Lawn Restoration 101

September 27, 2013

September is the ideal time to restore your lawn. If you have bare spots, or a lot of weeds and crabgrass, it’s a sign that you need to improve the overall health of your turf so it will fill in and out-compete the weeds. No amount of chemicals will control lawn weeds if the lawn itself isn’t healthy and strong.

There is a way to dramatically improve your lawn. Following this recipe just once will give you terrific results, but if you really want a healthy green weed-free lawn you’ll repeat this formula in both spring and fall for several years. Remember this is a recipe, so skipping any step guarantees failure.

First you’ll need to figure out how large your lawn is, in square feet. Multiply the width times the length of each section and add them together. Here are the ingredients, per 1000 square feet of lawn:

* 3 oz weed killer concentrate 41% glyphosate (we use Monterey Remuda)

* 1 gallon tap water

* 5 lbs turf-type tall fescue grass seed (BFG/Wetsel Class Act II is our favorite)

* 20 lbs Espoma Organic Lawn Food 9-0-0

* 5 Bales Straw

Here are the tools you’ll need: a pump sprayer, a walk-behind core aerator (“plugger”), a broadcast spreader, and a fireman’s style non-restrictive hose nozzle (like Gilmour’s Power Flow).

First, mix the weed killer concentrate with the water in your pump sprayer. Kill any really thick patches of lawn weeds. Avoid spraying healthy lawn areas. Glyphosate-based weed killers don’t linger in the soil or harm grass seed. You can seed as soon as the spray is dry on the weeds.

Next, run the aerator over the lawn several times in different directions. Repeat more often in bare patches; your goal is to break up the soil as much as possible. Using the broadcast spreader, spread the grass seed. Hand seed in tight spots and along edges. Next, spread the fertilizer. Make sure you’re moving forward any time you open the shutter. If you’re not sure of your spreader settings, just set the opening fairly small and repeat your application (using a different pattern each time) until you’ve used up all your material. Next, sweep or blow all the extra material off the surrounding pavement onto the lawn.

Now all you have to do is keep the soil most until Thanksgiving. A light watering each day should be enough. The easy way is to stand in the middle and spray the entire lawn with the fireman’s nozzle (a typical pistol-grip sprayer won’t put down enough water). On bare ground, putting down straw will help keep the soil moist.

In a week you’ll see the first new grass. Daily watering at this stage is critical. Don’t mow at all until Thanksgiving, and when you do make sure your blade is newly sharpened. Set your mower at 4 inches (and leave it there from this point forward). If leaves fall on your lawn, blow them off or rake GENTLY.

Here’s why this recipe works: the best defense against lawn weeds is healthy turf. Compacted soil is the enemy; weeds can grow there but lawn grass will struggle. Aeration penetrates and loosens the soil without damaging existing lawn grass. It makes “pockets” that collect moisture and shelter grass seedlings, capturing rainfall and preventing your seed and fertilizer from washing away. New grass can make a deep root

system easily, protected from wind, sun and traffic. Core aeration is the “magic bullet” for healthy lawns.

You probably have broadleaf weeds like dandelion, spurge and plantain in your lawn, or clumps of coarse field fescues. You can spot-kill these right now, before you put down seed. If none of your grass is worth saving, just spray the entire lawn and start over.

Turf-type tall fescue makes an elegant dark green lawn that is drought tolerant and rugged. It is a fine-bladed, deep-rooted grass that spreads underground, forming clumps that fill in bare spots. Turf-type tall fescue tolerates shade better than bluegrass or rye, and requires half as much fertilizer and water to look good. Using a blend hedges your bets against insects and diseases; over time the most rugged grass for your particular yard will crowd out the others.

Slow-release nitrogen fertilizer gives new grass seedlings a good start. We like Espoma Organic Lawn Food, made from feather meal & pasteurized poultry manure. It contains soil microbes that are probably depleted in your lawn, helping to restore your soil. The easiest way to apply it is with a broadcast-type spreader.

Scalping the lawn is a huge contributor to weed problems, since it allows sunlight to reach the soil surface and encourages weeds to sprout. It also weakens the grass plants by cutting off the green foliage that turns sunlight into healthy roots. Four inches is the ideal cutting height.

One last point: If you gather your grass clippings you are wasting a huge amount of money on fertilizer. The nitrogen in clippings is fertilizer you paid for, so use a mulching mower to recycle the clippings back into the soil. Again, the best lawn weed control is healthy strong turfgrass. Follow my recipe each spring and fall for a couple of years and you’ll have it.

Steve Boehme and his wife Marjorie own GoodSeed Nursery & Landscape, located at 9736 Tri-County Highway, near Winchester, Ohio. More information is available at or call (937) 587-7021.