Let’s face it – we’ve all seen “the yard.” You know the one – the grass is dry and brown, it hasn’t been properly taken care of, or it is simply out of control. There might be some bare patches of dirt where nothing grows at all and there are bits of trash here, there, and everywhere. For that final touch, there are always three solar accent lights that someone tried to use three years ago that are broken and bleeding.

If this is your yard and you want to find some easy ways to make things better [aside from taking 5 minutes to pick up the garbage and throw it in a can], read the quick tips below. If you are a contractor, you’ll also find these tips helpful to make the job go quicker, easier, and give you that world-class look that will keep customers coming back for more without breaking your pocketbook.

1.  Lack of water isn’t always the answer.

That lovely brown, crunchy dryness isn’t necessarily going to be solved by reseeding, aerating, and heavy watering. If your lawn is green but has several semi-circular brown spots, then you have got yourself a disease or grubs in the lawn. You can easily diagnose which one – take a trowel, dig up a small section in the death area, and peel it up. If you see bugs, small circular worm-like looking critters,  and other little creepy, crawly things that make you scream when they’re crawling on you, then you need to go get a retail anti-grub application for your lawn, apply it as instructed, as watch your lawn recover in 4-6 weeks.  Try Bioneem® Lawn & Garden Insecticide.  Find it at the nearest Ace Hardware.

If, on the other hand, there are no bugs, then you likely have 1 of 2 problems: 1) your pooch is peeing on the lawn and their urine has a high acid content; or 2) you’ve got a fungus. Problem 2 is easy: you can get a retail anti-fungal application, apply it as instructed, and let it recover.  By “recover,” I mean make sure you are watering it appropriately for your area, staying off of it, and letting the application to it’s work.  Sweeps likes Scotts® Lawn Fungus Control, available at the nearest Lowes.

Problem 1 is a bit trickier – especially if the culprit happens to be your neighbor’s pup. To take preventative action, the best method is to sprinkle your lawn with lime. You can’t burn your grass with lime like you can with other applications and it gives you a big assist in neutralizing the acid in the dog urine. A 30 lb. bag of lime is available for generally less than 5 bucks, so it’s cheap and it works! You just have to be consistent in applying it – generally about once a week, depending on how many dogs like your lawn.

If it is your dog, some extra brewer’s yeast also helps make pup’s urine less acidic. Even though there is brewer’s yeast in most dog foods, it just isn’t enough to make an overall difference and feed pup extra food is just going to make him fat. You can get these in tablet form in many locations.

2.  There is a science to reseeding bare spots 

Many people reseed bare spots when they appear, but unfortunately laying seed in the summer is pretty much a waste of time and money. Spring and fall are the best times to fill in bare and thin spots in your lawn with grass seed.  It is common for lawns to develop bare spots about the size of a basketball over the course of a season, but larger areas need some extra love and encouragement. Whether big or small, following these 3 tips will help solve your problems.

Proper Moisture: This is where most people end up doing more harm than good. Though proper watering is essential for any plant’s survival, it is especially true with grass seed. The moisture triggers the actual germination process of the seed. You have to have constant moisture. Allowing the sown grass seed to dry out in-between the times you water it will kill it. Grass seed typically germinates between 7 and 14 days. Be patient!

Soil Contact: In order for grass seed to germinate, it must be wrapped in soil. The soil beneath the seed is used for rooting, while the soil above the seed supports the young sprout as it reaches for the sky. Soil also retains moisture and heat, allowing you to take a break from watering the seeded areas with the house and do some other things with your life.

Heat and sunlight: Temperatures must be above 40 degrees at night and around 60 degrees during the day in order for most grass seed to germinate.  This is why it is important to sew seed in spring and fall. You also generally need periods of good sunlight available as young seedling needs to create its own food through photosynthesis so it can keep growing. The energy stored in the seed is only enough to give it that initial birthing push.

3.  If the grass is truly dead, then try landscaping instead. 

While having an expansive green lawn is appealing, the truth of the matter is that if it has been killed off once, it will happen again.  Unless you have guaranteed that those outside problems won’t come back for a second attack, it might be time to consider a more varied landscape.

Landscaping Barrier. You cannot make long-lasting changes to a dead yard without putting a barrier between the soil and you. Many folks recommend a nice, simple black plastic. We like Dewitt Weed Barrier Pro, available at Sears.  That’s fabulous if you plan on doing something else within the next couple years. Otherwise weathering, weeds, and simple use is going to create so many holes in that substance that you’re stuck plucking weeds every day. Use a fiberglass infused material. It’s longer lasting, almost as affordable, and less penetrable.

Materials. What you put on top of your landscaping barrier has a lot to do with personal preference, as well as personal finances. The cheapest method is using a basic tree bark or mulch. Rock is also quite popular and versatile, as are different sands and soils. Sweepers can help with installation.

New plants. Planting low maintenance native plants through the barrier not only assists in weed prevention, but also assists in moisture retention, which is beneficial in low water areas. In combination with other materials, you can have a new fabulous exterior for often less than the cost of sodding it again.

4.  It’s tall and out of control.

Working a lawn is just not for everyone. Some folks live in areas that get so much rain that the lawn doesn’t dry out enough to mow it properly for weeks.  How can you safely bring your lawn back or create lawn space under these circumstances?

You have to cut the grass in stages. As with any other plant, whenever you trim or cut it, you should only remove up to one third of the biomass. That means if your grass is 12 inches tall, you should remove only 4 inches of it. If your grass is 18 inches tall, you should only remove 6 inches. Why do you do this?  If you were to cut more than a third you might “scalp” the plant, or cut into the stock. This will dry out the grass, let it turn brown, and encourage weed growth.

Be patient. Good things come to those that wait. When you start seeing growth return from what you’ve trimmed, then you can safely cut up to another third. Keep repeating that process until you’ve reached the desired level. This practice will keep things nice and green any time it’s seen, which is what those of us who keep our lawns want, right?

So there you have it – a few easy, cheap ways to take care of your yard. Remember that any yard, any job, looks good based on the amount of work you put into it. Plan to spend at least 1 hour for small yards per week, 2 hours for medium yards, and 3 hours for larger yards up to ¼ acre per week for routine maintenance. Add another hour per ¼ acre of open lawn.

So go forth, be productive, and be kind to your grass. It, in turn, will be kind to you.

Sweepers are available around the clock to help you with any of your yard work tasks.  Let Sweeps help you make your yard look beautiful.  They can cut the grass, clear trees and branches, spread soil, rocks, or lime, and help with planting.