After a long summer of hot weather your lawn can look tired and worn out. Heat, foot traffic, drought and pet damage take their toll. However, you can revive your lawn and prepare it for the coming cold months by fertilizing and reseeding. Come spring, your grass should look lush and healthy again as long as you take the time now to give it some extra attention and preparation.
Step 1: Dethatch Your Lawn
Thatch is dead grass that builds up when an excessive amount of grass clippings are not chopped finely and not removed after cutting. The accumulation of thatch creates an opportunity for disease and pests to flourish and can make it hard for grass roots to get the nutrients they need. To prevent thatch from accumulating, rake your lawn after mowing if you don’t use a mower with a bag attachment or grass catcher throughout the summer. You should dethatch if thatch is more than ½" thick. Use an iron rake or a thatch rake (also known as a scrake) to cut through and rake off thatch. This will also scarify the surface. For large lawns, you may want to consider renting a walk-behind dethatching machine.
Contrary to common practice, you should never dethatch in mid- to late spring or during your lawn's active growing season. Because it exposes the soil, dethatching can give weeds a chance to take over your yard. Instead, dethatch your lawn in the fall once the growing season has ended.
Step 2: Aerate Your Lawn
Aerating your lawn in the fall will give you healthy grass in the spring. It removes small plugs of dirt and turf from your lawn, allowing water, air and nutrients to better penetrate and nourish the roots of grass. It also increases the speed of mulch decomposition and encourages deep root growth, so be sure to aerate before applying fertilizer. If your lawn is small, you can poke holes in the soil with a spading or digging fork. Holes should be 2" to 3" apart and 1" to 2" deep. There are also several types of push spike or coring aerators you can purchase to make the job easier for medium to large areas. Some models look a little like a manual push mower with spikes or star-shaped wheels instead of blades. For large areas, you may want to rent a gas-powered spiking aerator.
Aerating is generally easier when the soil is moist, but it won't work as well if the ground is too wet.
Although aerating can be done any time of year, it's best to do it in the fall after dethatching or after a thorough raking.
Step 3: Reseed Your Lawn
Over time, grass wears out and needs to be replaced. A worn-out lawn is a target that invites weed growth. You may need to repair any bare patches with new seed. If more than half of your lawn is damaged or bare, it's time to completely reseed your lawn. Make sure you are reseeding several weeks before the first big frost. To begin, loosen the soil with a rake and pull up any dead grass.
Grass seed comes in a number of varieties, but don't buy inexpensive grass seed in bulk. You may think quantity is better than quality, but bulk seed often contains unwanted filler material that can lead to weeds and unwanted grasses. Instead, look for quality. Read seed package labels to find seed blends that have disease-resistant properties, high germination rates and low levels of inert matter.
Choose the appropriate grass seed for your yard and use a mechanical spreader to disperse the seed.
Rake the seed into the soil to be sure it makes good contact. To get the grass growing well, keep the soil moist by watering it twice daily. It’s important to avoid heavy traffic on a newly planted lawn, but keep it mowed regularly.
If you need to patch just a few areas of your lawn, opt for over-seeding. Fall is an ideal time to over-seed your lawn because the soil is still warm but it’s generally cooler outside, which boosts your chances of reseeding success.
Spread a thin layer of nutrient-enriched soil over your lawn with a rake. Don’t overdo it; you don’t want to smother your grass. A ¼" layer is all you need.
To begin, mow your lawn shorter than you normally would. This will give the new seed a better chance to take root and prosper. Pick up clippings if you didn’t use a bag attachment on your mower.
Spread seed either by hand or by spreader. As with any reseeding project, keep the soil moist, avoid heavy traffic and mow regularly.
Test your soil acidity and fertility with a soil testing kit. The ideal pH level for soil is 7. If you have a fireplace in your home, consider adding wood ashes to increase pH levels; sulfur or aluminum phosphate can lower them.
Consult local experts to see which seed mixtures grow best under local conditions. Some grasses tolerate heat or moisture better than others, and you'll want a mix that will thrive throughout the year.
Keep mowing your lawn right up until the first frost, but keep the grass length longer than 2½".
When you mow for the last time, use a mulching mower. The mulch will keep as much nitrogen as possible in the soil over the winter and into the spring.
Check your lawn for weeds. Use a dandelion digger to pop them out of the soil, and they won’t return in the spring.
While it may sound contradictory, be sure that when you’re over-seeding that you don’t overdo it. It’s tempting to dump a large quantity of seed on a bare patch, but too much seed can cause a weak yield; too much competition for nutrients, water and light can adversely affect grass growth. Always use a spreader and use the spreader setting recommended by the seed manufacturer.
Step 4: Fertilize Your Lawn
When the intense heat of summer is over, it’s time to fertilize. Fall fertilizing keeps your lawn healthy and strong over the winter months. It also helps keep the grass green and weed-free when spring arrives. Choose a fertilizer consistent with your grass type and be sure to use the correct spreader dial setting recommended on the package. Using a mechanical spreader (it can be the same one you would use to seed your lawn), cover the entire area of the lawn one time. After you finish, be sure to thoroughly clean the spreader with a hose, but do this away from any grassy areas.
Step 5: Water Your Lawn
Good watering habits make for a healthy lawn. With a garden hose or sprinkler, lightly water the reseeded area two or three times a day, preferably during the early morning or early evening. Stick with this watering schedule until the new grass is about 1" to 2" tall. Once the grass reaches this height, you can cut back to watering once a week.
Good job! Your lawn is now ready to weather the winter and grow greenly come spring.
Project Shopping List
Here’s what you’ll need to complete this project successfully.
- Iron rake or thatch rake (Scrake)
- Walk-behind dethatching machine (optional)
- Spading or digging fork
- Push spike or coring aerator
- Gas-powered spiking aerator (optional)
- Grass seed
- Nutrient-enriched soil
- Mechanical spreader
- Soil testing kit
- Mulching mower
- Dandelion weeder
- Garden hose