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How to Restore a Lawn Full of Weeds

Read our handy guide on how to restore a weedy, patchy lawn to its former glory.

Lawn iStock

If your lawn is patchy and full of weeds, it will never be the envy of the neighborhood. What you’re after is a lush, green lawn with even grass and no dandelions poking their way through. That may sound hard to achieve, but it isn’t too difficult if you follow these steps.

If you only have a few pesky weeds punctuating your lawn, you may be able to dig them up by hand—paying careful attention to make sure you get them roots and all. But if your lawn is overrun with weeds, you may need to start from scratch. Here’s our how-to guide on restoring a lawn full of weeds.

Once your lawn is nice and green, we recommend hiring a professional lawn care company to help you maintain it to keep it weed-free. Our top recommendation goes to industry leader TruGreen.

Restoring a Lawn Full of Weeds in 10 Steps

Step 1: Identify the Weeds You Have

In order to make a successful game plan, you’ll need to know just what kind of weeds you’re dealing with. Weed treatments are designed to target specific weeds, so what may work on your broadleaf weeds may leave your grass-like weeds A-OK.

Weeds come in multiple categories, either broadleaf, grass-like, or grassy.

Broadleaf

  • Appearance: Broad, flat leaves
  • Common types: Clover, ground ivy, dandelions, chickweed

Grass-like

  • Appearance: Similar to grass, with hollow leaves in a triangular or tube shape
  • Common types: Nutsedge, wild garlic, wild onion

Grassy

  • Appearance: Resembles grass, grows one leaf at a time
  • Common types: Foxtail, annual bluegrass, quackgrass, crabgrass

Weeds can be broken down further into categories based on their life cycle—annual, biennial, or perennial.

  • Annual: Produces seeds during one season only
  • Biennial: Produces seeds during two back-to-back seasons
  • Perennial: Produces seeds over many seasons

Step 2: Select a Proper Herbicide

Next, it’s time to select the proper weed treatment based on both weed classification and the stage in their life cycle. Pre-emergent herbicides tackle weed issues before they spring up. Post-emergent herbicides target established weeds.

Keep in mind that herbicides can kill whatever plant life they come into contact with—even if the label says otherwise—so handle with care. If your aim is to re-establish your lawn, as we recommend, killing your existing, thinning grass isn’t a big deal, since you will need to start fresh anyway.

Step 3: Apply the Treatment

For this step, it’s crucial that you follow the directions to the letter. Make sure you apply the proper product at the proper time. It’s a good idea to check out the forecast beforehand, since you don’t want any storms to wash away your herbicide.

Step 4: Wait It Out

How soon you can plant seed depends on the type of weed treatment you choose. Pre-emergent herbicides will prevent grass seeds from growing just as much as weed seeds, so it would be no good to sow seeds immediately after.

Depending on the type of weed treatment you choose, you may need to wait for up to four weeks. You can ask your local garden center for information about when it’s safe to plant.

Step 5: Rake and Till

Once the weeds—and grass, if applicable—turn brown, it’s time to bust out your rake. Rake up as much of the weeds as you can. Use your tilling fork to pull any extra weeds out and till the soil to prepare it for your amendments and seed.

Step 6: Dethatch and Aerate

Aerating your lawn can help break up thatch, the layer of decomposing organic matter between your lawn’s soil and grass blades. Thatch can be beneficial, since it can make your lawn more resilient and provide insulation from extreme temperatures and changes in soil moisture. But if it gets over a half-inch in thickness, it can cause root damage, including root rot.

Your raking and tilling from the previous step can help with dethatching, but you can also use a dethatching rake if the layer is too excessive.

Aeration improves your grassroots’ access to air, nutrients, and water. Use a spike or core aerator to break up the soil. If you use a core aerator, be sure to make two to three passes in different directions. Allow the plugs of soil you remove to decompose on top of your soil layer rather than remove them.

