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   Past Articles Library | Lawn Care | Grow a Green, Lush Lawn - Part 2

Grow a Green, Lush Lawn - Part 2

Patching, Overseeding or Starting a New Lawn!

Last month we took an in-depth look at grass varieties and which ones would perform best for you depending upon your needs and climate. If you didn't read the article, you can at: Grow a Green Lush Lawn - Part 1

This month we're going to jump right in where we left off, and that was deciding whether to repair your lawn, or replace it altogether. Replacing an old existing lawn follows the same steps as installing a brand new lawn, so if that's what you need, you can skip down to that section.

Also, a quick note about seed freshness. If you choose to use seed, rather than sod or any of the other methods mentioned in this article, that's great, just check the label or ask a garden center person to make sure the seed you are buying is fresh. You want seed that is less than 1-year old. If you use seed that is any older, you risk having a low germination rate, and poor results.

OK - let's get into it

Repairing Your Current Lawn

There are two ways you can repair an existing lawn: Overseeding or Patching

1. Overseeding
This is a great solution if your current lawn is more than 50% good grass and you would like it to be thicker, greener, and more vigorous. Simply reseeding it with a variety that is new and improved will help immensely.

  • Determine The Trouble Spots

    Take a look at the trouble spots and determine what may have caused the deterioration in the first place. Was it too much foot traffic? Shade? Drought? Disease? Once you have thought about this, choose an appropriate new grass for overseeding.

    For example: Select a shade-tolerant seed blend for shady lawns, or a blend that takes more foot traffic.

  • Make Sure the Seeds Have Good Contact With the Soil

    Overseeding is much more successful when the seed makes good contact with the soil

    1. Mow your existing lawn as short as you can, almost to the point of scalping it
    2. If your mower doesn't have a bag, rake up the clippings. This helps expose the soil
    3. Use a metal garden rake and scratch the soil as hard as you can to rough it up and create a good seedbed
    4. Sow the seed at 2 to 3 times the recommended amount on the seed bag
    5. Cover the seed with 1/4 inch (.64 cm) of topsoil or finely ground compost
    6. Water every day to keep the seeds moist until they germinate - letting seeds dry out only once can reduce your germination rate greatly
    7. Allow the seedlings to grow to 3 to 4 inches (7.6-10 cm) and then mow
    8. When mowing, remove only 1/3 of the height; don't cut it too short

2. Patching

This is the best solution if most of your lawn is looking great, and you have only a few trouble spots, such as a weedy patch or a bare spot. You won't need to go to all the trouble of installing a new lawn, or overseeding; just patch the problem spot.

  • Determine The Trouble Spots

    Just like overseeding, it will be best if you take a look at the trouble spot and determine what may have caused the deterioration in the first place. Is it a chronic spot, or a one- time accident, like spilling gasoline or bleach on the grass? If it is a chronic spot, take a look at what may be causing it. Poor drainage? Soil compaction? Too much shade?

    • For spills, you'll want to flush the soil well, to leach out the chemicals
    • For a compacted area, you'll want to aerate the area, add in some compost, and mix it into the soil, and put down some gypsite to help drainage
    • For a shady area, consider patching with a shade loving grass blend

  • Prepare The Soil

    Do the following no matter which patching method you choose below: seed, sod, or plugs

    1. To start, you always want to prepare a good seed bed
    2. Remove any grass or weeds that are in the problem area
    3. Enlarge the area by about 6 inches (15 cm) beyond the problem spot
    4. Dig or rototill to a depth of 5-6 inches (13-15 cm)
    5. Remove any rocks, weeds, roots or debris from the soil
    6. Add 2-3 inches (5-7.6 cm) of top soil or compost and mix it well into the soil
    7. Level it off and then water it in

    With the seedbed now ready, there are three ways you can patch:

  • Patching Methods:

  • 1. Seed
    • Sow at the recommended amount on the bag
    • Cover with a thin layer, about 1/4 inch (.64 cm) of top soil
    • Keep moist until seed germinates - don't allow to dry out!
    • Allow the seedlings to grow to 3 to 4 inches (7.6-10 cm) and then mow
    • When mowing, remove only 1/3 of the height; don't cut it too short
  • 2. Sod
    • Cut your sod pieces to match the size of your patch
    • Make sure the sod has good contact with the soil by either rolling it, or firmly pressing it into place
    • Keep the sod and underlying soil moist for at least two weeks
    • When it has grown to 3 to 4 inches (7.6-10 cm), you can mow
  • 3. Plugs
    • Take small plugs from your healthy grass
    • Plant 4 to 6 inches (10-15 cm) apart - depending upon how fast you want it to fill in
    • Keep the soil evenly moist, but not soggy, for about a month to allow the roots to get established
    • Make sure to keep the area weed free until the new grass has filled in

