Help! I have an ugly lawn and I really want to fix it.

Goeiemore mense, 

Welcome to 2022!  I wish everyone a fantastic year, and may this be the year that you get your lawn in order. 

Today's blog is for the new homeowner, or anyone who knows that they've not put much attention into their lawns and now wish to do so.  The messy mass of green basically.  Never fear! All is not lost...most of the time.  Please keep in mind that this blog cannot possibly address each and every issue, like thatch or compaction issues.  This is simply to get the abovementioned off the ground and into 'I actually have a lawn' status very quickly.  

The very first problem that makes people aware of the state of their lawn, is that the area is messy. This could be from dogs, kids, toys or simply letting things grow out of control. So, get out there and clear the area of debris. The very next thing to do is demarcate the area that you want your lawn to grow in. Remove obstacles like stumps and over-hanging branches. Try to avoid areas with excessive shade or thin out trees that may be causing this.  And take note of any undulations that you could rectify in the next step. Remove all the mess at this stage.

Dig out the border for your new lawn area. Having a proper lawn edge is like setting goals. You know what you have to work towards. Take this opportunity to move some of the soil from the edging, and fill the larger dips in your lawn. Don't worry about every bit of plant mess that goes along with it. That will be cleared up later. Along with filling the dips, consider digging out any mounds that are much higher than the average level and use that soil to touch up the dips further. So, you've knocked down all the mounds, filled the holes and cut out your lawns border. Try to smooth out the surface as best as possible, using only the soil that you have. Your lawn may not look great at this point, but things like this just have to be done. Just rip off that plaster! 

It's now the time to identify what weeds and grass types you have already.  If you don't know what you are looking at, just take a picture of all the different weeds and grasses, and email them to me.  I will help you to identify them, with pleasure.  Or, you can google until you find what you have and hopefully find the correct stuff. I am currently working on a nice comprehensive weed and grass identification page for you to use later on.  Once you have an idea of what weeds and grass you have, you can now safely choose an appropriate SELECTIVE HERBICIDE(weed killer) to target the weeds and not the grass.  This will be very specific to the weed that needs to be killed, whilst in that specific grass species. Or, use a NON-SELECTIVE HERBICIDE if your intention is to kill all your grass along with the weeds. The specifics of weed control should be dealt with in detail and for that reason I am not going to discuss it further here.  Rather, note that this stage is for removing as much weed mass as possible so that you have a relatively clean slate. There is nothing wrong with manually removing weeds, just ensure that you get the whole weed out with roots and all, or they will grow back.  And, be aware that some will grow back anyway due to seed, root, rhizome or nutlets left in/on the soil. You WILL have to repeat herbicide applications monthly until the problem is under control.  Sorry if you didn't want to hear that, but it's true.  There are a few pre-emergent weed control products available but they are often reserved for professionals in SA, or are sold in large quantities which makes them very expensive. These could be appropriately used after the mass of weeds are under control.  This principle applies to insect issues as well.

Mow the lawn relatively short, only after you have given the herbicides the correct amount of time to take effect. Don't scalp anything at this stage.  You will then be able to asses how much grass you have left to work with. This will help you determine if you need to over-seed or lay new sod(strips of grass).  If you have a 'full head of hair' of the grass that you wish to grow, you can then look into treating the grass for vegetative growth.  You do this by fertilising the grass using a synthetic granular fertiliser like Compo-Expert NovaTec N-Max.  This will push intense growth and you will clearly see an improvement without needing to deal with the soil first. If you do not see an improvement, you need to perform the Soap Test as shown on my Insects page. This will help you to identify any insect problems and you can begin to address them as soon as the turf shows signs of improvement. If you decide to seed or plant sod, now is the time to follow the applicable process for each.

At this stage, and assuming that you do not have any insect issues, you should see a positive growth habit from your lawn in general. There will be small issues such as areas where compaction is a problem or where you have water-logging, or severe run-off etc.  These are all issues that can be addressed during your normal maintenance in future. The important point to take from this blog is simply to get yourself a lawn going and, at this stage that should be the case.   A strong turf, no matter how imperfect it may look, means that subsequent herbicide, insecticide or even cultural practices can be handled very well.

The very next step is to immediately adopt a normal mowing, watering and feeding routine. Mowing once a week should be considered the bare minimum during the growing season, no matter the grass species.

And, that's it. I hope this helps those in this situation realize that it's really not that difficult to get stuck in and fix this. Once you have some control, everything else will become much easier and way more fun!  Depending on the size of your yard, this whole process mentioned above should take around 1 day to do all the labour, 3 days before you can mow after herbicide application, and about 2 weeks for the fertiliser to show significant results. 

Thanks again for reading my blog!

Cheers, Trav.