Step 7: Amend the Soil

Now, you can apply your soil amendment to ready your soil for the grass seed or sod.

Step 8: Lay Down Seed or Sod

You have a choice ahead of you. Do you want to lay down seed or sod? There are pros and cons to each.

Seed

  • Pros: Less expensive, more variety
  • Cons: Takes longer to germinate, can only lay at certain times of year depending on grass type

Sod

  • Pros: Instant grass, can lay any time of year, requires little maintenance
  • Cons: More costly, less variety in grass can mean less healthy lawn overall

To prepare the soil after either method, make sure you till it down to roughly 6 to 8 inches.

Laying seed

First, you need to choose the right type of seed for your lawn. That will depend on the region you live in—one that needs cool-season grasses, warm-season grasses, or a transition zone that allows more flexibility. After you determine which category you need, you can select specific grasses that may have attributes you’re after, like heat- or drought-resistance.

To seed your lawn, lay down approximately 1 inch of topsoil, then use a spreader to apply the seed to the soil.

We recommend using two different types of spreaders. For the majority of the work, you should use a broadcast spreader because they distribute seed evenly, allowing for thorough coverage. But you’ll want to use a drop spreader around the edges of garden beds to make sure you don’t inadvertently drop seed into them.

Always set the spreader to half the recommended drop rate and spread the seed in one direction, then one or two more in different directions to make sure the coverage is nice and even. You don’t want your lawn to have weird patterns or stripes.

Applying the right amount of seed is key. As a general rule of thumb, apply roughly 15 seeds per each square inch, then rake over the seed.

Top the seed with top dressing no greater than ¼ inch thick.

Then, it’s time to add starter fertilizer. Your best bet is to use a starter fertilizer high in phosphorus. However, due to concerns about water pollution, many states prohibit the use of phosphorus in fertilizers. Some states may allow phosphorus in fertilizers for establishing new lawns. If so, you’ll find fertilizers labeled “new lawn” or “starter fertilizer.”

Step 9: Water Your Lawn

Deep, infrequent watering can help establish your lawn by allowing it to grow deep roots, which can compete against weeds. Try to water your lawn about twice a week, in the morning before the heat of the day sets in. Lawns typically need about 1.5 inches of water per week, but that could vary based on the climate you live in and the type of grass seed you chose.

Step 10: Maintain Your Lawn

Proper maintenance is critical if you want your newly established lawn to stay weed-free. Mow at either the highest or second-highest setting. Vigorous grass won’t be choked out by weeds. Fertilize your lawn as needed to help it thrive.

3 Reasons Your Lawn Is Full of Weeds

Starting out, you probably want to know just why weeds have overtaken your grass, so you can prevent it from happening again.

  • Poor grass growth: Weeds thrive in thinning grass. The best way to keep weeds out is to have thick, tall, dense grass all over your lawn. If your grass is cut too short, it’s more susceptible to a full-on weed invasion. Setting your mower to the highest setting can help with this.
  • Not enough water: Weeds tend to have robust root systems, and can easily compete with your grass for moisture. If you are not watering your grass enough, the weeds can absorb what water there is, taking it away from your grassroots.
  • Compacted soil: If your soil becomes too compacted, whether from excessive foot traffic or poor soil composition, your grassroots won’t have access to the nutrients, water, or air they need. This stressed turf makes for an exceptional weed breeding ground.

Professional Lawn Care

Once you’ve put in all that hard work, you’ll want to keep up with it. The prospect of regular lawn maintenance can be daunting, from fertilization to aeration to yet more weed control. Hiring a professional lawn care company like TruGreen can alleviate those concerns.

TruGreen offers five different annual plans for your lawn care needs, offering a range of services. Plans come with the TruGreen Healthy Lawn Guarantee®, promising full-program customers that a TruGreen specialist will return to your home as many times necessary to resolve your issues.

If you’d like a quote from TruGreen, you can call 1-866-817-2287 or fill out this simple form.

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