How to Restore a Green, Healthy Lawn
Ask This Old House landscaping contractor Roger Cook heads to Kentucky to help a homeowner revive his lawn
- To remove the layer of thatch that blocks water and nutrients from reaching the roots of the lawn, use a dethatcher to clean up the grass. This machine works using large tines and prongs to pull up dead grass and other debris from the grass roots. Go across the lawn in a straight line and turn and repeat.
- Use a rake to gather all of the debris from the detatching step into piles and recycle or compost it.
- To fight soil compaction and allow water and nutrients to reach the roots, use the aerator. It will remove plugs of soil about 2” long. Go across the lawn in a straight line and turn and repeat.
- Before applying any nutrients to the lawn, conduct a soil test to determine any deficiencies in soil health.
- On acidic soils (with a lower pH), use a broadcast spreader to apply lime. A lime mixture typically contains calcium and magnesium to bring up the pH of the soil.
- Spread compost across the lawn using a rake, making sure to fill in the holes made by the aerator. This will provide nutrients for the soil and create a good seed bed.
- The soil test will also determine the best fertilizer mix to choose. Use a broadcast spreader to put down fertilizer, following directions on the packaging.
- Use the lawn spreader to put down a healthy layer of seed. The weather zone should help dictate what kind of seed to use. A tall fescue is best for sunny, southern climates and is more drought resistant. For northern climates, a fine fescue may be a better option. It can stay green all year, if maintained properly.
- Use a hose and sprayer to coat the top of the soil and the seed. It’s important to keep the top of the soil moist by watering two to three times for the first two weeks.
- When the lawn gets up to three inches tall, cut it down to two inches. However, be sure to bag the clippings and not mulch.
- Mow regularly after to maintain a healthy look.
To remove the layer of thatch that blocks water and nutrients from reaching the roots of the lawn, Roger dethatched the area using a Mataway Dethatcher, manufactured by Ryan Turf. This can be rented from a tool rental shop or home center.
After this, he aerated the lawn to fight soil compaction and allow water and nutrients to reach the roots. For this step, Roger used a Lawnaire IV Aerator Walk-Behind, also manufactured by Ryan Turf and available to rent from a tool rental shop or home center.
Based on the results of a soil test, Roger determined that lime needed to be added to raise the pH of the lawn. Lime can be purchased from a garden center or home center and it can be spread using a broadcast spreader set to the manufacturer’s specifications.
Roger then added compost for nutrients and to act as a seed bed. Compost can be purchased from garden centers or landscape suppliers.
The soil test also determined that this lawn was low in nitrogen, so Roger added a fertilizer that has a higher nitrogen proportion. Fertilizers like this can be purchased at home centers.
Based on site conditions and sun exposure, Roger selected a seed mix with a few varieties of fescue and a little bit of bluegrass. The seed was also spread with a broadcast spreader, following the directions on the seed mix bag. Lawn seed can be purchased at home centers and garden centers.
For the grass seed to properly germinate, it needs to be watered several times a day until the lawn is established.
Expert assistance for this project was provided by One Guy and a Lawnmower.