Lawns are beautiful! Except yours. You look over to your neighbors, and they have beautiful, lush, thick green lawns.
In the meantime, your lawn is thin, full of weeds, and sports every shade of green between emerald and Mt. Dew. And you're frustrated because your lawn maintenance routine doesn't seem to be helping.
What do you do? Can you fix your lawn? Or are you stuck?
You can fix your lawn so that you have that same lush, thick, beautiful green lawn your neighbors have.
You're only stuck if you choose not to do anything, or if you do the wrong things.
We have some tips to help you not only renovate your lawn but also to polish your lawn maintenance routine so that all your makeover efforts aren't for naught.
Making Over Your Ratty Ol' Lawn
Great! Good. You're ready to fix your lawn.
Now, where do you start with a lawn makeover?
Find out just what’s wrong with your lawn
You can’t fix something when you don’t know what’s wrong. Why is your lawn so ragged? Where did all these weeds come from? How did you get bare spots?
You might have some of these problems:
If your lawn is thin and weedy only in shady spots, you might need to find a more shade-tolerant grass to plant in those spots (or you might consider finding other shade-tolerant plants for those areas).
By the same token, if you have bare spots because of grubs, you need to get rid of the grubs before you do anything else.
There's also the possibility that your soil is too hard, too compacted, and too nutrient-poor to support grass.
There could be any number of other problems as well.
You must correctly diagnose the problem and be sure you understand it before you get to work on a renovation.
Calling a professional to take a look at your lawn might serve you better than trying to figure out the problem on your own.
Understanding problems with your dirt
Knowing what's wrong is only part of the battle. Even once you know the problem, you still need to understand what you're doing to successfully repair your lawn.
One of those things is knowing what kind of soil you have, because:
Heavy clay and overly compacted soil make it more difficult for roots to grow and spread. Water can't get down to them. Your lawn is slowly dying because of this.
You should test your soil while you're removing weeds and working it.
That way, you can work in the proper amendments and fertilizers before you begin to overseed or otherwise repair your lawn.
You can read more about how to properly test your soil here.
Weeds like clover thrive in poor soil, so testing your soil while you're removing weeds is a good way to determine the problem.
What you should know about your region of the world
The region of the world in which you live matters, too:
If you live in warmer climates, your lawn has different grasses than you find in cooler climates.
Cool-season grasses, such as Kentucky bluegrass and fescue, don't like the heat of warmer climates. Warm-season grasses like zoysia can't handle the deep freezes of winters in cooler climates.
You might want to plant a specific type of grass because of its looks or its ease of maintenance.
But consider this:
Zoysia grass is appealing because it's easy to maintain, but if you live where the ground freezes in the winter and you plant zoysia, your lawn won't survive its first winter.
By the same token, Kentucky bluegrass is fine with frozen ground, but it doesn't like hot summers whether they're wet or dry.
If you plant the wrong grass, you'll wind up with more of a headache than you already had.
Below is some more information on how to know what you should plant:
How to overseed your lawn
What does "overseed" even mean?
Simply put, "overseeding" means to spread seeds out over your existing grass. However, to get that seed to grow, you need to get it into the soil.
There are a couple of ways to do this:
Slit-seeders are automatic planters that cut small slits in your lawn and deposit new seeds right into the dirt.
This is probably the easiest and most ideal way to overseed a lawn because it ensures that you get the seeds down where they need to go.
However, you'll need to rent or buy the proper equipment to do it.
De-thatching and vertical mowing
Thatch is the layer of dead grass stems, blades, and other debris that builds up on top of your soil.
Since seeds need to be in contact with your dirt to germinate, you need to remove at least some of this layer.
You can do it by hand or with a vertical mower.
There are special de-thatching rakes you can buy at your local home improvement store that will work if you have a small lawn.
However, if you have a large lawn, you probably don't want to do this with a simple de-thatching rake.
A vertical mower will work much better for you (unless, of course, you have time on your hands and enjoy the hard manual labor).
Both of these methods work regardless of whether you need to amend your soil before overseeding.
If you've discovered that your soil is compacted, then you need to aerate before you overseed.
The best way to do this is with core-aeration:
You pull small, cylindrical plugs out of your soil. And surprise, surprise, there's a machine for this, too, so you don't have to do it by hand if you'd rather not.
Aerate, leave the plugs on the grass, and then topdress your soil with compost.
From here, you can use a slit-seeder to overseed. That breaks up the cores sitting on your lawn and deposits the seeds down into the soil where they need to be.
Or you can use a broadcast spreader, but you'll have a more difficult time ensuring your seeds get into the dirt.
