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How To Renovate Your Run-Down Lawn

Oct 12, 2007
The term "lawn renovation" has different meanings for different people. Many homeowners speak of renovation when they actually mean maintenance - the year-to-year feeding and reseeding any lawn must have if it is to remain healthy and beautiful. No stretch of turf, regardless of how well it may have been started, can be expected to retain its beauty without some attention to these factors.

Others think of renovation as a more extensive program of killing weeds, aerating the soil and perhaps a large-scale resodding or re-seeding of badly worn spots. To still others, it means a total rebuilding, destroying the old grasses and establishing a completely new lawn.

Feeding is simply a matter of selecting the proper fertilizer and applying it on schedule. Re-seeding is a more difficult operation, and one that fails more often than it succeeds. Incidentally, what many gardeners take for improvement due to re-seeding is often nothing more than the improved growth of existing grasses following an application of fertilizer.

The widespread practice of tossing on loose seed in spring, without much further attention, is good for the business of the seedsman, but does little for the lawn's condition. If the seed sprouts, the seedlings are usually smothered out by existing grasses as they make their first flush of new growth after a spring feeding. Even where the old lawn is thin enough to allow sun and air to reach the newly-sown seeds, a regular watering program must be followed faithfully if the seedlings are not to perish long before they can establish a crown.

Insurance Device

A tool for partially overcoming this difficulty was brought to my attention by Dr. William Daniel of Purdue. This is a device made up of closely-spaced disks that rotate on an axle. The disks have teeth that chew up (scarify) the surface of a soil to a depth of about half an inch, producing a loose mulch.

First the seed is sown on the bare spots, without treatment. Then the tool (which is sold under the trade names Lawnovator or Garda-vator) is run over the seed, loosening the surface soil and pressing the seed firmly into this loose layer. I have seen a new seeding fail completely when this tool was not used, yet spots in the same lawn where it was used had an excellent stand of seedlings.

The difference this simple device makes is amazing. My one objection to it is that, if a large area is to be covered, the labor involved is considerable. For touching up thin spots in the home lawn, however, it is the best thing I have seen. For larger areas, various power-driven spiking devices are available, but the teeth should not be too long if they are to be used in the manner described.

Where a long-toothed scarifying tool must be used in re-seeding, the loosening of the soil should be done first and the seed sown on top. Then tamp it down lightly with a very light roller or the back of a hoe.

All In Good Time

The ideal time for re-seeding (as for new lawn making) is late summer to early fall, about mid-August over most of the bluegrass area. If rains are frequent, no watering may be needed, but if dry spells occur, as is likely, then regular sprinkling is vital to successful germination.

Before seeding, always cut the established grass as short as possible, no matter what the regular mowing height may have been in the past. Remember, as the sun drops lower and lower with the approach of fall, it hits the soil at a low angle, so that even a 1-inch-tall blade of grass can shade a tiny seedling. That seedling needs all the light it can get.

All too often, these steps do not bring about a correction of the poor condition, and further action is needed. Before you decide to plow up old grass and start anew, consider the fact that you will not only have re-building problems, but will have to face all of the troubles that can arise with a new lawn.
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