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Apologies in advance if this is a duplicate; I have read some other similar questions but each scenario is so individual that it is hard to know exactly which advice to apply.

My yard, which is all in front and to the side of the house, is broken into smaller areas. One small area, on the shady side of the house, has a beautiful lush lawn that stays green all winter and grows nicely in the summer with minimal watering. The other side, which has no shade at all, has no grass at all and, it looks like, very poor (sandy) soil.

The previous owner (we moved here two years ago) breezily assured us that 'every spring, you just sprinkle some grass seed, get a truck to dump some top soil on top, and that's all.' Knowing nothing about lawns (this is our first house), we accepted that.

Now, with a lot more research and experience, it seems very strange. A healthy, well-established lawn should not need to be reseeded every year. And indeed, the side yard grass continues growing nicely and does not need to be reseeded.

But he did seem to be right about the front - we moved in the winter, and in the spring no grass grew there - it was all weeds. Once it got cold, the weeds all died, and now the lawn on one side of my house is nice green grass, and on the other side it's all brown dead weeds.

How and when do I get rid of the dead weeds and plant grass? And how do I ensure that the grass establishes itself and stays green continuously, like the grass in my side yard, rather than needing to be re-seeded every year?

I see a lot of questions here about how to kill weeds to re-start a lawn, but my weeds are already dead. Can I just get rid of them and plant grass? If so, how do I get them out, and when?

I don't want to use herbicides, and I'm ok with some weeds in my lawn. I don't need the 'perfect' lawn, I just want it to be soft and green in most areas - I don't mind if it's not perfectly lush everywhere. Last year, we removed a patio, mixed compost and topsoil into the sand underneath, and hand-seeded grass. I was pretty happy with the results - there was a fair amount of weed growth, but mostly where the grass seed had not been planted thickly enough. If I can get the same results in the rest of the yard, I'm happy.

I am willing to hire out some of the labor, but people I have spoken to want to charge huge sums to remove the weeds and establish the lawn (they also insist on putting in sod, which is much more expensive, when I am happy with my prior results from seed). I am happy to do the seeding and mulching myself, but am not up harder physical work. What exactly would need to be done, with which tools, so I can try to find someone to do it?

Note that it is currently winter here (south-central NJ; zone 7a), and the weather fluctuates - it's freezing many days, but then gets warm enough for outdoor work on others. And it's unlikely that the ground stays frozen for any length of time.

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I'd pull the weeds now but would still expect them to return in full vigor in the spring because they've more than likely gone to seed before they died. True story - I deadhead my weeds (especially dandelions, plantain. and chickweed) if I don't have time to pull them - this definitely reduces weed seedlings the next year. And yes. a couple of my neighbors think I'm nuts.

Before doing anything else with the lawn, you need to do some research. Not all grass seed is equal, and most certainly not all brands of seed are worth the money you'll be paying. Three things to consider:

  1. Lawn seed is typically a mix of different species of grasses. This mix depends upon your geographic location/hardiness zone. For example, Bermuda grass grows great in the southern US but not at all in the north. Another consideration is amount and type of use - if the lawn will see a lot of heavy use (baseball, football/soccer, lawn games), then you'll need to choose an appropriate seed mix or the lawn will suffer. And finally, whether the lawn is in sun or shade also makes a difference in your choice of grass species. Kentucky blue grass does poorly in shade while perennial ryegrass grows well. Usually, a mix of species works best - the 'Seeding your Lawn' link in Rutgers resource listed below discusses the species most suitable for NJ.

  2. It's important to remember that there are annual and perennial grass seeds! Products that promise "instant green" almost always contain 90%+ annual grass species. These seeds sprout quickly and grow well - for exactly ONE growing season. You obviously want perennial seeds, so you'll need to make sure that those are the seeds included in the lawn seed mix you purchase. (Hint - do NOT buy lawn seed at a box store!). Where to buy decent seed? A local plant nursery or garden center would be your best bet.

  3. In general, lawn seed is one of those rare products where you actually get what you pay for. Buying something like 'Bob's Best Lawn Seed" (made-up name) for $2 a pound will lead to disappointment because of poor species choice and a ton of weed seeds included in the mix, while purchasing something from a reputable lawncare seed company for $6-$8/pound or more will give you much better results. In any case, ALWAYS check the contents (by law, all grass seed mix must list percentages of seeds by species/variety, weed seeds, and inert material).

A couple of resources that will really help you are:

Knowledge is power!

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  • Thank you very much! This is very helpful! I bought my grass seed at Lowe's (not much choice of stores during the pandemic - getting to Lowe's was hard enough!) and they only had 'sun mix' or 'shade mix'. I had read about different grass varieties and no variety was mentioned. Good to know that there is a better way. – user101270 Dec 21 '20 at 21:55
  • You say to 'pull the weeds now' - how do I pull up ~1,000 sq feet worth of dead weeds? Is there some sort of tool I can use? – user101270 Dec 21 '20 at 21:56
  • Glad I could help! As for the weeds, if they're truly dead and shallowly rooted, you could try just hoeing them up, then raking them off the lawn (easiest if soil is just a bit moist). Tap-roots like dandelions aren't dead, just dormant. Those you'll have to manually dig up. I recommend a long-handled shovel if you have one (easier on the back because you can lever the weeds up). Pairing up (1 digs, other pulls) helps. I wouldn't do your entire lawn in a day unless you're very fit. There are some tools like "Grandpa's weeder" that supposedly work, but most require moist-ish soil and practice. – Jurp Dec 22 '20 at 4:09

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