One of the hardest decisions (and jobs) when it comes to your lawn care plan is deciding whether or not you if need to start all over. To completely renovate your lawn takes a lot of work but can be one of the most gratifying projects in your lawn – ever.
Why would you want to renovate your lawn? Maybe you want newer cultivars. In my case, I have a hodgepodge of old cultivars that only look good in May and September. During the hot summer season, the grass (mostly fine fescue and perennial ryegrass) turns brown and goes dormant regardless of how much water, sea kelp, humic acid and Hydretain I use. Thus, with the full sun I will be opting for GCI TTTF.
Maybe you inherited a new lawn filled with weeds. Or maybe you want to try to build a putting green!
This step-by-step list of how to renovate your lawn assumes you have your lawn measurements (in square feet). This is going to dictate how much product and types of machines you need – from grass seed and fertilizer, to aerators and lawn rollers.
How long? Plan at least two weeks from start to finish.
Regardless, the absolute best time to fully renovate your lawn is the end of summer/early fall. Air temps begin to drop, soil temps stay warm, and most of the pesky weeds have already come and gone. For New England lawns, for example (Zone 5-7), begin the process in early-mid August and get your seed down in the first 1-2 weeks of September. Longer germinating grasses like Kentucky Bluegrass (upwards or 3 weeks to germinate) will need to go down a bit sooner than a grass like Perennial Ryegrass (a week or less).
1. Kill the existing lawn
This is the longest process in renovating your lawn – spraying and waiting. You will need to use a non-selective herbicide to kill your existing turf. Round-up or products containing glysophate are a common product to use. I, however, opt for a safer option such as Avenger Organics.
These chemicals are foliar, which means the plant will take in the product through its blades. So don’t mow too low before applying.
Consider watering as you normally would in between sprays of chemicals. Why? It will help push up anything that did not get killed in the first round – be it weeds or grass – and ensure your working with as clean of a surface as possible.
Next you may have to start mowing and bagging your clippings to make sure everything has died off. Rake or a quick dethatch to remove the dead debris is a good idea to again ensure everything is brown.
Regardless of what you choose, read the label and do not exceed the maximum rates. Follow how frequently to apply, and how long after you can seed. This will dictate when you can start the next steps.
2. Scalp the lawn
Once the lawn has turned brown after one or more applications of non-selective herbicide, it’s time to mow low. This may be a two or three step process but lowering your height of cut (HOC) a couple of times. Bag your clippings.
3. Dethatch the lawn
A manual dethatching rake is the best tool here but is really only suited for small areas (unless you’re hankering for a long workout). A dethatching machine like the Sun Joe dethatcher & scarifier is an awesome option for smaller lawns. I have one for my lawn and it’s amazing. But if you’re pushing 10,000 square feet or more, you may need to hire this part out or rent a machine from your local hardward or tool rental store.
Dethatching is more like raking up the dead debris. All of the dead grass should be gone, and exposing the dirt as much as possible. This will allow for ideal seed to soil contact.
4. Core aeration
Removing plugs from your lawn with a core aerator will help allow more air into the soon-to-be root zone, and allow more nutrients, fertilizers and water to sink deeper into the soil. Aeration will also help relieve compaction, which helps roots grow farther downward, versus upwards.
5. Leveling (soil/sand)
If you have to regrade your landscape of level off some dips in your yard, this is the time to do so. Depending on your soil type will dictate what you use here. However, mason sand – often mixed with an organic matter like screened loam – make the best leveling agents. Use a lawn level rake or even the backside of a rake to smooth and level the surfaces.
Lightly raking or breaking up the soil will help break up some aeration cores and allow a nice “bed” for the grass seeds.
6. Spread grass seed
Depending on which grass you choose depends on how many pounds per 1,000 sq. ft. you apply. Example, Kentucky Bluegrass (KBG) seeds are much smaller than Turf Type Tall Fescue (TTTF), and are rhizomatic, so you will only be looking around 3-5 lbs. per 1,000 for KGB. However, TTTF may take upwards of 10 lbs. per 1,000 when seeding your newly renovated lawn.
Spread the seed using a rotary or drop spreader. Set the hopper to a low setting and be sure to make several passes along the dirt. Think up-down and then left-right (and even diagonally) spreading the seed to ensure you have adequate and even coverage.
Be sure to keep extra grass seed on hand in case you need to spot seed some bare or thin areas.
Now that the grass seed is down, the next important step in your lawn renovation is fertilization. Choose a starter fertilizer such as XST from Yard Mastery. The lawn will need Phosphorus to help with root development.
Finally, an optional step is to add Tenacity (Mesotrione) as a preemergent. This will help suppress any weeds for about 3-4 weeks while your grass begins to germinate and grow.
8. Lightly Rake
Use a metal rake or a garden weasel and lightly rake in the seeds to the soil. This will ensure you have great seed to soil contact. The seeds should not be deeper than 1/4″ below the soil surface. A light rake or roll with the weasel will ensure the seeds are lightly covered, but not buried.
9. Cover & roll the grass seed
Water retention is key, so opt for a light covering of peat moss. Peat moss hold 25 times its weight in water and is the best options. You can use your hands (wear gloves and be prepared to get very dirty) or a peat moss roller. Again, like the step above, you want just a light layer here. Don’t bury or smother the seeds.
You can also look at straw mats or my personal favorite, Pennington Slopemaster for hillside areas. In the event of a heavy rainstorm, the grass seed can wash away, and these two options will help limit your losses.
Covering the grass seed not only keeps the seed and soil moist, but will help prevent birds from eating too much.
Get yourself a lawn roller for an added bonus here. You can roll the peat moss. However if you use Slopemaster or straw, roll the lawn before applying these ground covers. The roller will help with any bumps but also really ensure that all-important seed to soil contact.
Now that the hard work is behind you, we saved the best for last. The single most important step is watering. Without water, your seeds will not germinate. Too much could result in flooding or a washout.
How often you water all depends on your weather/climate, the amount of sun/shade your newly renovated lawn gets. You will also benefit from the morning dew. As a general watering guide, your times and duration may look like:
11:00 a.m. (8 minutes)
2:00 p.m. (10 minutes)
5:00 p.m. (8 minutes)
Again, keep the seeds and soil damp (not soaked) is absolutely critical here. Once your seeds germinate and start growing, you can dial the watering back and begin spoon feeding your lawn.
And as always, take pictures of your progress. Renovating your lawn is a lengthy process but one that is very rewarding. I hope this step-by-step guide to lawn renovation was helpful. Let me know what you think in the comments below.