How to Rejuvenate a Dying Lawn
Advice from TOH landscape contractor Roger Cook on how to revive a half-dead yard of grass
compost, $165 tool rental
Q: How can I fix my half-dead lawn, which is full of yellow patches, weeds, and bare spots? — Phil sutton, Burlington, Mass.
TOH Landscape Contractor Roger Cook replies: When a lawn is more than 50 percent dead—whether it's due to soil compaction, not getting enough water, being cut too short, or some other problem—it's easiest to remove all the grass and start over with fresh seed.
The first step is to have the soil tested by a local extension service to see if it needs amending. Once the test results are in, order the recommended soil amendments and compost. Then rent a sod cutter to slice up the old grass and a rotary tiller to fluff up the soil and blend in the amendments. With these tools, you can redo an 1,800-square-foot lawn in a weekend.
Finally, spread fresh seed over the prepared soil and water it daily. You want the top layer of soil to stay evenly moist until the seeds germinate. By spring's end, your lawn should look as good as new.
Shown: To ensure a lush lawn, Roger Cook opens the spreader completely to drop the maximum amount of seed.
Cut the Sod
Using a sod cutter, slice through the grass roots to make long strips of loose sod. These machines are difficult to turn, so make your runs parallel to the lawn's longest edge, if possible. Cut as much of the lawn as you can with the cutter; use a hoe for tight spots near the house.