Most deteriorated lawns have a built-up layer of dead and partially rotted grass stems, roots and rhizomes just below the green grass leaves. This is known as thatch, and it must be removed before reseeding so water and fertilizer can reach the new seed. For small lawns, you can remove thatch with a garden rake. For large areas, go over the lawn with a power dethatcher, also known as a vertical mower or power rake. These machines can be rented from garden centers. Remove the clumps of matter left by the machine with a garden rake and level the soil by raking it.
If you have had a dry summer with below-normal rainfall, you need to replenish soil moisture before preparing a seedbed. Give the entire lawn a thorough watering, soaking until water has penetrated to a depth of at least 6 inches, then allow the surface to dry for a day or two before starting soil preparation.
If you are faced with a neglected lawn that’s partially dead and is being taken over by weeds, you may be able to renovate it. Restoring a deteriorated lawn may be possible if the weeds and dead spots cover less than 40 percent of the lawn area. Renovation of a weedy lawn involves more than just mowing down the weeds and throwing some grass seed over the lawn.
Water the Site
The best time for lawn renovation throughout the U.S. is mid-August to mid-September. Most weeds have not yet dropped their seeds and there will be little new weed growth. Also, reseeding at this time will give the new grass a chance to establish itself before going dormant for winter. Get rid of the weeds by manually pulling up large, spreading weeds. Follow up by applying a selective herbicide product that kills common broadleaf lawn weeds while not harming grass. For tough grassy weeds, like quack grass or crabgrass, use a nonselective herbicide such as glyphosate on the spots where these weeds have established themselves. Normally, all weeds will be dead within two weeks. Apply another herbicide dose in three weeks to get newly sprouted weeds.
The soil nutrients most important to healthy grass plants are nitrogen, potassium and phosphorous. Supply these nutrients by applying a commercial fertilizer formulated for starting lawns and lightly rake it into the soil before you reseed. Buy a grass-seed blend suited to your climate and local conditions and spread it over the lawn with a drop spreader or rotary spreader. Absent a different recommendation from the grass-seed grower, spread the seed at a rate of 2 pounds per 1,000 square feet on a lawn with substantial plots of live grass and 3 pounds per 1,000 square feet on bare soil. Water lightly once or twice a day to keep soil moist but not sopping wet. Don’t mow until the new grass gets 3.5 inches tall.
Herb Kirchhoff has more than three decades of hands-on experience as an avid garden hobbyist and home handyman. Since retiring from the news business in 2008, Kirchhoff takes care of a 12-acre rural Michigan lakefront property and applies his experience to his vegetable and flower gardens and home repair and renovation projects.
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This article was co-authored by Lauren Kurtz. Lauren Kurtz is a Naturalist and Horticultural Specialist. Lauren has worked for Aurora, Colorado managing the Water-Wise Garden at Aurora Municipal Center for the Water Conservation Department. She earned a BA in Environmental and Sustainability Studies from Western Michigan University in 2014.
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A patchy and weedy lawn is unpleasant and unappealing. Luckily, there are ways you can get rid of the weeds and replant grass seed to have a lush lawn. Before you start, it’s important that you purchase the right type of seed for your environment and you test your lawn so you know which kind of amendments and compost to use. If your lawn is really spotty and full of weeds, you should kill all of the weeds and old grass in your lawn and start over. If you only have a few weeds, you can spot weed and reseed.
If you find that the weeds are recurring past the 6-8-week mark, you may wish to consider using a selective herbicide to spot spray your weeds. Some weed killers such as glyphosate (Roundup) kill more than just weeds, so it is important to not apply these as if they are not done precisely, they can kill your grass. Shop bought selective weed killers will recommend when to apply their product and how often and you should read the instructions thoroughly and adhere to them.
Although this can be frustrating and we can appreciate that a quick solution will be desired, the good news about these types of weeds is that they are largely shallow rooting and should come out with the first mow at the 6-8 week mark after sowing. If they don’t, they should be easy to pull out of the turf.
However, you can get rid of these weeds just as fast as they have appeared.
The important thing to remember when new weeds appear in your newly sown lawn is not to act hastily – do not apply a Feed, Weed and Moss Killer type product of any kind on a newly sown lawn.
In short, here’s what you should do if you encounter weeds in your newly seeded lawn:
If you find that when the lawn is at least six months old and has been taken over by weeds or moss, you can use a Feed, Weed and Moss Killer product.