For decades, our large yard had what we referred to as "native California grass." That is, it was green and had blades and was some kind of grass, even if clearly not sod-perfect.
As we got older, we hired a very hardworking yard-service man to mow and keep bushes trimmed. I believe that he came to our yard after doing field work somewhere, because we have been overtaken by a host of weeds in what used to be our lawn burrs, tall nasty weeds, foxtails, dandelions. You name it, we've got it.
We no longer have that yard service. I have asked at a nursery what I can do to eliminate these intruder plants. They tell me I need to cut the yard up and take it away and start over. The size of the yard and my age make this a pretty horrifying prospect. Am I doomed to stripping the soil, or can this lawn be saved?
Marilyn Smith, Sacramento
According to UC master gardeners, it is possible to rejuvenate your lawn without plowing it. Following label instructions, apply a broad-leaf, post-emergent herbicide to rid the area of established weeds. Then, set about re-establishing your lawn.
Soak the area the day before you start this project. Set your rotary mower at its lowest level and cut what grass is still there. Rake and save these clippings.
Go over the area a second time with the mower to tear into the soil. Next, rake the area smooth, apply a starter fertilizer and rake it in.
Then, apply the grass seed as evenly as possible; it's a good idea to buy 1 1/2 times the recommended seed for the square feet of area because you will not have created the most ideal seed bed. The extra seed will help to compensate for this.
Press the seed into the soil with a roller or the back of a flat shovel. Then, scatter the clippings you saved or some straw or compost over the area to hold in the moisture and keep the seeds damp.
Sprinkle the area two or three times a day until the seeds sprout, in about a week. Mow the new lawn for the first time when the grass reaches 4 inches high.
October and April are the best times for starting new lawns from seed. Following fall renovation, apply fertilizer that contains a pre-emergent herbicide the first week of March and again the third week of April. This will keep any residual warm-season weeds from sprouting.
Please note, this fertilizer is not a "weed-and-feed" blend; you're trying to prevent weeds from sprouting. (Weed-and-feed blends work on established weeds.)
Apply the same type of fertilizer the last week of September to stop any cool- season weeds from sprouting. In late October, apply more fertilizer. (It doesn't need to contain herbicide.)
Continue to apply fertilizer four times a year. A vigorous lawn will shade out weeds in the future.
Questions are answered by master gardeners at the UC Cooperative Extension services in Sacramento and Placer counties.
Send questions to Garden Detective, P.O. Box 15779, Sacramento, CA 95852. Send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please put "Garden Detective" in the subject field and include your postal address. To contact your UC Extension directly, call:
Sacramento: (916) 875-6913; 9 a.m.-noon and 1-4 p.m. weekdays
Amador: (209) 223-6838; 10 a.m.-noon Monday through Thursday; email ceamador.ucdavis.edu
Butte: (530) 538-7201; 8 a.m.-noon and 1-5 p.m. weekdays
El Dorado: (530) 621-5512; 9 a.m.-noon weekdays
Placer: (530) 889-7388; 9 a.m.-noon on Tuesdays, Wednesday and Thursdays or leave a message and calls will be returned
Nevada: (530) 273-0919; 9 a.m.-noon Tuesdays through Thursday or leave message
Shasta, Tehama, Trinity: (530) 225-4605
Solano: (707) 784-1322; leave a message and calls will be returned
Sutter, Yuba: (530) 822-7515; 9 a.m.-noon Mondays and Tuesdays and 1-4 p.m. Thursdays
Yolo: (530) 666-8737; 9-11 a.m. Tuesdays and Fridays, or leave a message and calls will be returned.