Replanting your lawn
Sometimes, instead of trying to renovate your lawn, you just need to replace it altogether.
It's a longer, more difficult process.
However, if you need to address massive soil problems, or your lawn is more weed than grass, this may be the best option.
Where do you start?
Destroy your existing lawn
Ouch. That sounds so...destructive. Doesn't it? It's the first step toward replacing your lawn, though.
Here's the thing:
You can't completely replace your lawn without destroying what's already there.
And to do that, you can use chemicals like Roundup, or you can cover it with black plastic ground cover.
Ground cover deprives your grass of sun and water, thus killing it, but it can take up to three weeks to work. It might be preferable to chemical destruction, though.
Once your grass is dead:
Use a rigid-tine rake to pull up all the dead plants. Weeds, grass, everything. This process may take a while as it's best done by hand, but hey! You'll get a good workout doing this.
Now you need to amend your soil according to what your soil tests turned up, rake the soil thoroughly with a leaf rake, add a starter fertilizer, and then decide how you want to replant.
You have two ways to replant a lawn:
Growing a new lawn from seeds requires heavy tending and maintenance.
Seed also limits the times of year you can plant.
The best time of year to plant is in the early fall. If you need a good, thick, green lawn by, say, late spring, and it's already winter or early spring, you’ll have problems with seed.
However, seeds are the cheaper option and, if you plan correctly, you’ll have a greater chance to establish a good, thick lawn that’s perfect for your region and tailored to your yard.
You can grow shade-tolerant grasses in your shady areas and sun-tolerant grasses in your sunny areas.
You can learn more about how to replant a lawn with seeds in this video:
You’ll spend more on sod than you will on seed.
However, if you can afford sod, then you’ll have your new lawn in no time compared to seed.
You can lay sod at any time of year as long as you have water available, although spring and fall are the best two seasons in which to do this.
You’ll also have the advantage of keeping your grass in place if you’re planting it on a slope. Seeds can wash away downhill when it rains.
While sod’s roots become established far more quickly than those of seeds, they may not be as strong. And sod is not weed-free; it can shrink and leave space for weeds.
It also doesn’t grow well in the shade. If you have a shady lawn, sod is not your friend.
Budget-friendly renovation tips
How utterly and ridiculously expensive this all sounds, doesn't it? Aren't there some budget-friendly ways to renovate a lawn?
Actually, yes. There are.
You may have to repeat these steps more than once throughout a season to properly renovate your lawn.
But rest assured...
You'll find yourself spending less money and possibly taking more pride in your lawn.
Lawn Maintenance and Care 101
If you have a lawn and you don’t take proper care of it, you’ll definitely find yourself needing to renovate it.
But if you renovate your lawn and don’t take proper care of it, then all the effort you put into restoring it will go to waste.
Proper lawn maintenance is critical once you’ve finished renovating your lawn.
How do you perform proper lawn maintenance so that your newly beautified lawn stays beautiful?
Look at how you cut your grass. If you cut it in the heat of the day, you put a lot of stress on it because you injure the grass blades with the sun beating down on them.
If you can, try cutting in the evening, before sunset but after the worst of the heat has passed. As long as it hasn't been raining, your grass should be dry and cooling off.
You should also try to avoid cutting it when it's wet as that can make it vulnerable to disease.
And, of course, cut it to the proper length, as discussed earlier.
You should fertilize. It is a vital part of lawn maintenance. But you need to do it properly. Otherwise, you do more harm than good.
Test your soil to determine the fertilizer you need if you don't already know that. Buy the fertilizer you need.
Follow the directions on the packaging carefully so that you don't burn your lawn or cause other problems.
You can use compost instead of chemical fertilizers. As long as you don't spread so much compost around that you block sunlight and water from getting to your lawn, you'll get a healthier lawn with less worry about damage.
The secrets of weed-killing
There’s nothing more frustrating than pulling or killing weeds in your lawn only to have them come right back.
Some weeds, like dandelion and thistle, are especially tenacious because of their deep roots. Others just keep cropping up in new places no matter what you do.
How do you get rid of weeds? Is there some secret your neighbors with their perfect lawns know that you don’t?
Perhaps the biggest not-so-secret secret is prevention. The secret to prevention (see what I did there?) is easy once you know:
Make sure you keep your grass at the right height for its species and your region.
If you cut it to the right height and cut before it gets too long, then the grass has a decent chance to choke out weeds on its own.
Granted, you also have to water and fertilize properly.
However, when put together, these three things work best to prevent your lawn from becoming choked with weeds.
