Everyone wants a lush green lawn. But no one’s a stranger to the occasional patchy, bare spot of thinning grass. The good news is you don’t always have to start from scratch. There are several surefire ways to whip your lawn back into shape. You can patch any balding sections, mow and water properly, and aerate and dethatch to see serious improvements.
When it comes to maintaining a healthy, flourishing lawn, This Old House Reviews Team recommends hiring a professional lawn care company. Industry leader TruGreen offers overseeding in select areas, and all the fertilization, aeration, and weed control you need to get your lawn thriving everywhere but Alaska.
How to Fill in Bare or Patchy Spots
Patching your lawn may seem like a big undertaking, especially if you remember what it was like setting up your lawn in the first place. But you can get it done in a few simple steps. First, choose whether you want to use seed or sod.
In either case, make sure to select a grass type that will thrive in your region and the specific conditions of your yard. If you have large trees that cast a lot of shade, you want to purchase a shade-resistant grass that doesn’t need too much sunlight.
How to patch a lawn with seed
Mow the existing grass in the area down as low as you can. You’ll want your seeds to have direct contact with the bare, exposed soil. Dig a border using a sharp spade and get rid of any debris or weeds in the delineated area. Rake up the soil, then leave it level and smooth.
Distribute the seed with a spreader, using the appropriate amount for the designated space. Spread the seed so that it covers the surface, but don’t let seeds overlap with one another. For uniformity, spread half the seed in an east/west pattern and half the seed north/south.
Rake over the seed for even distribution. Then, cover the top with a thin layer, about ½ an inch, of straw or topsoil to keep the seeds moist and protect them from birds.
For the first week or two, you’ll need to water your lawn daily or twice a day to make sure the soil is moist, but not soggy. Once the seedings begin to emerge, you can dial back the irrigation to two deep, infrequent waterings totaling 1-1.5 inches per week.
Do not mow until the grass reaches a height of about 3-3.5 inches. Then, be sure to cut no more than the top ⅓ of the grass blade to encourage drought resistance and deep root growth, and discourage weeds.
It may take up to eight weeks, depending on the grass type you selected, for the new grass to blend in fully with the rest of your lawn. If you need to mow the rest of your lawn before then, be careful to avoid the newly seeded grass.
Patching with sod
This method yields instant gratification, because patching with sod is introducing new, grown, lush grass. It’s particularly convenient if you have multiple bare spots, and don’t want to overseed again and again. Keep in mind that sod costs significantly more than seed.
Start by cutting a patch of the sod from a roll, slightly larger than the bare spot you wish to cover so that it extends past the borders about 2-3 inches on all sides. Make sure the sod stays moist as you prepare it.
Dig into the area you want to cover about 1-1.5 inches down so that the new sod will be level with the rest of the lawn, removing all the brown grass, including the roots. Use a rake to loosen the soil and even out the area,
Put the patch of sod over the bare spot you want to cover. Press it firmly into the soil, and make sure its edges are snug against the lawn around it. You can walk across it to make sure it settles in well. Water the sod daily for two weeks, unless the forecast shows heavy rain—if it does, adjust the irrigation accordingly.
Simple Ways to Improve Your Lawn
If your issue isn’t bare or balding patches, but simply grass that’s taken on a gray shade or doesn’t look as vibrant as it once did, consider following these recommendations.
Perform a soil test
If your grass appears stressed, you may benefit from a soil test. Your soil could have a chronic issue, like an incorrect soil pH that’s left it too acidic or too alkaline, or missing nutrients like nitrogen. Send a soil sample to your local cooperative extension, and they can assess any issues in your soil and recommend amendments to rectify them.
Use organic fertilizer
It may be tempting to use quick-release, synthetic fertilizers that yield fast grass growth. But over time, these types of fertilizers can leach your lawn of nutrients, and they can harm the environment. Organic fertilizers, composed of matter like bone and feather meal, manure, liquid kelp, and guano, may be more expensive and take longer to show results, but they ultimately create greener, healthier lawns.
If your lawn experiences a lot of foot traffic, your soil may become compacted—meaning that it’s packed too densely, and the grassroots can’t access the water, air, and nutrients they need. You can improve your turf’s health by aerating, using a machine that punctures many tiny holes in your lawn to assist with soil drainage, air circulation, and nutrient absorption.
You can rent or purchase a core, slice, or spike aerator. Core aerators are very popular. They pull “cores,” or plugs, of soil out, which you can then leave to decompose on top of the grass. This alleviates compaction and introduces beneficial organic matter back into the soil.
Water deeply and infrequently
Light daily waterings can lead to shallow grassroots, making your lawn more susceptible to weeds, pests, and diseases. Watering deeply but infrequently, giving your grass 1-1.5 inches of water a week spread out over one to two waterings, lets your grassroots grow strong and deep into the soil.
Cut your grass correctly
Different grasses thrive at different heights. For healthy, strong grass, research the best height for your grass type. Always make sure your lawn mower blades are sharp, or else you risk shredding your grass instead of cutting it cleanly.
Thatch is the layer of decomposing organic material that accumulates between the soil and grass blades. A small layer of thatch won’t harm your lawn, it will actually protect the grassroots. But if the thatch layer gets thick enough to create a dense mat—over ½ an inch thick—it can choke your grass, blocking the flow of air, water, and nutrients. Use a dethatching rake to break up the excessive thatch, leaving a thin layer for insulation.
Top Recommended Lawn Care Provider
Lawn care provider TruGreen offers five different annual plans and a variety of a la carte services so homeowners can customize their care for their lawn’s unique needs. Highly trained lawn care specialists can amend your soil, fertilize, aerate, and more to ensure that your lawn grows healthy, thick, and green.
Our Rating Methodology
To provide readers with the most objective, accurate, and detailed recommendations, the This Old House Reviews Team continually researches lawn care service companies on the market. We take the following steps to obtain up-to-date information about the industry and each company we review:
- Analyze more than 100 customer reviews from third-party review sites, such as Yelp, the Better Business Bureau (BBB), and Google Reviews, for each company
- Secret-shop for lawn care plans and packages to get a sense of cost, offered services, and the overall shopping experience for prospective customers
- Speak with representatives on the phone to simulate the customer service experience from each provider
- Update information on a regular basis to ensure the most accurate information when plans or services change with each company
We use the data from our research to build an in-depth rating system that allows us to score lawn care providers on a 100-point scale. Here are the factors in our evaluation and their designated scores:
- Plan options (30): As one of the most important factors for homeowners shopping for a lawn care service, this one is weighted heavily based on each company’s lawn coverage. Companies that offer more options, such as irrigation, weed control, seeding, and aeration services in addition to a general plan, score higher than others.
- Trustworthiness (30): Each company’s reputation is another significant factor for homeowners to consider before signing up for a plan. We scored providers based on their BBB score, accreditation, and offered guarantees available with each purchase.
- Additional Benefits (20): We gave extra points to companies that provide a few additional services and benefits with their offered plans, such as organic treatments, pest control services, and a mobile app for digital communication and plan management.
- Customer Service (10): In this rating category, we awarded points to customer-focused lawn care service providers who offer weekend availability and easy communication through phones, online chats, and online resources.
- Availability (10): We also scored companies based on their overall availability, rewarding those that are nationally available over local companies only operating in select cities or ZIP codes.
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