Preparing your yard for a lawn

Before you do anything, you need to rid your property of all those things that you wouldn't want in a lawn: No weeds, no horrible old remnants of a failed lawn, no rocks, no construction debris, no toxic waste, no junk, no cars you plan to fix up, no dead and dying plants, no roots from long-gone plants. Scrape, dig, haul away — do what you must.

In most states, you're legally required to check for utility lines before digging. So call the gas company, phone company, cable company, and water company if you have to dig. They're only too happy to come out, check, and flag the stay-away and don't-dig areas for you.

After you've cleared the space for your lawn, make sure you follow the advice in the next few sections.

Start with weed prevention

The minute you clear an area, weeds rush in to fill the void. Unless you're prepared to forge ahead quickly, these eager settlers are a problem. But they don't have to be. Consider that if you treat the area for weeds now, before putting in the new lawn, they won't be there when the lawn goes in. Talk about a fresh start! You can kill weeds and weed seeds on-site in lots of ways.

oj^NG/ Cultivating or tilling the area, although it makes you feel like a gardener, is perhaps the worst thing you can do if you want a weed-free lawn. You're sure to dredge up all sorts of long-dormant weed seeds and bits that can regenerate. Instead, if the area isn't too big, cover it with black plastic or organic mulch (rather thickly — 6 inches isn't overkill). Any inexpensive, lightweight mulch that's readily available is a good choice — try peat moss, pine needles, or even a thin layer of ground-up leaves. Straw is a better choice than hay, which usually contains weed seeds.

The object is to keep out light and water and smother any ideas lingering weeds may have of germinating. If possible, keep this barrier in place for a month or even a full season. After the grass starts to sprout, don't be concerned with removing the mulch. Just let the small seedlings grow through the barrier; it'll eventually decompose. Raking it up can dislodge and damage the young grass plants.

For more information about dealing with weeds, see the "Warring with Weeds" section later in the chapter.

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