Replacing Your Current Lawn or Installing a New Lawn

If you have an existing lawn that is more than 50% weeds and is looking really bad, or you are interested in installing a brand new lawn area, here are the steps to follow:

Create a Weed- Free and Vegetation-Free Area

There are many different ways to get rid of any existing old grass, weeds, or vegetation; it really is up to how you want to do it. Here is what I do:

  1. Rototill the area thoroughly 6 to 8 inches (15-20 cm) deep. Be careful of existing irrigation
    This will work in and dig up any existing vegetation, and it will expose many weed seeds

    • When done, remove any weeds, rocks, or debris that have been turned up
    • Do a rough level. Don't get picky about this, because we will be amending and rototilling again, so a rough grade will do

  2. Put down an herbicide or solarize the soil

    • There are organic based herbicides as well as chemical based; choose what makes you most comfortable
    • Allow for the time frame on the label to do the job
    • If you live in a super warm area and you have the time, you can solarize the soil by covering the area with a sheet of clear plastic that is 1 to 4 mils thick. Press it down onto the grass or soil, and secure the edges so it doesn't blow away. Remove the plastic after 1 or 2 months. Most people don't have time for this; it's up to you.
    • While we are waiting for our herbicide or solarization to work, let's test our soil pH

Soil Texture and Soil pH

Before you plant anything, you really need to know what your soil is doing. Your new lawn is only going to be as good as the soil it is growing in. It is very rare that your soil will be perfect; most need some amending to create ideal conditions for grass.

  1. Take a look at your soil texture
    Just about any type of soil - sand, clay or silt - is going to need amending. Sandy soils need it to help with water retention, clay and silt soils need it to help with water drainage. So get ready to add some kind of amendment. How much and what kind will be determined by our soil test

  2. Test Soil
    This isn't hard and only takes a few minutes. You can get a soil testing kit at your local garden center or home improvement center. It may not be as accurate as if a professional soil expert did it, but it will give you a good idea what you need to add to improve your soil.

    • Gather soil samples from several areas around the area where you intend to plant your lawn
    • The samples only need to be from the top 3 inches (7.6 cm) from each spot
    • You can use a core sampler, a shovel, or trowel
    • Mix all the samples together in a bucket
    • Then follow the directions on the test kit. Usually you put some of the soil in the tube, add some tester powder, add water, and shake. The different colors tell you what you need to add

  3. Soil Test Results
    You soil test will suggest soil amendments that are commonly needed in your region. Here are some of the most common ammendments you will need to adjust:

    pH: Most grasses do best in soil with a pH near neutral (from 6.8 to 7.2) Your test results will give you recommendations for proper application rates for your specific soil.

    Low pH: Add lime to raise it
    High pH: Add sulfur to lower it
    Improve drainage or increase water holding capacity: Add top soil or compost
    Reduce sodium: Add Gypsum. Gypsum also helps compaction in clay soils and helps with drainage

Rototill One Last Time

  • Now you have your soil tests completed. You know what to add and how much. Spread the amendments evenly over your lawn area and till them in to a depth of 4 to 8 inches (10-20 cm)
  • Grade the soil, then firm it with a roller. You can rent a roller for the day from most garden centers
  • Water the soil, then let it settle for a few hours. Smooth any rough spots and do a final grade to make sure the area is level

New Lawn From Seed

  • Calculate how much seed you will need for your area
  • Use a broadcast or drop spreader to apply the seed. If you have a steady hand or a small area, you can sow the seed by hand
  • Cover the seed with a thin layer of topsoil or compost, about 1/4 inch (.64 cm) deep
  • Water and keep moist. Don't allow the topsoil or seeds to dry out, so you may need to water lightly 3 to 4 times a day until the grass is established
  • Allow the grass to get about 3 to 4 inches (7.6-10 cm) high and then mow

New Lawn From Sod

  • Water the lawn site a few days before your sod arrives to allow the soil surface to be moist but not soggy
  • Start laying your sod near a straight edge like a sidewalk or driveway
  • If you have an irregular shape, draw a straight line with string or lime to give yourself a straight starting point
  • With each successive strip, make sure you butt the ends tightly against one another so both the ends and the edges are snug against one another
  • Repeat this, and then fill in odd spots until you have filled in your lawn
  • Roll the sod with a water-filled roller (you can rent these from most garden centers) to make sure there is good contact between the sod and the soil
  • Water in and keep moist for at least the first two weeks

New Lawn From Plugs or Sprigs

  • Some lawns, such as St. Augustine, don't produce seed, so you can only start from sod, plugs or sprigs
  • Plant plugs and sprigs in the spring
  • Make sure your soil is moist, but not soggy
  • Plant 4 to 6 inches (10-15 cm) apart, depending upon the size of the plugs / sprigs and the type of grass
  • Sprigs can actually be broadcast evenly over the soil by hand, then covered with soil, rolled lightly and kept moist till they germinate
  • Plant plugs in a checker board pattern to help them grow in evenly
  • Firm the soil around the plugs so the crowns are level with the ground
  • Roll plugs in just as you would for sod
  • Water and keep moist for 2 weeks

Maintaining Your Lawn

It can take up to two years for a new lawn to become fully established. Whether it's been started by seed, sod, or plugs, you need to maintain it carefully.

