First House in Denver - Lawn Questions

May 19, 2009

Hello everyone - just bought my first house here in Denver a couple of months ago and I've been trying to get the lawn in shape. It would appear that the previous owner didn't take very good care of it. It's in an old neighborhood in Denver (Sloans Lake). I'll try to describe the issues the best I can without photos since I don't have a camera handy right now. Any help is much appreciated!

The lawn is about 5000sqft, and partially shaded by trees. The front has a steep hill that goes up to the house. I believe the lawn is KBG with what I think might be tall fescue mixed in parts, or at least some other kind of grass (thoughts?). There are still some bare spots also, but they are getting better. The side yard (about 10x30) is mostly bare, perhaps from all the shade, though possibly also becuase it's somewhat hard and compacted.

What I've done so far: Pulled all the weeds I could find - tons of clover, considerable crabgrass, dandilions, others. I also had the lawn arated, overseeded, and fertilized a month ago. Unfortunately they ripped up the grass on the front hill very badly, trying to get up the hill. Really did a bad job. I got them to come back out and refertilize and overseed again last week for free, and the grass on the hill is starting to come back a bit. Got a mower and trimmer, and started doing that every 3-5 days. Watering about every other day, more on the bare spots to try to get the seed to start.

What I need help with:

-The tall fescue (I think) doesn't look very good mixed in with the KBG. Is it a big project to get it out? Should I just try to resod those areas?

-There are some other weeds that keep coming back, like dandilions, as well as some kind of ivy-looking stuff in a few spots. I got a bottle of Bayer Weed and Crabgrass (hose sprayer), but should I wait now since it's been overseeded again recently? The dandilions are the worst in the front yard, but is that a lost cause since the neighbors all have them too?

-Would it help on the bare side yard to add some topsoil? It is compacted, and kind of sandy on the top, so not an inviting environment for grass.

-Any other tips for lawn care in the Denver area? I'm a little doubtful whether it's even possible to have a lush green lawn here like I was used to in KS, but we'll see.


Comments (21)

  • bpgreen

    Tall fescue is tough to get out of a KBG lawn because anything that will kill it will also kill the KBG. The tall fescue in your lawn may well be K31. It's an unimproved pasture grass that is often sold in cheap seed mixtures (especially the drought tolerant mixtures). It grows much faster than KBG and also has much wider blades. If you dig it or spray it with glyphosate, the KBG from surrounding areas will fill in the bare spots.

    Don't spray anything until you've mowed the new grass at least three times. By that time, it may be too hot to spray weeds. Once you get the weeds under control and get the lawn in nice and thick, you'll probably crowd out the weeds even if your neighbor has a lawn full of dandelions.

    Adding topsoil may not help and might cause some problems with leveling. I would top dress with organic matter of some sort (compost, shredded leaves, used coffee grounds from starbucks, etc). The used coffee grounds are also a mild fertilizer.

    Shade is not as big a problem for KBG in the intermountain west as it is in much of the US. I always thought it had to do with the dry climate, but somebody recently told me it had more to do with high levels of UV light due to the thinner atmosphere.

    You may have to water more this year to keep the new grass alive. I have better luck seeding in late summer because it gives the grass more time to establish before the hot dry summers hit. I've had the best luck with dormant seeding. Dormant seeding involves waiting until the soil is too cold to germinate the seed and putting it down then. It sits on the ground (and works into the soil with freeze/thaw cycles and melting snow). Once it's warm enough to germinate the seeds in the spring, they'll germinate and shouldn't need any additional water since the soil will be moist from snow and early spring rain.

    If you've got areas that are too shady for the KBG, fine fescue may work better. Bonny dunes is one mixture I've heard good things about. Round Butte seed sells a custom mixture of creeping red, sheep fescue and hard and/or chewings fescue as a drought and shade mix.

    The main things you want to do are:
    1 water deeply and infrequently (this promotes good roots and helps prevent weeds)
    2 Mulch mow at the highest level you can stand (my mower is set at the highest setting it has).
    3 Fertilize 3-4 times a year

    If you want suggestions for really low water grasses, let me know. I'm replacing my lawn with native grasses that use far less water than KBG.

  • dchall_san_antonio

    Today must be my day to follow bpgreen around and agree with him!

    You might look for a Weed Hound tool to help with weed pulling. It works great of the weed has a taproot or grows in a small bunch. You should be able to find one at any garden center or box store.

    Get that ivy-looking stuff identified by a local nursery immediately. At best it is going to be a problem for you. At worst it will be a nightmare.

