Work of art

I inherited this Picasso last year when my wife and I bought our first home. Now, there is plenty of potential, but first and foremost I want to remove all the vegetation I don't want, which includes the ivy in the shot above (but I did see the top answer hereand will be trying that later), and I need to fill in the spots in the lawn where grass looks like it cannot grow, even if it wanted to.

desert patch dirt road

And those are just small samples, representative of the rest of the yard. In the very first picture at the top, At the bottom there is a rocky patch of dirt that's covered with moss, and the dirt patch next to it is actually 1+ inches below the level of the lawn, though you may not be able to tell by looking at the picture.

This is Michigan, and I'm not sure how to tell if I have a cool season lawn or a warm season one. When it comes to landscaping, I don't know topsoil from bottomsoil, but I do my own yard work (mowing, edging, raking, etc.) and I have some diy skills and will be performing the work myself. When we moved in last July (in the middle of a heatwave) I dethatched the whole lawn, but from reading this site it may not have been the right time and I may have done more harm than good.

I know that specifically, I have to do the following things

Plant new grass The area with rocky dirt and moss needs new grass. I don't know the procedure for prepping the lawn for seeding/sodding, or under what circumstances I should seed vs. sod. I have a feeling I'll need to till those rough areas, but I don't know if I should just dig out that rough dirt and replace it with (top?)soil. Also, I'm not sure how to level off the trough in the front yard.

Weed Removal I've been looking at various weed and feed products that I could use to kill weeds and fertilize the grass all in one fell swoop. I don't know if that's the most effective solution to kill weeds and preserve grass, however.

Remove old mulch Some plant beds also have old mulch that hasn't broken down for whatever reason. I don't know the first thing about mulch or putting mulch down beside the fact I'll need a rake.

Update 1

Can't believe it's been almost a year since I started this project! A second kid, additional year of marriage, and 5 more college courses under my belt later, progress has been made.

First off, the Ivy's been removed, the ditch from picture 1 has been filled in, the trees in pic 1 have been cut down. There was a monster holley tree I didn't show in my original post with some ornamental decorations, so for reference

Holley Tree and Co

And that's all been removed. Toward the end of last August, it looked a little something like this:

Progress made.

I had an insanely busy schedule during this time, so my wife 'forced' me to pay someone to lay sod down for a function that was coming up, instead of my original (much cheaper) plan of planting grass seed. I'll post a picture later,

odd sod job 1 odd sod job 2 odd sod job 3

I didn't take one back when they laid it but I don't like it one bit. Everywhere in the above picture where there's dirt they laid sod, and took no care to make it even with the existing lawn, and there's a giant seam everywhere the sod meets the existing lawn. The sod guy said it'll settle eventually, but personally I think they did a crappy job. I came across an article (maybe a question on here) that I can't seem to find now that mentioned different heights people lay sod, some under existing lawn height, some at, some above (for settling reasons). I'm still not completely convinced.

What's immediately next is planting some small shurbs alongside the Japanese Dwarf Maple, and lay mulch down around that area. This is also the time for overseeding, so there's that. Weeds have been cropping back up, those dirt areas up toward the house were wretched with weeds last year, partly because it was bare dirt for a while before the sod came (end of August until late October), now they're creeping their way back in. Time to lock and load.

The next step as far as that sod situation goes is probably damage control and replace the rest of the lawn with sod myself, to get a nice even setup. Maybe I'll try wetting the edges and tamping it down somewhat first and see what happens. My wife suggests I should cut it, and it'll look better once I do, we'll see. It may wind up a question on gardening.SE

After that, it's off to the sides and back.

  • 9
    The easiest solution is to dump bleach all over your neighbor's lawn. Then yours is no longer the worst! (* note that there may be some legal/ethical issues with this)
    – DA.
    Commented Jul 1, 2013 at 21:05
  • 1
    Any updates on how the long is coming? Commented Apr 19, 2014 at 14:26
  • @OrganicLawnDIY done. let me know if you have any advice for that sod situation, pic coming soon.
    – MDMoore313
    Commented May 1, 2014 at 19:51
  • First time I've seen your question. How are things going?
    – stormy
    Commented Jul 3, 2014 at 20:53
  • 1
    @DA. As the District Attorney, should you really be recommending this?
    – Fiksdal
    Commented May 22, 2016 at 22:29

4 Answers 4



There's too much info I want to share to post as a comment so I'm starting another answer. I'm also going to link to some sections of my blog for further reading when you have some time. I've been in your shoes before. There's no easy fix. Some of the things you're saying, questions you're asking remind me of me when I first got started. People told me you can't just do a little something and expect great results. They were right.

