Re­store a Weedy Lawn


The Family Handyman - - CONTENTS - By Joe Churchill

Is your yard pa­thetic? Re­seed in a week­end, then just wa­ter and wait.

Re­seed­ing is a job you can do in a week­end if you have an av­er­age-size lawn. You’ll have to wres­tle home a cou­ple of en­gine-pow­ered rental machines. And once your work is done, be pre­pared to keep the soil damp with daily wa­ter­ing for the first month or so. It’s the key to a suc­cess­ful re­seed­ing job.

Be­fore you es­tab­lish this beau­ti­ful new lawn, be sure to do any hard­scap­ing or land­scap­ing—such as re­tain­ing walls, pa­tios or tree plant­ing—that might tear up your new lawn with heavy equip­ment or ex­ca­vat­ing. If an in­ground ir­ri­ga­tion sys­tem is in your fu­ture, in­stall that be­fore­hand as well. You’ll avoid dam­ag­ing your new lawn by trench­ing in ir­ri­ga­tion lines and sprin­kler heads, and you’ll have the ben­e­fit of us­ing the sys­tem to wa­ter the new grass. Flag the sprin­kler heads to avoid hit­ting them with the aer­a­tor or power rake.

Get bet­ter grass

Grass has im­proved dra­mat­i­cally in re­cent years, with va­ri­eties bred for bet­ter color, thicker turf or shade and drought tol­er­ance. So re­seed­ing doesn’t just fill in the bare spots; it also im­proves the mix of grass va­ri­eties in your lawn.

Save the ex­ist­ing grass?

The steps we show here are for a lawn that’s at least 50 per­cent grass. Take a close look at the lawn. If you see plenty of healthy grass among the weeds or large ar­eas of good grass through­out the lawn, you can save the ex­ist­ing grass and fill in the rest of the lawn by plant­ing new seed. That calls for ap­ply­ing a broadleaf her­bi­cide, which kills the

weeds but doesn’t harm the grass. It should be ap­plied three to four weeks be­fore start­ing the project. A hose-end sprayer with con­cen­trated weed killer is the fastest, eas­i­est ap­pli­ca­tion method (Photo 1). But if your lawn is hope­lessly bare or com­pletely cov­ered with weeds, it’s best to go “scorched earth” and kill all the veg­e­ta­tion with a non­s­e­lec­tive her­bi­cide like Roundup and start over. If af­ter two weeks, some weeds reap­pear, ap­ply an­other treat­ment to the sur­vivors.

Late sum­mer or early fall is best

Tim­ing is im­por­tant when it comes to lawn re­seed­ing. When sum­mer heat be­gins to wane, it’s much eas­ier to stay on track with wa­ter­ing newly sprouted grass shoots be­cause they won’t be stressed by high heat and hu­mid­ity. Plus, there will be plenty of time for the grass to get es­tab­lished be­fore win­ter.

You’ll be far less suc­cess­ful plant­ing and grow­ing grass from seed dur­ing spring and sum­mer. If you must seed in the spring, wait for soil tem­per­a­tures to reach a con­sis­tent 55 de­grees F. Also watch for weeds! They can out­com­pete new grass seedlings as they both vie for space, sun­light and wa­ter. Us­ing a seed­friendly her­bi­cide is rec­om­mended in the spring or early sum­mer if you have to treat emerg­ing weeds af­ter re­seed­ing. And when choos­ing the starter fer­til­izer, look for one con­tain­ing siduron or mesotri­one pre­emer­gent her­bi­cide, or be pre­pared for dis­ap­point­ing re­sults.

Re­seed­ing can be a crap­shoot. A big thun­der­storm could wash your seed away. So pay at­ten­tion to lon­grange fore­casts and plan ac­cord­ingly. That’s es­pe­cially true if your yard is sloped enough that it doesn’t take much wa­ter to wash away seed. Be­fore you start the soil prep, set your mower to its low­est set­ting and give your yard a buzz cut.

Rent an aer­a­tor and power rake

There’s no rea­son­able way to prep the soil by hand, so you should plan to rent an aer­a­tor (Photo 2) and power rake (also called a de­thatcher;

for about $100 each per day. Lifting them into and out of the pickup will re­quire a helper, but op­er­at­ing them doesn’t re­quire an ath­lete’s physique. The worst part is that you’ll be march­ing around the yard fol­low­ing the self-pro­pelled machines for many, many passes. Un­less you have a small yard, plan to aerate it in one day, then re­turn the aer­a­tor the fol­low­ing day and rent the power rake to fin­ish the heavy work. Day two would also in­clude plant­ing, rak­ing and fer­til­iz­ing.