    You absolutely don't have to live with dandelions. I don't care if all your neighbors have full coverage with dandelions, you don't have to have a single one. The secret is buried in the 1-2-3 plan that bpgreen mentioned. If the soil is moist at the surface every day, then you will have weeds (see #1 above). If the grass is short and allows the sun to hit bare dirt, then you will have weeds (see #2 above). If you follow the 1-2-3, then you should have no weeds and need no herbicide. Yes, it is that easy. Then you can sell the Weed Hound.

    For the side yard mulch will soften the soil without doing anything else. You might consider some grassy looking ground covers for that area. I don't know of monkey grass grows up there, but there is a dwarf variety that works well down here in the heat. It grows to 3 inches in deep shade, and never needs to be mowed.

    Don't expect a miracle from grass seeded that late in the spring. Summer heat will get to the new grass and crabgrass will fill in for you. If you are interested in having a showcase lawn, it is not any harder than having a mediocre lawn. It would entail a full renovation in the fall with some Elite varieties of Kentucky bluegrass. After that it is the same 1-2-3 as for the lawn you are going to have this year.

    Since you are new to lawn care, you might read some of the other messages here in this forum to see what you can learn. I started reading this forum in 2001 and have had to unlearn everything I thought I knew about lawn care. All I had before was what I read in magazines and books. What you get here is actual experience and feedback from people making mistakes.

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  • jeremywildcat

    Thanks for the replies and suggestions. I guess posting here got me more motivated, because yesterday I went to Home Depot to get a new bell pepper plant for my garden (old one was mysteriously hacked down - squirrel?), and decided to go ahead and give that side yard a shot now before it gets too hot.

    Got a couple bags of Seed Starter dirt/mulch, spread it around with a rake (probably could have used more but didn't want to spend that much), and then spread out a bag of Scotts Thermal Blue Sun & Shade seed. Also hit a couple of other spots that are bare. Upon looking more closely, it looks like some of my previous overseed is starting to come up already also, though not very thick yet. Some previous patches are expanding as well, so it seems there is hope for that side. The dirt looks much more inviting now with a little darker color instead of the light sandy look it had before, and some texture, so that should help. Would bagging my clippings and spreading them around that area next time I mow do any good now that the seed is already down?

    I have heard that seeding in the Spring is harder to get going than in the Fall, but I didn't want to wait that long, and wanted to give it a shot. We'll see if I need to do it again in the Fall.

    I'll probably just live with the fescue for now, and maybe reevaluate later this year. Some parts wouldn't be too hard to just replace, but others are really intermixed with KBG that is otherwise growing well.

    Someone was telling me about that weed hound, I do need to get one of those. Pulling those weeds using a little trowel is hard work!

    As for watering deeply and infrequently, I've heard that before, but I'm having a hard time not watering more often now. I have seed everywhere and would guess that I need to keep water on it. I also have an area where I dug up sod to put in a garden and moved it to an area that needed it, so I'm trying to keep that sod watered well also. Perhaps after I get things established better I can just water twice a week, but it doesn't seem to make sense now.

    As for that ivy and dandilions, what about if I use that weed killer only on the areas that really need it? They are actually doing fine with grass coverage, so they aren't the areas that necessarily needed overseeding as much.

    I'm learning as much as I can about lawn care. I always helped take care of my parents lawn which always looked great, so it's a big change to have my own, and have it not look how I'd like it to.

  • Gags


    Just a few comments on your posts:

    1. "As for that ivy and dandilions, what about if I use that weed killer only on the areas that really need it?"
    Wanted to pass along a big "thank you!" from your friendly local environment. Too often people just starting out with lawn care see a bag of weed and feed, and spread that everywhere, or just attach a hose to a bottle and cover the entire lawn to kill 5 dandelions in the corner.

    If your newly seeded grass is tall enough to have been mowed several times, then a herbicide shouldn't affect it. So go ahead an spot spray as needed, or pick up a weed hound from Lowes/HD or a nursery. But get the ivy weed ID'd (nursery would be best for this) - generic "weed b gon" may not work on it, so you may need to "upgrade" to the oxalis/chickweed killer (not sure what the equivalent Bayer product it) - the key of course is read the label and find out what product kills what, and then apply the least amount needed.

    2. Watering - Once the grass has sprouted - you can begin cutting back on watering. For that transplanted sod - I don't believe it will need every other day watering for more than a week or so - but I've never grown grass out West, and I don't know how dry or wet a Spring you've had, so I'll defer to others if they disagree.

