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Home Front: Can This Lawn Be Saved?

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OK, so you're not going to win the "Yard of the Month" sign from the neighborhood association. Ever. But the lawn looks pretty good when it's freshly mowed, huh? I mean, you don't really notice all the crabgrass, right? Right?

This month, the eternal lawn dilemma returns: Do you soldier on with the miserable collection of vegetation you have? Or throw in the towel and start again?

Here's the rule: "If you have at least 50 percent good grass, you want to work with what you have," says Karen Carter, horticulture extension agent and unit coordinator for the Henrico County office of Virginia Cooperative Extension.

And if you don't? Starting Sept. 1, you have a month, more or less, to clear the slate and start over. Look at the bright side, Carter says: "I call it a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."

Here's the right way to do a total re-do of a lawn.

1. Kill it. Use a nonselective herbicide like glyphosate, which kills weeds and grass alike and then remains relatively inert in the soil.

2. Check it. Get a soil test kit from one of the local Virginia Cooperative Extension offices and send it in. For $7, you'll find out the pH of your soil and what nutrients it's missing, along with instructions on how to improve it.

3. Fix it. Add fertilizer and lime at the rate recommended in your soil test results. Mix in as much leaf compost as you can -- 3 to 6 cubic yards per 1,000 square feet. "That's a lot," Carter cautions. Till it all in. Grade and rake the dirt.

4. Seed it. Choose a cool-season tall fescue and spread the seed according to directions. Cover with straw or another light mulch, and water, water, water. "You're not making mud pies," Carter says, but you don't want the soil to dry out. The seed should germinate in 10 days. Continue to water for the next 20, gradually watering less often and more deeply.

5. Weed it. You haven't beaten the baddies yet. In November, if you see new weeds cropping up, apply a selective herbicide. In time, your grass should grow thick enough to crowd out any future weeds. And you'll never have to go through all this again. HS

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