Aerate like crazy

Aer­a­tors pull small plugs from the soil and de­posit them on the sur­face (Photo 2). That loosens the soil, mak­ing it eas­ier for roots to grow deep into the soil. The plugs will be pul­ver­ized in the next step, power rak­ing (Photo 3), to form loose soil for the seeds to ger­mi­nate in. The holes you cre­ate will al­low fer­til­izer and wa­ter to pen­e­trate deep into the soil for bet­ter re­ten­tion. When you’re us­ing a core aer­a­tor to pre­pare soil for re­seed­ing, the key is to make at least three passes—more if you have the stamina—each from a dif­fer­ent di­rec­tion.

Next step: power rak­ing

Power rakes spin metal tines at high speed to scar­ify and loosen the soil as well as break up the aer­a­tor plugs. They also lift thatch from your lawn. Go over the whole lawn from two di­rec­tions, then rake up and re­move dead de­bris if it com­pletely cov­ers the ground and would pre­vent seed from con­tact­ing the soil.

Choose the right spreader

In most cases, a broad­cast spreader (Photo 5) is the best choice be­cause it evenly dis­trib­utes seed or fer­til­izer for thor­ough cov­er­age. If you have a large yard bor­dered by flower beds or veg­etable gar­dens, use a drop spreader (Photo 4) to spread the seed near them be­fore do­ing the ma­jor­ity of the yard with a broad­cast spreader. Since the seed drops straight down, you won’t be casting grass seed in your gar­dens by mis­take.

Which­ever spreader you use, set the feed rate at half (or less) of the rec­om­mended rate. When us­ing the drop spreader around bor­der gar­dens, over­lap sub­se­quent passes slightly for more even seed distri­bu­tion. But when us­ing the broad­cast or drop spreader for the open ar­eas, make two or more passes from dif­fer­ent di­rec­tions for even distri­bu­tion. This is es­pe­cially true when you’re us­ing a drop spreader so you don’t wind up with a striped lawn. If you don’t own a broad­cast spreader, buy one—don’t rent it. You’ll need it to keep your new lawn in tip-top shape af­ter it’s es­tab­lished.

Sow the seed

Ap­ply­ing too much or too lit­tle seed is a mis­take. Here is a lit­tle hands-and-knees ob­ser­va­tion to let you know if you’re ap­ply­ing the right amount. Pic­ture a square inch of area on a freshly seeded area and count the seeds. Strive to

get about 15 or so seeds per square inch. Af­ter spread­ing, lightly rake the seed into the soil for good con­tact. It doesn’t have to be com­pletely buried. Some of the seed can still be show­ing.

Fer­til­ize with a starter

Fer­til­iz­ers used to con­tain ni­tro­gen, phos­pho­rus and potas­sium. But due to wa­ter pol­lu­tion con­cerns, many states no longer al­low phos­pho­rus in or­di­nary lawn fer­til­iz­ers. How­ever, phos­pho­rus is very help­ful for root de­vel­op­ment, so it’s im­por­tant for start­ing new seed. At the gar­den cen­ter, look for fer­til­izer la­beled “Starter” or “New Lawns.” Your state may al­low its sale for es­tab­lish­ing new lawns or in gar­dens.

Wa­ter, wa­ter, wa­ter

An os­cil­lat­ing sprin­kler works best for get­ting your lawn started. It cov­ers a large area with even, light streams of wa­ter to pre­vent wash­ing away seed. You’ll only need to wa­ter for about 20 min­utes at a time de­pend­ing on your soil type. Un­less it rains, you’ll likely need to wa­ter at least twice daily. On hot or windy days, you may need to wa­ter even more fre­quently.

Closely mon­i­tor the soil to keep it damp, not sat­u­rated. Strive to main­tain soil damp­ness to a depth of about 1/2 in. You’ll need to do this for at least three weeks. If you’re not dili­gent, you may throw away all your hard work and money. One dry, hot sunny day is all it takes to wipe out a new lawn. A $25 timer for your hose, avail­able at any gar­den or home cen­ter, might be help­ful if you can’t be home to wa­ter as needed. Af­ter the grass is 3 in. high, you can start mowing and be­gin a nor­mal wa­ter­ing regime.

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