    3. Seed type - You mentioned that you didn't like the look of fescue in the lawn. Be sure to check the fine print of the label - Scotts has a fescue that I think they intentionally named "KenBlue" to deceive customers into thinking they getting KBG. Since it's a sun and shade mix, I would be suprised if there's not some sort of fine or chewings fescue in the mix. But maybe the Thermal Blue is shade tolerant, and I've wasted your time reading this. :-)

    4. Seeding Process - If you haven't already done so, for the stuff you just laid down, be sure to go over it with some kind of lawn roller - from what I've read on the forums, poor seed-to-soil contact is a major reason seeded grass doesn't sprout. My feeble attempt at an minor overseed this spring can attest - though not putting a topdressing over the seeds probably didn't help much either - live and learn!

    Best of luck with the process,


  • bpgreen

    For the shady area, you're probably not going to have much luck with KBG. The best bet there would probably be fine fescue (creeping red, hard, chewings, sheep). Of the fine fescues, only creeping red spreads out. They all need less fertilizer and less water than KBG also. As for looks, fine fescues blend into a KBG lawn much better than tall fescue.

  • penaddict

    I posted an inquiry earlier about Thermal Blue (in Denver as well) as they sell this in sod form at a local turf company in South Denver. Is this the same? I'm looking to use this for full sun exposure (no shade). Would this work well as my regular KGB I put down didn't do well?

  • jeremywildcat

    So I think the ivy-looking stuff I have is in fact bindweed. It appears that can be controlled by the weed killer stuff I bought, so I'll give it a shot in the worst affected areas and see how it does.

    As for Thermal Blue, here are the details: Seems its a mix between KBG and TTTF.

    Not sure if I want to go to the trouble of getting a lawn roller just yet...

    Here is a link that might be useful: Thermal Blue

  • bpgreen

    Since you just overseeded, don't spray the weeds. You shouldn't use any weed killer on the lawn until you've mowed the new grass at least three times. By that time, it may be too hot out to spray for weeds (the weed killer is not effective when daytime highs are over a certain temperature, which I think is 80 F).

    Also in an earlier post, I said that I didn't think you'd have much luck with KBG in the shade, but I reread your first post and you said it's partial shade, so you may be okay. KBG does better in shade in the intermountain west because of the arid climate and also because the thin air manes higher UV levels. So KBG may do just fine even in the shaded areas.

  • dchall_san_antonio

    Since you just overseeded, don't spray the weeds. You shouldn't use any weed killer on the lawn until you've mowed the new grass at least three times.

    But in this case he has bindweed. I'd sacrifice the grass in a heartbeat if there was a chance of catching the bindweed before it became lawn that climbed over his house.

  • jeremywildcat

    I should probably clarify that I 'think' I have bindweed. It is viny, and has arrowhead shaped leaves. No blooms yet to help identify it. It really has been coming in quickly though, so if you think it could get out of control quickly I'll spray it now.

    Yesterday as I looked through my grass a little more closely, I found a big clump of crabgrass that I hadn't noticed before, or just thought it was fescue. Does crabgrass always have that kind of center circle that distinguishes it? I have a couple of areas in my lawn that are hard to tell what it is, but definitely not KBG. It has a yellowish tint to a lot of the blades also. Really should take some photos...

  • bpgreen

    The grassy weed is probably not crabgrass because it's too cold for crabgrass. There's some kind of grass that I always thought was crabgrass and that looks like crabgrass to me that germinates in the spring, but crabgrass is a summer annual.

    The arrowhead leaves certainly sound like bindweed.

    I hate bindweed, but I never had much luck targeting it with a broadleaf weed killer. I had more luck hand pulling it and diligently going after it as soon as I saw the slightest hint of any popping up. If you keep after it, you basically starve it out, but you can't let it get started. I used to have a lot of it throughout my lawn, but no longer have any.

    If you've got a huge infestation, starting with a broadleaf weed killer and then hand pulling when it starts popping back up may work.

    A few years ago, somebody wrote about letting the bindweed grow, and putting a diluted glyphosate solution in mason jars, then stuffing the bindweed in the jar. The reason for doing this is that since the glyphosate was diluted, the bindweed would absorb more and translocate more into the roots because it would take longer to kill it than the full strength would. I've also read that targeting it with glyphosate in the fall as temperatures are dropping is very effective because the bindweed is busily storing food in its roots at that time. Note that when you use glyphosate, you have to be very careful because it will kill anything it touches, including grass. People who use glyphosate on bindweed in lawns do some creative things like: the mason jar trick; or putting on latex gloves, then cotton gloves, getting some glyphosate on the gloves and running the gloves along the bindweed; using small paintbrushes to paint individual leaves, etc. As you can see, people who try to eradicate bindweed will go to pretty extreme lengths to get rid of it.

