De-Winterizing the Lawn

The remnants of winter have been raked away.

I have a very small front lawn. The only reason I have a lawn at all is because my dog likes grass. She likes to roll in the grass and drag her belly across the grass and yes, even poop in the grass.

I created my front lawn in the late summer of 2014, when my building was done but my living space was barely started. I bought some sod on Craig’s List for $20. It turned out to be enough to do half the lawn. I seeded the rest. It grew and, before long, the lawn looked like one nice patch of grass.

I bought a push mower. You know — the kind you push and the wheels spin some blades. It’s a small lawn. I don’t need more. It takes about 15 minutes to do if I do it often enough. I’m thinking of buying an electric mower, but I like the exercise the push mower gives me.

In the spring of 2015, I set up a sprinkler system. In the hottest part of summer, it waters the lawn twice a day for about 10 minutes. The grass grows quickly. At the peak of the season, I have to mow twice a week. Otherwise, the grass gets too long and it’s a real bitch to mow.

Last season, I turned off the sprinklers in the fall and waited for the lawn to go into winter mode. It took a long time, I mowed it once in a while and then, when the first frost came, I put the mower away.

It snowed in November. And it snowed some more in December. A lot more. I went away and while I was gone, it snowed even more. The front lawn was covered with snow throughout December and January. It took its time melting in February. I watched while I was away, looking at it through one of my security cameras. Even when the snow was mostly gone, there were still patches on the lawn.

Frost Burn
My neighbor called this frost burn. I just call it ugly. It happens when a lot of snow sits on the grass for a long time, crushing and killing it. At the top of the photo, you can see where I’d already raked and added soil.

When I got home in mid February, I discovered that they weren’t patches of snow. They were patches of dead, flattened grass. Frost burn, is what my neighbor called it.

I went to California, hoping the grass would somehow miraculously recover while I was gone. But it didn’t. It looked the same when I got back in early March.

Of course, it isn’t as if it was warm here. It’s true that the land around where I live is “greening up,” for spring, but it’s still in the 30s at night. While the grass is just waking up from its winter slumber, I wasn’t convinced that it would shake off this layer of dead grass on its own. So I began raking it.

It was a tough job, especially when the grass was still wet. I was raking up clumps of it. For a while, it looked as if I were raking more than I was leaving behind.

Still, I kept at it, doing a little bit every day. It was a real upper body workout. I had two different rakes I used: my old RV rake (recently used to roast marshmallows while camping) to really dig down deep and a wide plastic leave rake to gather up all that dead grass. I worked on it, off and on, for a week. I just finished it earlier this afternoon.

While I was doing all this, I also removed my half-hearted front walk, which I’d created when I put in the lawn using some very ugly rectangular concrete pavers. I never liked the way it looked and it was a pain to mow over. No one used it except me. Everyone else walked up the paved driveway.

I also finished the “retaining wall” separating the grass from the gravel driveway. I’d started the wall when I put in the lawn, wanting to avoid sloping the grass right down to the driveway. I used local stone — there’s no shortage of it in the talus slopes of basalt rock that sometimes cross the road. I’d go out on my ATV with the trailer attached and load up the biggest pieces I could find, bring them home, and stack them carefully. I’m actually pretty good at it — but that might be because of my Italian blood. (Italians are excellent stoneworkers.) I’d stopped the wall at the walkway, but when the walkway was removed, I figured it was time to finish the wall. So I did.

Turf Builder Grass Seed
I’ve had a lot of good luck with this grass seed.

I then spread about 8 cubic feet of lawn topping on the lawn, concentrating on the low spots that needed to be built up. I bet I could use another 8 cubic feet — but I’ll save that for next year.

I finished up with some Scott Turf Builder Sun/Shade grass seed. I used about half of a seven-pound bag, spreading it with a hand spreader I have. It was important for me to get it done today; there’s rain in the forecast for the next few days and I wanted to let mother nature do the watering, at least for now.

At this point, my lawn is done until it starts growing. I fully expect it to be lush and green in about a month.

Raked Lawn
Here’s a shot from the paved driveway. Yes, I know it looks like crap here — I bet it looks great in a month. You can see where most of the soil went.

I do have a few more things to do:

  • Fine tune and test the sprinkler system I installed last summer. I’d actually like to replace the two impact sprinkler heads with the kind of head that drops down into the ground when it’s not working. That’ll make mowing a lot easier. I figure I have about a month to do that.
  • Finish up the space under the deck. This is a huge project that consists of:
    • Removing the beehive planters. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but now I think it looks trashy.
    • Leveling the ground under the deck. Although it’s mostly level, there are some bumps that need to go away. I’ll be using a shovel, a rake, and a piece of wood for scraping to get that done.
    • Laying weed preventer cloth on the entire surface. I’m tired of grass growing where I don’t want it.
    • Setting border stones between the lawn and the space under the deck. I want a definite divider between the two areas.
    • Laying down pavers. I chose ones that look like a mosaic of stone. I figure I’ll need about 60 of them to get the job done.
    • Planting shrubs between the walkway and border stones. Not sure yet what I’ll plant. Hoping to buy something native that makes berries.
    • Surrounding shrubs with mulch or bark. I want the weed preventer cloth completely covered.
    • Filling in the area between the walk and building with river rocks. There’s too much shade under the deck against the building to plant anything there.
  • Dress the driveway edge with additional gravel. I’ll be getting a truckload of gravel delivered, possibly as soon as next week. I want half spread on my driveway to fill in some low spots and the rest dumped where I can use it as needed.

Retaining Wall
This angle shows the retaining wall I built to avoid the lawn sloping down into the driveway. It also gives you a good idea of where the additional gravel needs to go.

Owning a home is a lot of work. But it’s worth every minute when the jobs are done and you get to admire the results of your labor. And its nice to know that in this case, a little exercise also saved a bunch of money that I could have spent hiring landscapers to do this for me.

But the biggest challenge is not the work — it’s dreaming up ideas to make the space more attractive and usable. Two years ago, as I got ready for the construction of my home, I knew I’d have to put in a lawn somewhere. Later that year, when the building was in place, I had the earth work done to prep for where the lawn would go. I then added the grass and the retaining wall. While the path I added turned out to be a bad idea, it wasn’t so difficult to remove. Since then, I’ve been building on what I have, making the ideas I’ve come up with become reality — which is basically what my entire home project has been all about.

Yes, it’s a lot of work. But I’m loving every minute of it.

Now where’s that bottle of ibuprofen?

2 thoughts on “De-Winterizing the Lawn

  1. Your lawn/drive dividing wall looks good.
    6,000 miles to the east I have been doing exactly the same jobs. My lawn looks very poor too. We have had only one brief snowfall this winter but the nights have been cold for some time. Only the moss is thriving.

    To add to the problem our once very well-behaved six year old dog has decided to have a mid-life crisis and has started digging holes in the lawn. It now looks like a large-scale map of the Battle of Verdun. As I roll out new turf (sod?) he rolls ’em back up.

    • A dog digging up my lawn would drive me nuts. You know, they sell motion-sensor sprinklers. You hook it up and turn on the water and the sprinkler goes on when it senses motion. It’s designed to keep animals away; it might be a solution for you.

      As for the stone work — it’s really exhausting. But when it’s done, it’ll look great. I cant wait. I’m going shopping for shrubbery today. With luck, I’ll come back with something I can plant. Nighttime temperatures are still just above freezing, but I’m going to a native plant expert who should be able to advise me.

What do you think?