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Small woman big lawn problem


I would like to create a nice flat lawn from seed.  I tend to think of the saying 'how do you eat an elephant? one small piece at a time'. image

The elephant so far...

  • I've had help clearing out 13, 20ft trees or tall stumps - some had died.  There has been a lawn (about 150sqm) which is overrun with Ants nests and dandelions. 
  • The lawn is not level by about 2ft from the lowest dip to the highest peak.
  • Previous owners have buried rubble in the garden so I often come across this. image
  • I can't use any pesticides as I have cats, foxes, hedgehogs etc in the garden.
  • I don't have much money for this or much time (work very long hours) and many of my solves will reflect this.
  • The only equipment I have is a strimmer, fork, rake and a spade. 
  • There is no access apart from through my house which has steps up to.
  • I'm pretty green to be honest, I want to do this myself, although small in size and frame and stubborn.

In clearing the ground so far, I left some fence panels flat (rotten and kept blowing down) and when I did eventually get rid of them everything underneath had died and the soil was lovely.

From that I have bought some large tarpaulin which I intend to weight down, with some old pavers.

I think (from Google searches) that September is a good time to lay a lawn by seed. 

Can anyone tell me if this will work and what problems I may have in doing this, particularly thinking of the ants and how long it will take. 

Also if I was to invest in any equipment what would it be, if the above will work would I still need a rotivator?  If that is a rotivator, it would only be for this one job, it would have to be light enough for me to carry through my home and I'm fairly reluctant to spend money on one if it's not up to the tough terrain considering the potential of rubble.

All advice welcomed image




  • DovefromaboveDovefromabove Posts: 83,932

    Good morning Nicola image

    How very weird - I dreamt about riding an elephant!!!

    Can you post us some pictures of the elephant (lawn and surrounds) so we can get an idea of the options available to you?

    To post a photo on here you need to click on the green tree icon on the toolbar above where you type your post - afraid it doesn't work for iphones (yet).  If you can't make it work let us know image

    Gardening in Central Norfolk on improved gritty moraine over chalk ... free-draining.

  • WelshonionWelshonion Posts: 3,114
    Beware of using a rotovator if you have dandelions. Where you have one root you will end up with multiple plants as every chopped bit will grow.
  • hogweedhogweed Posts: 4,053
    You don't mention a mower - I assume you have one. Without seeing the state of the existing ground I am assuming that there is some grass there already. I would concentrate on getting rid of the ants and the weeds first. Using a tarpaulin will not get rid of the weeds/grass within the time frame of a few weeks. Personally I would give it all a good cut with the mower and then cut and fill the hills and valleys. Reseed any bare patches come September.

    If you do want to use a rotavator then you can hire one easily.
    'Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement' - Helen Keller
  • DovefromaboveDovefromabove Posts: 83,932

    If you're going to start by mowing (as Hogweed suggests) start by having the cutter bar at it's highest, and lower it one level each week, otherwise you'll just have a mess. image

    Gardening in Central Norfolk on improved gritty moraine over chalk ... free-draining.

  • Hi,

    Thanks for the replies, very appreciated I will try and take some photo's soon when I can get home in proper daylight image

    No I don't have a mower and it's too bumpy to actually mow, I strim it, though it does take a while. 

    In my simple plan I'm upto step 4

    1. Cut down grass so I my cats can see fox approaching (my poor Norman ended up at vets with fox bites around his head).
    2. Get rid of dead trees (it's amazing what you can do with limited tools and a bad attitude) image
    3. Remove smelly pond and rehome frogs
    4. Clear ground as much as possible - brambles, wild strawberries, buried rubble, plastic and old carpets
    5. Kill dandelions, kill ants, kill grass (hopefully the first two will have died back a bit by then simply because it's autumn??? image
    6. Level (this will be tough) but I've three weeks off work in September and as I've said I'm stubborn.
    7. Seed late September
    8. Ask Santa for a lawnmower (one with more than one setting image)
    9. Mow early summer

    Unfortunately I've not got much money to spend this and I was waiting till I had a lawn to mow, (rather than what started off as something like a fallow field with yellow flowers) before I invested in a lawn mower.  I had thought of a hover mower however some of the dips where more like rubble strewn grooves, so I went for a strimmer (I dreamed of a flamethrower - they are not so easy to get hold of and are quite expensive...) 