  • jeremywildcat

    Well that sure sounds like a lot of fun! I'll give the weed killer a shot in the places where it's the worst and try pulling it in the areas I'm trying to seed. It's kind of hard to pull, because unlike other weeds it's hard to first locate the root, and then to pull it out without it breaking off. Hopefully I won't have to resort to the measures you mentioned!

    As for the crabgrass, the chunk I pulled out was definitely crabgrass, but I don't think the rest of it that is in bigger areas is.

    It's getting cooler outside this week and should rain, so that should help things in general. It was starting to get a little burnt in the back after a few days of 80-90 degrees.

  • garycinchicago

    > "not crabgrass because it's too cold for crabgrass"

    I keep hearing this over and over. You people do realize that it is almost June, and soil temperatures are now over 60 degrees for more than 3 -5 days already for most of the country, even in the north, right LOL?

    Just checking

  • bpgreen

    "You people do realize that it is almost June, and soil temperatures are now over 60 degrees for more than 3 -5 days already for most of the country, even in the north, right LOL?"

    Gary--I think you provided the link that originally convinced me that what I thought was crabgrass was something else (I don't remember details, but I seem to recall that it said crabgrass didn't germinate until summer).

    The OP is in Denver. Not so far north, but higher elevation. So the soil temperatures are probably still below 60. It's not summer here yet, and I'm at a lower elevation, so I doubt if it's summer there.

    The intermountain west is an odd place to try to garden and maintain a lawn. It doesn't get very cold in the winter, so the hardiness zone may be 6, even though we get snow in May and October most years. Denver is at a higher elevation than I am.

  • bpgreen

    Based on this thread, maybe Denver has warmed up enough for crabgrass to germinate. They seem to have had a recent heat wave.

  • garycinchicago

    BP/all (you too Auteck, LOL!) try this link.

    Using the forsythia as a signal to drop pre-M, they bloom in the 50 to 55 degree range - which was a while ago for many.

    It's all dependent on soil temps, and at 1/4" soil depths to boot!

    Here is a link that might be useful: Purdue Turf Tips - CG

  • dchall_san_antonio

    If it is a vine with arrowhead shaped leaves, then it is not grass and by definition, is a weed. For bindweed instead of using Weed-b-Gone, try Brush-B-Gone.

  • jeremywildcat

    Hmm - from what I've read Dicamba and 2-4d are good for controlling bindweed, and that is what's contained in the Bayer Lawn Weed and Crabgrass Killer. It also mentions bindweed in the label.

    Sprayed my front yard where the dandilions were worst a couple of days ago, and they've all wilted and died now. So far so good.

  • jeremywildcat

    Well now that it has finally stopped raining and we got a sunny day, I'm going to mow after work and then spray the weed killer on the bindweed.

    Got a weed hound at Home Depot, man it is great for dandilions, but not much else.

    Grass is starting to come up from my overseeding of the side lawn, so far so good! Also the front is filling in nicely as well.

  • jeremywildcat

    Just a quick update - I finally did spray the bindweed on Saturday morning, and by the time I was back on Sunday evening it was all dead! That stuff worked wonders.

  • organicnoob

    -The tall fescue (I think) doesn't look very good mixed in with the KBG. Is it a big project to get it out? Should I just try to resod those areas?

    With the tall fescue I have, I go around with a bucket mixed with topsoil and starter fertilizer, a bag of seed, an empty bucket and a garden trowel. I cut the tall fescue out of the lawn shake out as much soil as I can then dump it in the empty bucket. It comes out in clumps. Then I fill in the hole with the new soil and seed. This is best done in the fall or early spring when seeds will have a chance of growing. If it's a big area, you might want to consider rounding it up and laying sod.

    -There are some other weeds that keep coming back, like dandilions, as well as some kind of ivy-looking stuff in a few spots. I got a bottle of Bayer Weed and Crabgrass (hose sprayer), but should I wait now since it's been overseeded again recently? The dandilions are the worst in the front yard, but is that a lost cause since the neighbors all have them too?

    For the dandelions, get a Weed Hound and other tap rooted weeds. Use a pre-emergent to avoid new ones germinating Corn Gluten Meal seems to work according to that link, but you may miss using the Weed Hound if it works. Can always weed the neighbor's yards :)

    For the ivy looking stuff and clover maybe reading this blog post on removing ground ivy might help? Probably too early to use any weed products.

    -Would it help on the bare side yard to add some topsoil? It is compacted, and kind of sandy on the top, so not an inviting environment for grass.

    If it's very compacted, it could take a long time to fix it up with just aeration but you should try aerating it. Could be other reasons it's bare so you might want to get the soil tested. If it's just heavily compacted maybe till in 2-3" of compost to fluff it back up and plant new shade tolerant seed?

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