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PostPosted: Tue Jan 24, 2012 8:48 am 
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I have a 3 year old house in Hutto that originally had Bermuda sod installed in the front yard and bare dirt left in the back by the builder. The previous owner (owned for one year) never touched the back yard and for the most part left the front to fend for itself. As a result, I've spent the last two years nursing the front lawn back to health organicaly and eliminating the weeds that were once close to 75% of the lawn. Did I mention up until 6 months ago I had bare lots on either side that blew all kinds of weeds over? Its been very slow going, and as a new homeowner my lawn budget has been limited but I'm hoping to really see the work pay off this spring.

My problem now is the back yard. I generally do the same to it as the front in regards to amendments, aeration, mowing, etc. But I have been left with approx. 2,500 sq/ft of all varieties of weeds. You name it, its back there. The soil is hard and compacted from the drought (one go of core aeration last spring) and there are patches of pebbley areas where I guess the dirt the builder left has washed/blown away despite the weeds.

I am very interested in the new native seed mix from the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center called "Habiturf" and would like to seed the entire yard with it (not availible in sod). Any thoughts on this seed mix?

How do I tackle preparing the yard for seed? After some reading it seems you can either scrape off the top layer weeds and all, solarize, or use some type of herbacide. I can rent a sod cutter to scrape but dont have a good way to dispose of the dirt/weeds, its really too large to solarize, and I've used Howard's vinegar herbicide on a small area but with limited results. I'm fearful tilling the soil will just germinate the existing weed seeds. I'm wondering if it wouldn't be worth it just to hire someone to come with a crew and do it. If that's the way to go, does anyone know of a reputible (preferrably organic) company in the Austin area that provides this type of service?


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PostPosted: Tue Jan 24, 2012 4:01 pm 
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Almost forgot... FULL sun all day except for the small shadow of my single story house as the sun is setting in front. I also have one "TexAsh" tree, less than 3" diameter which really dosent cast any shadow worth talking about. The majority of the back yard sees no shade whatsoever.


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PostPosted: Tue Jan 24, 2012 10:06 pm 
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Good that you have an open mind about what to use. The Habiturf might work well for you. As you already know it is a mix of prairie grasses which look good when blended together and mowed. Common buffalo, blue grama, and curly mesquite (grass, not tree) would make a good mix when seeded heavily enough to make a statement. Common buffalo tends to revert to that look you see along side of the highway - thin turf. Blue grama is the work horse of the three. It can look very nice when mowed provided you have full sun, which you do. It will not do well near solid fences, trees, or shrubs.

I was just at Douglas King Seeds last Monday talking about alternative grasses for rural locations, and they never mentioned Habiturf. Maybe because I'm 200 miles south of you where it is considerably warmer in the summer. Blue grama apparently doesn't like persistent heat.

Whatever you do, do not follow the Lady Bird Johnson website's advice for soil prep for your lawn. They say to do the following...

Quote:
A well-textured, well-drained soil is essential for long-term lawn success. Normally, after construction, developers spread a couple of inches of imported soil over soil compacted by heavy construction machinery. A sustainable lawn needs deep roots, so rip, rotovate or disk your soil to at least 8 inches - the deeper the better. Then incorporate a ½ inch layer of living compost with a low nitrogen and low phosphorus content into the top 3 inches of your prepared soil. Ask your local plant nursery for recommendations. DO NOT use tree bark, wood shavings or mulch. Grass won't grow in this. The soil surface should be finished to a fine granular texture and free from large stones. Note: If you are on undisturbed, uncompacted native soils then till lightly and add ¼ inch compost into the top 1 inch or alternatively add a compost tea.


The first sentence is true but the way you get there is by not following the rest of the directions. "Normally," a contractor does NOT import any soil UNLESS there is a requirement to adjust for proper drainage. Importing soil has nothing to do with soil structure or compaction - only drainage. Normally, there is no compaction UNLESS they drove heavy equipment over the soil during rainy periods. The soil might be hard but hard is normal and can be fixed without ripping, rotovating, rototilling, or disking the soil. Certainly deeper is NOT better.

