Lawn Renewal and Renovation
By Melinda Myers, horticulturist and gardening expert
Whether it’s extreme summer heat and drought, harsh winter weather or pests that caused the damage, you may be faced with a lawn in need of rejuvenation or major renovation.
Fall and spring are the best times to renovate or improve weather-worn lawns. Keep in mind that water is critical to get newly seeded and sodded lawns to survive. So be prepared to water as needed throughout this process. Start by evaluating the damage and your schedule to determine the best course of action.
If your lawn is more than 60 percent weeds or bare soil you may want to start over. Use this opportunity to create a great foundation for growing a healthy lawn.
- Kill off the existing vegetation. Eliminating weeds before starting the lawn is much easier now than once it gets growing.
- Incorporate several inches of organic matter such as compost or peat moss and Milorganite, a organic-nitrogen slow release fertilizer, into the top 6 to 8 inches of soil, and rake smooth.
- Purchase a grass mix suited to your climate and growing conditions. You might want to consider one of the more drought tolerant grasses like rhizomatous (turf-type) tall fescues, buffalo grass, and Habiturf® native lawn mix. Make sure the grass is suited to your climate and plant according to the label.
- Use a spreader to sow the seeds. Apply one half the seed in one direction and the remainder perpendicular to your first pass. Check label for application rates. Lightly rake and mulch.
- Or lay sod. Set the first roll next to a walk or drive. Stagger seams and butt the ends together.
- Water often enough to keep the soil moist until the seeds sprout or the sod roots into the soil below. Then water thoroughly when the top few inches of soil are crumbly but slightly moist to encourage deep roots.
Repairing Dead Patches
Repair small dead and bare patches as needed.
- Use a garden rake to remove any dead grass. Spot treat with a total vegetation killer if weeds have moved into these areas. Check label for application rates and wait time to seeding.
- Purchase a lawn patch kit that includes grass seed and mulch. Or make your own by mixing a handful of grass seed and Milorganite in a bucket of topsoil. Milorganite’s nutrients help speed up lawn development, and the slow-release nitrogen stays in the soil profile to feed young roots.
- Use a garden rake to loosen the soil surface and remove any dead grass and weeds.
- Sprinkle grass seed and Milorganite mixture over the soil surface and lightly rake. Or cover bare spots with purchased or homemade lawn patch kits.
- Gently water to further insure good seed-to-soil contact. Water often enough to keep the top few inches of soil moist until the grass sprouts and begins to grow.
- Do a bit more Soil Preparations when renovating larger dead areas in the lawn.
- Remove or kill any weeds that have filled in these areas.
- Till 2 inches of compost, peat moss or other organic matter and Milorganite, a low nitrogen slow release fertilizer, into the top six inches of soil.
- Sow grass seed over the area according to label directions.
- Lightly rake to insure good seed-to-soil contact and mulch. OR patch these areas with sod.
- Water often enough to keep the top few inches of soil moist until the grass sprouts or sod roots into the soil.
- Then water thoroughly and less frequently to encourage deeply rooted grass.
Thin and Sparse Lawns
Overseed thin and sparse lawn to create a dense turf that looks good and is better able to compete with weeds.
- Mow the lawn short and collect the clippings prior to overseeding. Raise the mowing height and leave clippings on the lawn after seeding
- Core aerate the lawn to improve soil conditions and increase seed-to-soil contact.
- OR use a dethatching machine to remove any existing thatch and increase seed-to-soil contact. Rake and compost the thatch.
- Mix grass seed with Milorganite, a low nitrogen slow release fertilizer, is an effective way to spread seed. Mix 4 parts Milorganite with 1 part seed by weight.
- Use a spreader to spead the seeds.
- Water as needed.
- OR rent a slit seeder or hire a professional with this type of equipment. These machines slice through the soil and drop the grass seed in place, increasing the seed-to-soil contact, needed for good germination.
Rejuvenate and keep it healthy with Proper Care
Regular fertilization with Milorganite, a organic-nitrogen slow release fertilizer, can improve the health and vigor of new, existing and stressed lawns. The organic nitrogen won’t harm stressed lawns, young seedlings or newly laid sod. It will encourage slow steady growth.
- Fertilizer Bermuda, St Augustine and other warm season grasses in April, early June and one month before the lawns go dormant.
- Those growing bluegrass and fescue and other cool season grasses should fertilize around Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Labor Day and sometime between Halloween and Thanksgiving before the ground freezes.
- Mow high to encourage deeply rooted grass that is more drought tolerant and pest resistant.
- Mow often removing only a third of the total height. And leave these short clippings on the lawn. They return moisture, nutrients, and organic matter to the soil.
- Spot treat weeds on lawns that need minimal repair.
- Core aerate lawns with more than one half an inch of thatch, those growing in compacted soils, or before overseeding. By removing plugs of soil you break through the thatch and create channels for water and fertilizer to reach the grass roots.
Proper maintenance and a bit of cooperation from nature will help transform your lawn from an eyesore to an asset in your landscape.