Keep off the grass for the first few weeks, and avoid heavy traffic for a few months.

For the first months, keep any new lawn moist.

Avoid mowing until the new grass is at least 3 to 4 inches (7.6-10 cm) tall. Mow on a dry day, if possible, and make sure you mower blade is nice and sharp so you don't tear or rip up the new grass.

You can fertilize for the first time about 1 month after planting. Use half the recommended rate. From then on, you can fertilize regularly, following the directions on the bag.

I can't stress doing this step enough. Out of all the things you can do to ensure a healthy, green lawn, this is the one step you don't want to skip! Composting can be done 2 or 3 times a year once the lawn has been established. Organic matter decomposes in the soil, even if you heavily amended when you installed your lawn, so a couple of times a year, put down about 1/4 inch (.64 cm) thick layer of compost across the top or your lawn and water in. This will help keep your lawn green and lush, and the soil healthy. To see a tutorial about this go to: How To Compost Your Lawn

Weeds and Disease:
Keep an eye out for any weeds or disease. Wind can blow in weed seeds and pests, and diseases can pop up anytime due to climate and weather changes, so pay attention so you can take care of any problems quickly.

Maintenace Calender

Most of us don't really have a proactive lawn care calendar. We tend to react. Opps - the lawn looks yellow, I better fertilize! Opps - the lawn looks dry, I better water! You know how it is.

Now all lawns differ somewhat in the timing of certain tasks, but the following chart will give you some general guidelines to keep in mind during the year to help you with your lawn maintenance. You won't need to do everything listed, thankfully, it's here simply to help keep you on track.

Lawn Care Calendar

    Cool-Season Grasses

  Early Spring
  • Examine lawn for signs of insects or diseases
  • Mow whenever the grass height increases by one-third
  • Aerate if necessary
  • Establish new lawns or patch bare spots of existing lawns
  • Fertilize or compost
  • Treat lawns with a preemergence herbicide for weeds such as: crabgrass, dandelions, or purslane

  Late Spring
  • Examine lawn for signs of insects or diseases
  • Raise the mower deck and cut grass higher to enhance stress tolerance for warmer weather
  • Fertilize or compost
  • Water deeply as neccessary
  • If broadleaf weeds are a problem, apply postemergence broadleaf herbicide
  • Use a grass catcher on mower to reduce thatch and spreading weed seeds
  • Edge and trim as needed

  Early Fall
  • If the thatch layer is deeper than 1/2 inch (1.3 cm), dethatch
  • Fertilize or compost
  • Sow new cool-season lawns or reseed bare patches in existing lawns

  Late Fall
  • Continue mowing and removing no more than one-third

    Warm-Season Grasses

  Early Spring
  • Apply preemergence herbicide
  • Feed if grass has greened up

  Late Spring
  Or as soon as grass has broken dormancy, greened up, and is actively growing
  • Examine lawn for signs of insects or diseases
  • Aerate and dethatch
  • Mow at a lower height to remove brown grass blade tips
  • Fertilize or compost
  • Apply postemergence herbicide for broad-leaved weeds

  • Examine lawn for signs of insects or diseases
  • Raise the mower deck to remove only one-third of the new growth
  • Fertilize or compost
  • Establish new lawns or patch bare spots in existing lawns
  • Water deeply as neccessary

  • Examine lawn for signs of insects or diseases
  • Continue mowing as nessary, but delay mowing as growth slows so the grass goes into winter well insulated
  • Overseed with cool-season grasses for winter color


So there you have it! In Grow A Green, Lush Lawn, Part 1 we examined in detail the variety of grasses that are available, and how to choose a lawn that best suits your needs and climate.

In part 2 we have looked at how to patch, repair or start a new lawn and some basics of maintaining it.

Overall you should have a better handle on what is going on with your lawn and what to do to ensure you have a green, lush lawn that you enjoy using and looking at.

Happy mowing and picnicking on your beautiful grass!

With over 20 years professional gardening experience The writer has a very real interest in making gardening fun, doable, and successful for everyone. She is a professional public speaker and educator in the horticulture industry.

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