Then, contrary to extremely popular opinion, rototilling compost into the top three inches of soil is a waste of expensive compost and will leave you with the most unpleasant, bumpy, surface to walk/mow on. At worst, if your compost was not fully decomposed, it will require additional nitrogen to decompose and nothing will grow in it for a year or longer. Just avoid that issue by using compost only on the top surface of the soil. I would suggest no compost at all unless you suspect your soil of having been poisoned.

And lastly, to completely contradict everything they say, 99.99% of all soil is not compacted, including yours, so get that off your mind. Hard soil and compacted soil are two very different things. And regardless of your soil, do not till lightly and add 1/4 inch of compost. Again it is a waste of compost and the tilling will leave you with a bumpy surface. You will never catch a legitimate landscaper using a rototiller. That tool is for gardeners (who, in my opinion, are misusing it, too). It is definitely not for lawns.

What should you do instead? You should pay a landscaper to bring a tractor (not a Bobcat) with a box blade (also known as a landscaper's blade) to resurface your soil. That process will scrape the top inch of soil and incorporate the weeds into it. He will also adjust to perfect your drainage. He may need more soil or may need to remove soil. He'll try to work with what you have because hauling soil around is not very profitable. A good driver will be able to cover about 5 acres in a morning as long as there are no trees, concrete, or sprinklers to worry about. What takes the time is redoing someone's mess. This is a photo of what a tractor and box blade looks like and the results.

Image

When the tractor leaves your soil is ready. Sow the seed and roll it down with a water filled roller. You have enough water in the roller when you can walk behind it and not leave your own foot prints. The roller will not compact your soil. Compaction is the technical term for when all the air has been driven out of the soil by mechanical action. The only way to drive all the air out of soil is to saturate the soil with water and then plunge a herd of livestock hooves into it. The soil around a cattle tank is often compacted but the soil 10 feet away is not. Only the water-saturated soil can be compacted. But note that if you have rain soaked soil and you drive your car over it over and over, you can compact your soil in that one spot.

What you may or may not have is hard soil. Soil gets hard when the population of beneficial fungi dies off from drought and basic neglect. You can reestablish the fungi by providing continual moisture to the soil for several weeks. The easiest way to do this is to spray it with soap as a wetting agent and allowing regular irrigation to soak in much deeper than normal. Spray the yard with 3 ounces per 1,000 square feet of generic baby shampoo, then irrigate a full inch of water. Water normally the next week and repeat the soap in 2 weeks. That should do it. Your soil will hold moisture longer and deeper providing the moisture the fungi need to reestablish themselves. I used to have a long process using a soaker hose but the soap works much easier and faster. Shampoos work well because they never have any antibacterial agents in them. Generic baby shampoo is good because they skimp on the fancy/harsh detergents. When this is working you will notice that right after you irrigate, the soil will become very soft to walk on. Then a few days later it will be come very hard but the grass will remain healthy looking for several more days or weeks (in the cool season).

After you roll the seed down, water it lightly for a few minutes, several times a day, for 3 weeks. When you think you have 80% of the grass seed germinated, then you can start backing off on the watering frequency and going up on the duration. The way you develop deep grass roots is by watering for a long time but not very often. Grass roots will dive deeper looking for moisture when they cannot get it at the surface. Eventually you should be watering one inch all at one time. With those grasses you can probably go most of the winter without watering but I would advise you to water monthly to take care of your soil microbes. In the summer you can likely go 2 weeks between watering to keep the grasses from going dormant. Try stretching it out longer between watering. One way to damage those prairie grasses is to over water them. Then you will see it thin out and weeds coming in.

Your bermuda in the front may have shade issues. If your back yard is full sun, then your front must have a house in the way. You might consider a bermuda look alike called Shadow Turf. It is a variety of zoysia that does very well even in deep shade. Also you should be watering this time of year about once a month increasing in frequency to weekly in July and August. If the drought persists you might have to go to a 5-day cycle to keep it going. Watering more frequently than that will give you a weedy lawn.

