. If you are able to keep dirt out of your machines they will last forever. Stihl is totally dependable and what I use. At the same time purchase a gas blower and a gas line trimmer. I take the shield off and the bump and go head to trade for a set head. Wear glasses and become very aware where you are throwing. Shields do not prevent throwing and accidents. And you'll actually be able to see what you are doing where you are cutting.

There should be a trench to collect water 6" by 6" as the 'edge' of your lawn between plant beds. This trench makes the most beautiful edge for a lawn. The most beautiful. Needs cleaning out periodically done before remulching (every 2 years as the soil organisms are eating the mulch and multiplying IF THE MULCH is decomposed). Careful about wacking your grass any shorter than 3". Especially on the edges. Use your blower to blow all fertilizer off your concrete.

ONLY do lime applications if your soil tests show too acid of a soil. Follow the directions.

Forget putting your lawn where it gets shade. Seriously. Moss is only an opportunist; if it is bare ground and shady or stays too moist (rain) moss will cover the bare ground. FORGET moss control. For one thing it is a waste of time and pushes the pH down and grass will always be wimpy.

By keeping the lawn height at 3" you'll shade out any germinating weeds, slow the evaporation of the soil's moisture. You will have the greenest healthiest lawn you've ever known. I KNOW these cool season grasses and this monster called a lawn very, very well. Hope this saves you some work as well![a 'dry' stream ]1

  • Somehow I got into my mind you were in the Pacific Northwest. Check out your sewer services to see if they make mulch from biosolids (our POOP) mixed with sawdust and COMPLETELY decomposed into this incredible mulch. Bark is not decomposed and if you HAVE no other choice get the finest possible. Watch your plants for nitrogen deficiency. Sorry. Cool season grasses are usually the same mix the same management practices. Warm season grasses are way tougher to manage. – stormy Mar 19 '17 at 18:18
  • Thanks for your detailed reply! To clarify, this all started with needing to fix an edge on my driveway which is sinking down into the lawn, which is also sinking. Driveway contractor said he can fix it but it might sink again and the issue is the sinking area on the lawn. He recommended we excavate the area to see why it's sinking and then fill it. He thinks there are tree stumps in the pit. An arborist also told me he thought it could be a stump pit from when they built the house. That's why I want to excavate and smooth it out to be level once fixed. – J Dillinger Mar 20 '17 at 13:01
  • This past fall I added Milorganite (organic fertilizer) very late in the seasons (some time in November). I would like to keep using organic only but I am worried about weed management, both pre and post. How would I handle that with only organics? – J Dillinger Mar 20 '17 at 13:03
  • First things first. This SINKHOLE needs to be fixed, period. How long have you been in this home? Did you purchase it from someone else or a contractor. Go find the warranty clause in your state, county. In Washington state for example, a contractor has 12 years after finishing their job where they are liable to fix ANYTHING wrong with the house that they were responsible for doing or not doing. Unless their contract said otherwise Even subcontractors, esp. subcontractors are relegated to follow the state's warranty clause. More than likely, this is a pit for construction debris, – stormy Mar 20 '17 at 16:50
  • @JDillinger you HAVE to send a picture and explain more clearly. Why are you worried about weeds? I hope I explained weeds are no big deal if you manage your lawn correctly! I have NEVER used pre or post emergent maybe a little of the spot spray for deciduous weeds but that is it. I took care of thousands of acres of lawn and the critical thing was the lawn bed itself and then the correct management; mowing height, watering infrequently but deep, not too much not to little of fertilizer, annual plug aeration managing pH of the soil. Figure out the sinkhole first. Send pictures! – stormy Mar 20 '17 at 16:56
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Use Scott's weed and feed to begin with. In late March spread as much sand as possible. Sand tightens the grass up and suffocates the weeds.

  • No, @Guttercleaning. Sand does NOT 'tighten' grass nor does it suffocate weeds. And using Scott's weed and feed is not at all beneficial at this point. Have to have vigorously growing broadleaf weeds for weed and feed to work...after wetting the lawn. If one has a healthy lawn mowed no shorter than 3", Scott's weed and feed can go the way of the dinosaur. Seriously. Golf courses could use some help, trust me. I know that you got that info from someone in charge of maintenance at a golf course. They MAKE their course more labor intensive than necessary! Unknowingly... – stormy Mar 31 '17 at 20:43

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