Most of my advice is going to be with organic products because that's what I have the most experience with.

I split my lawn up into public/private. Public being the front/side lawn that is most visible and the private is the not so visible mainly consisting of the backyard. I renovated the entire public section last fall. I broke it up into sections because each section had different characteristics that I wanted to monitor but I did all the sections at the same time. Each section is it's own little island of grass surrounded by concrete paths, driveway or garden beds.

Just to clarify so we're on the same page. I would never sod or seed just a portion of a section as I had defined it. As I mentioned in the other thread there are so many different types of grass seed that if you don't know what you have chances are there will be a noticeable difference in the two. If you can't do the whole thing I would recommend splitting it up like I did, front and back.

If I were you, I wouldn't sod this year. As I stated in my previous answer, you need to figure out why you have problems in those areas where you have problems. Laying new sod without solving the problem is likely going to result in the sod just dying next year. Sod is more expensive than seed and it could just be a waste of time and money.

This is what I would do instead. If you plan on doing this you need to get started soon. Right now is the ideal time to plant new grass

I would spot spray some of the weeds to kill them. People commonly use RoundUp or some other glyphosate based herbicide. I used a couple of organic roundup alternatives to kill my whole lawn but you can use them just to spot treat areas which I am doing this year in my backyard.

Give it a few days to kill the weeds then mow the lawn on the lowest setting you can on your mower. This is going to harm the grass and stunt it's growth. Normally a bad thing but this is what we want.

Next, dethatch the lawn to help get rid of built up thatch and expose the soil. You can rent a gas powered dethatcher at most tool rental places. I like to use a manual thatch rake. I don't mind the work and its a different way to get some exercise outdoors on a nice day. Pile up all the thatch in a corner to start a compost pile if you don't have one. It also makes a good mulch for vegetable gardens.

Spread some fertilizer around using a spreader. I like organics because you don't have to be too precise. They won't burn your lawn and they're good for the soil, not just for the plants. There's an organic starter fertilizer available from Espoma that has some added microbes which help the soil. The first time I used it I had to mail order it but I've been seeing it more at local garden center. If you don't find the starter fertilizer go with any organic fertilizer as long as it does not contain Corn Gluten Meal. Corn Gluten Meal can prevent weed and grass seeds from germinating.

Spread some decent grass seed at 1/2 the recommended rates throughout the lawn following the instructions on the package.

It might be too late for a soil test but you can try one of those little DIY pH test kits to check yourself. If your soil needs lime add some to help correct it. I have some general information on liming your lawn as part of my review for Encap Fast Acting Lime.

Get some compost. A lot of it. You want around 1 cubic yard for every 1,000 sq ft of lawn. If you can get it delivered in bulk it's cheaper. Lay a tarp on your driveway and they'll dump it on there. Then use a wheelbarrow and stiff tine rake like a bowrake to help spread it around evenly throughout your lawn. Not cheap but improving the soil is going to be comparable to buying sod. It's going to be better for your lawn and easier to apply.

The compost step is the only big time and money expense. If you want to skip it this year if you're too busy or not ready to commit to that at least get a few bags to spread over the really bad areas. Getting a bulk deliver is usually much cheaper so it probably won't save much money but might save some labor.

Next spread the remaining grass seed at 1/2 the recommended rate over the compost. Go over it lightly with a rake and start watering as per instructions for your grass seed. Give it one good soak to settle everything then 3-4 times a day depending on your weather give it a light sprinkling so the seed and soil around it stay moist.

At the end of fall/beginning of winter give the lawn one more shot of fertilizer.

It may sound like a lot of work but this is actually easier and cheaper than doing sod the right way. You can't just lay sod without preparing the soil first and that's the hardest part.

Next year you should have at least a half way decent lawn and that may be good enough for you. If not, you have time to do some soil tests for your problem areas and come up with a better plan.

Learn about properly maintaining your lawn for next year. Proper mowing and watering can make a huge difference. Mulch mow your clippings helps return fertilizer and water back to the lawn. All the no and low cost lawn care tips I posted on my blog were basically all I did to take care of my lawn when I was first staring. Not much in the way of fertilizer. It made a noticeable difference in the quality of my lawn right away.