I know this is more than you asked for but the mistakes on that Lady Bird wildflower page were just too much to ignore. Very poor advice there on lawns.

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PostPosted: Wed Jan 25, 2012 8:49 am 
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WOW! Thanks so much for all the great info! I have a few more questions.
I'm so glad to hear that I shouldn't be tilling, it just seemed like such a large amount of work for the potential of more weeds and an uneaven surface. I'm going to start calling for estimates to bring the tractor out, do you have any one you can reccomend?

All I can find on when to sow is "early spring", I assume this means late February for central texas right?

Are amendments worth my time or money? Rock powders and sands, molasses, etc. I would imagine it might be easier to put them out with a clean slate or should I wait until the grass is established?

Would compost TEA or Garrett Juice be helpful? Now or later?

Last, I think the baby shampoo sounds like exactly what is needed, but I'm unsure on the timing. My guess was to start that now while I wait for the weather to warm up, then have the tractor out and sow. Or should I wait until the lawn is established?

Thanks again for the help, its too bad the Lady Bird Center dosent have realistic information on their website. That's why I love these forums so much!


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PostPosted: Wed Jan 25, 2012 11:12 pm 
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I can't help you with seed timing for prairie grass, but call Douglas King Seeds in San Antonio. They will know how well early spring will work. Spring is generally the worst time of year for seeding lawn grass, but you missed the fall. The problem with spring seeding is the summer annual weeds (crabgrass) are going to sprout and cover faster/better than your target species. Mention this concern in your call to Douglas King.

As for amendments: the reason people grow prairie grasses is they need no amendments...at all. This includes compost tea and Garrett Juice. I would even hesitate to spray molasses. If you feel like you need to do something, spray molasses when you water. Do that a few times and repeat a couple times per season to keep your soil microbes happy. The rate is 3 ounces per 1,000 square feet - just like the soap. Most sprays go on at the same rate. It equals 1 gallon per acre if you have a large area. This would take the place of compost tea or Garrett Juice. I guess I would wait until the grass is established to start with molasses. Those grasses really like to be neglected except for occasional mowing.

One of the side effects of using drought resistant grasses is your soil microbiology suffers from the dry soil. That's why I suggest the molasses occasionally. You won't be watering enough to keep a really robust population of fungi, for example. Those are the guys which keep your soil soft and sponge like. Out in a prairie setting they will be mixed with legumes which bring nitrogen into the soil and have other benefits. You won't have that.

As for the LBJ website - what I have to say is based on what I've learned in these and other forums for the past 10 years. For anyone who has not seen thousands of lawns through the eyes of others, they might find it easy to read a magazine and get advice from them. Magazines are the worst. On these forums I've read thousands of messages and probed deeper into why things happen the way they do. I've had some knock down/drag out arguments with folks and I lost. I used to believe in chemicals, mowing short, bagging clippings, tilling, and frequent watering. It doesn't work. Even compost seems to have less and less effect on lawns the longer you are on an organic feeding program. I wrote the Organic Lawn Care FAQ back some time ago. It has been responsible for tens of thousands of people trying an organic program. I am a moderator on another forum where all the moderators happen to be organic. They all started after reading the Organic Lawn Care FAQ. And I must say some of the people there are going deeper into it and getting results I never dreamed of. Just to summarize the last decade of results with organic fertilizers - more is better and a lot more is a lot better. That advice applies up to the rate of over 1,000 pounds per 1,000 square feet applied over the season. This advice does NOT apply to compost. More is not better with compost on a lawn. You can smother a lawn with 1/2 inch of compost.

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PostPosted: Mon Mar 12, 2012 10:17 pm 
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Hey lets see pictures of before an after. :roll:


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PostPosted: Fri Mar 16, 2012 7:55 am 
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I am considering trying Habiturf in Austin area. My biggest concern is the speed of establishment. I have been given a window of about two months. Needs to look good when viewed from a vehicle at 15 mph after that. Does anyone have any experience with timing and establishment?

Thank you.


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PostPosted: Tue Jun 12, 2012 11:16 am 
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Any after pictures? I'm interested to see how the seed did.


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