Lawn-growing tips

This one may be a bit tough for anyone to comment on, given that most of you live outside of the arctic circle :) but hopefully someone with a greener thumb than mine could offer some advice.

Our backyard is crap. Or more specifically, the lawn is crap. We only have about three or four inches of “soil” followed by some ungodly amount of clay. During the summer, the sun blasts down on most of the yard, leaving grass growth thin in most spots and nonexistent in others. I tried laying another inch or two of soil in the not-so-great spots and re-seeding. It seemed to work for a bit, but after being hit by the sun for a couple of months, the little grass that was growing dried up… even when I’d water every day or two; the soil just dries up really, really quickly. And surely the impending thaw will drown whatever possible regrowth we may have had.

So… do I just have to accept that I’d need to totally re-do the yard, dig up a bunch of soil and reseed (or just go with the lazy-man sod route)? Or is there a grass variety that I might be able to get growing if I plant early enough in the spring?

It doesn’t help that the dogs have probably whizzed everywhere during the winter (after annihilating the thin metal gate to their dog run)… maybe the pH levels are off? Meh?

We’re probably going to move out next year anyway, but I’d still like to actually enjoy my yard this year.

How much area are we talking about? If it’s something small I’d say just go lazy-man sod route for sure and maybe just try to keep it alive until winter and move on.

Does Canada have something similar to the cooperative extensions in the US? They publish a lot of material about which plant life grows well in your area, and will run soil tests for you.

Hmm, I haven’t measured the yard but I’d guess it’s about 25’x30’ or so. Sod wouldn’t be too bad, but given that I’m moving out next year (and this is a rental) it’s probably still a bit more than I want to spend.

Have you tried aeration? You can rent a machine to do it with from most tool rental shops. It’s usually a good way to revive grass that has been subjected to compaction and has a small soil base (such as you describe with the couple inches of dirt over hard clay). Also, is there a lot of thatch in the grass? Can you run a rake through the grass and come up with a good amount of dead material?

Aeration works best when followed by a good heavy seeding, as the seed will fall into the holes, then the dirt plugs will dissolve over time covering the seeds and filling the holes back in, leading to natural growth. That’s as far as my expertise (gained trying to revive my own lawn from similar circumstances) extends. When I did this last spring it seemed to work great for awhile, until the super-dry and hot August/September came along and no amount of water could save my lawn.

Yeah I removed the thatch last year and aerated with a manual spikey thing… nothing like a machine would do. I wonder if that might help get some grass growing. I think that garden centers/greenhouses around here would probably do some soil testing… obviously if the soil’s messed up, no amount of gardening awesomeness on my part would help.

Perhaps a combination of sod to repair the hopeless patches + reseeding/aeration may save this thing. Then it’s on to figuring out why the small cedars I planted last year are blackening. Just the cold? Meh!?

Funny, I’m trying to rejuvinate (basically a do-over) a nice lawn for myself as well. I’m new at all of this so It’ll be interesting to see how it turns out. I’ve got soil, seeds, fertilizer, and have been watering the lawn twice a day so I’m hoping that the results will be adequate.

Our climates can’t be more different however given that it’s mostly hot and humid here - although it hasn’t rained for months - arg.

I’ve got some reading to do myself. The previous owners had a large dog so there are many dead spots in the lawn (I assume from dog pee). I need to figure out how to revive this lawn as well.

You may want to consult with somebody at a local garden centre on what variety of grass might work for the conditions in your yard. We live in a new development home with a yard much like what you’ve described. It’s clay with some top soil. In addition to the builder’s sod that was laid down, we’re regularly overseeded with a grass seed mix recommended by the garden centre and spread some triple mix over it. The result has been a decent lawn.

It may be the clay soil. We are on our second cedar in our back yard. According the garden centre, the clay soil may be capturing the water and holding it in a bowl around where we transplanted the cedar. We dug a bigger hole for the replacement cedar. It looks like it has survived the winter, but there are some brown patches.

Yeah, the Internet is nice but it’s not the best venue for this question.

What about Zoysia grass you always see advertised in magazines like Popular Science?

This doesn’t help now, but fertilize in the fall. That seems to help more than just going at the lawn in the spring. Started doing that here 3-4 years ago and the difference has been tremendous. But I’m still just getting rid of as much grass as I can this summer and laying paving stone paths all over the backyard. I hate maintaining lawns. Stupid waste of time.

But why are you worrying about the two-three weeks you’ll be able to see grass each “summer” in Edmonton, anyways?

Edmonton sucks. We had -30 last week followed by nearly plus 10 the next day and then -30 again.