One more time to be annoying and add emphasis... :) Sod is a living thing. It's not carpet. If you lay it without fixing the conditions that caused the old lawn to die, the new sod will die too resulting in a waste of time and money. If you insist on sodding instead of seeding, do all the steps I mentioned above except you need to kill and remove all the old grass and weeds using a sod cutter. The sod needs to come into contact with the soil and you need to properly amend and prepare the soil. If you lay sod over your old grass it won't come in contact with the soil and will die.

You need to get this done within the next couple weeks.


Bad grass is usually an indication of poor soil. Find your local university cooperative extension office and send them samples to find out what your soil needs. In addition to whatever lime (to change pH) and fertilizer that is recommended you will probably want to add some compost to increase the organic matter of the soil. May need to scrape out some of the rocky sections and add a compost/topsoil mixture.

Don't bother trying to just kill off just the weeds. Your lawn is in very bad shape. Just kill off all the grass and weeds, amend your soil. Water and let any new weeds germinate then kill those, plant new grass, cover with 1/3" of compost and water as directed for your seed. Best time to do this is in the fall.

If you search there are plenty of instructions on how to do this. Most importantly fix the soil. I'm guessing that corner by your walkway is heavily compacted from people (mailman) cutting across the lawn there. You might want to core aerate your lawn as well. Maybe put a new bed in that corner so people don't walk through it?

Once the new lawn is established look for good lawn care practices regarding watering, mowing, feeding etc and follow them. It's not hard and a little effort makes a big difference.

I know you're thinking it's too much work but it's not that bad. Trust me on this. I tried doing what you're thinking, dealing with weeds and every year overseeding new grass. It's not that effective. You'll be much happier starting from scratch. I did part of my lawn last year and finally happy with that section of my lawn. I posted a few blog posts on my organic lawn renovation if you're interested in what I did and why. Things have been hectic since last fall and I haven't had a chance to post the updated pictures I took but will hopefully find some time this week.

Don't remove your existing mulch. Just cover it with new mulch. Mulch needs to be a few inches deep to help keep soil cool, retain moisture and block weeds. Only the top needs to be pretty :) so let the stuff you have there make up the bulk of it to save you money.

  • Thanks, I'm making progress(removed all the stuff we didn't want there). So, you redid a portion of your lawn, you're just going to redo it in sections? I'm thinking of doing the same thing.
    – MDMoore313
    Commented Aug 27, 2013 at 2:14

I didn't know anything about grass until recently.

Caring for grass is a year long process

Caring for and growing a healthy grass is a year long process. In the south, every season you have to provide it with the necessary amount of lawn fertilizer and preventative or pre-emergent products. Since you live in michigan, caring for lawns during the warm seasons still means providing it enough fertilizer at the right specific times.

Follow your products year long schedule

Just as you would follow instructions for prescriptions; grass fertilizer have directions for year long usage.

It varies on the product you purchase. Usually the products you use will provide you a schedule to follow. If you folow that schedule regularly your grass will flourish by summer's time.

Fixing dead spots

As for dead areas or spots, you just need to rake and remove dead areas, seed them and provide it some mulch. Often some products provide you a seed and mulch combination.

Consider grass plugs

To fix dead spots also consider growing creeping type grasses that repair dead spots by itself. Some lawn types include saint augustine, burmuda grass, fescue,etc. This is probably the best and most cost effective means of doing so.

Finding resources

Also, be best friends with your local home gardening store. They'll often provide you free advice. I look for the friendly elderly men or women. They're always willing to give you nuggets of information about grass.

Growing grass is rewarding

Caring for a healthy lawn is a rewarding process it also prevents weeds from growing.

Best of luck!


Seems like you've put an awful lot of effort into trying to improve that lawn. I think you're in the States but here in the UK a lot of us are moving over to artificial grass or synthetic lawns now the technology has improved so much. I just finished another one last week (see photo).

new artificial lawn laid; dog likes it

  • 1
    This is interesting, I'll have to osteoporosis an update this year, I won't go synthetic but my neighbors lawn is always green so now I'm suspicious
    – MDMoore313
    Commented Apr 21, 2016 at 17:58
  • 3
    @BigHomie LOL. If this is the case, even DA's bleach suggestion won't work.
    – Fiksdal
    Commented May 22, 2016 at 22:30

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