    I have filled in some of the really big dips (knee deep) and I still have at least one unruly mound to go.

    The motivators I've looked at are on a day hire and too big and heavy to get up steps to my home and through my house.  I would need transport to go and get also.  It would also take more than one day, maybe? I've not done it before.  Should I look harder for other than the obvious hire places?

    If I don't have time this year to die it back, is there another way to do it?

    Or is there something I can do which will speed the die back and not kill the local wildlife (or my Norman).  Though from Welshonions advice I should take up the fight with the Dandelion next, I think a new hand trowel is within my price bracket. 

    I'm starting to think that I might have to remove what's there now - by hand.

    As for Dandelions, they are the only flowers I've had this year image 

    So I need a bit of old fashioned hands on kind of advice.

    With thanks


  • TopsoiledTopsoiled Posts: 113

    If there is rubble in the ground the rotovator will catch on these and not be much use - it will be a very hard job. Rotovators aren't going to magically flatten the lawn giving you a perfect base to seed just by walking up and down with it - its bloody hard work! My advice - don't worry too much about the weeds, a tarp will need to be down for a year  - mowing will get rid of these over time - work on getting rid of the lumps, bumps and dips and get rid of as much of the rubble as possible. If you haven't got a big budget - you're not going to get a mini digger craned in, and 40 tonnes of top soil. Its going to be hard work - so pick your fights so to speak and concentrate on these. Good luck! 

  • cathy43cathy43 Posts: 373

    Personally I find a fork much better at getting up established dandelions, use the fork to lift out the whole clod of earth, then prise out the long taproot of the dandelion. Heard this tip recently and it works image

    Sounds like you have a big area, divide it up into portions and then tackle each bit, much more rewarding because you can see actual bits of improvement. Good Luckimage

  • hogweedhogweed Posts: 4,053
    Get rid of the weeds and all rubble and rubbish. Spray or water with a lawn weedkiller so that you don't kill off what little if any grass you have. Regardless of whether you sow a new lawn or work with what you have got, you will need to level it out. The easiest way is to use the hillocks to fill in the hollows. You can buy some bags of compost/topsoil to help. That shouldn't take too long.

    Once you have it levelled you can then make the decision on what to do next.

    a) To lay a new lawn from scratch you will need to lift all the grass that is there (have you got somewhere to put it?), dig it all over thoroughly, level, firm, rake, firm, rake and sow seed. And keep it watered if we have a dry autumn. Perhaps have to add a hose to your budget. I think that you might need to mow the grass once before winter sets in, again dependent on weather.


    b) borrow a mower from someone. You will be amazed at how better it will look after a good cut. You may then just decide to reseed the bare patches and give the whole area a good feed of autumn fertiliser before the weather turns.
    'Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement' - Helen Keller
  • Great advice thank you.

    Topsoiled, I left some fence panels down and until now I didn't realise how long until you said a year - I had a skip last August and that's when I made the decision to keep the panels (they kept blowing out in high winds), I left lying down and weighted and the soil was fab when I moved them in June this year. 

    I've room on my drive for a skip, though I have to carry everything through my house.  I did this last summer for the obvious rubble and I filled a 8yard skip. 

    Cathy43, since I'm already digging for rubble I like to think of this as not a new job - as a benefit of what I'm already doing.  I think your right about portions.  I can set my elephant into portion sizes.

    Hogweed, thanks I like options.  I'm starting to consider if it is actually salvageable?  I couldn't imagine being able to mow it, however that I'm wondering is my lack of experience.  Oh I forgot I have a hose!  I also have string and pegs so I can pick my best level across the garden, which I can create Cathy43's elephant portions.

    Before it was this will happen because I want it to.  Now it feels doable.  Quite excited about it.  Thank you.

    Well off to work...


  • DovefromaboveDovefromabove Posts: 83,932

    Have a good day Nicola image

    It will happen and we'll hold your hand while you do it ... we like a challenge image

    And lots of before and after photos please!

    Gardening in Central Norfolk on improved gritty moraine over chalk ... free-draining.

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