Not sure what the right height for your grass is? We’ve got a table below that should help with the most common types of lawn grasses:
1/4 to 3/4 inches
1 1/2 to 2 1/2 inches
Tall fescue, perennial ryegrass, Kentucky bluegrass
1 1/2 to 3 inches
Bermuda grass, zoysia grass
1/2 to 1 inch
Carpetgrass, centipede grass
1/2 to 1 inch
St. Augustine grass
1 to 3 inches
Buffalo grass, bahiagrass
2 to 3 inches
“That’s all well and good, but I already have weeds,” you’re thinking. “How do I get rid of those?”
You can pull them by hand, or you can use a weed killer.
Hand-weeding works best on small lawns where there really aren’t that many weeds, and they aren’t perennial weeds.
If you pull them before they flower and seed out, you’ll prevent new weeds from ever taking root.
Catching perennial weeds like thistles and dandelions early is crucial because their roots grow deep.
Once they’re established, you’ll have a tough time pulling out the entire root. Where root pieces remain, new weeds will grow.
Should you decide to pull your weeds out by hand, make sure you fill in the holes with fresh dirt, compost, and grass seed to prevent new weeds from taking hold.
Weed killer has a simple advantage.
You get to kill lots of different kinds of weeds very quickly.
That makes weed killer ideal for large lawns or lawns with a lot of weeds. Sadly, though, you should only use a weed killer as a last resort.
And when you do, make sure you follow the directions on the package to the letter. If you aren’t careful, you can damage your lawn and other plants in your yard.
Weed and feed
Weed and feed products are great! Right? They combine fertilizer with herbicides, giving you a twofer. What could be easier?
Not so fast.
Like other weed killers, you need to follow directions precisely, or you’ll wind up damaging your lawn further.
You also need to be very careful not to use weed-and-feeds for follow-up fertilizing because that, too, can damage your lawn.
In other words, use weed-and-feed and weed killer sparingly, giving your lawn only what it absolutely needs.
Once your lawn is as close to weed-free as you can get, prevention will become the best way to keep weeds from reappearing.
Is this the easiest part of lawn care or what?
Actually, maybe not.
You can overwater, and you can easily underwater. The amount of water your lawn needs depends on where you live and what type of grass you have.
In spite of that, here are some tips for how to properly water your lawn:
One of the problems you may face is pests.
They might have been there before you renovated your lawn, and now you find that much to your annoyance, they're not gone.
So what can you do?
Of course, there are pesticides you can use. However, good lawn maintenance may well be the best preventive measure you can use.
Pests love weeds. They also like long grass.
If you take really good care of your new or rejuvenated lawn, your pest problem will decrease on its own.
You can also keep pests away from your yard by doing things like cleaning out your gutters and ensuring you don't have any standing water anywhere.
If you still have a pest problem, you should call a good pest control company in your area.
If you suspect the problem is something like grubs and you can't make them go away, you should call a good lawn service to see what they say.
There are just some problems that require a professional touch.
But keep in mind that you can aid their efforts with proper lawn maintenance techniques.
10 Ways You're Wasting Water on Your Lawn
Yes, you're probably wasting water on your lawn. We all do.
It might seem like no big thing, but it really is.
If you want to cut down on your water bill, make your lawn healthier, and help the environment, you should know how you're wasting water.
Watering when it's raining.
Yes, people do this. Often, it's because their irrigation systems are on timers and they just let the system do its thing.
However, a little more attention to that can save you a lot of water. If it's been raining or is currently raining, switch your water off.
You're also wasting water if you:
In other words:
Making some simple adjustments to how you water your lawn and other plants can save you and the environment a boatload of water.
You buy a rain sensor to help ensure you don't water your grass when it's raining, even if you're not home.
Sprinklers vs. drip systems vs. hand-watering
You can water your lawn by hand, you can use sprinklers, or you can install a drip system. Each method has its advantages and disadvantages.
Sprinklers can cover large areas. That means you can have fewer of them if you have a built-in system. If you attach one to your hose, you only need to move it a couple of times to water your whole lawn.
They're easier to put on timers, too. These things make sprinklers ideal for large lawns.
However, they can also waste a lot of water, especially as you try to water the edges of your lawn. You can end up watering your driveway and the street with sprinklers.
Also, the water sits on top of your grass, requiring you to use more water to get sufficient amounts down into your soil.
Drip systems deliver water directly to the soil, unlike sprinklers. Because the water is delivered directly to the soil, you lose far less water to evaporation.
Drip systems work best for small lawns and other kinds of landscaping.
Finally, you can water your lawn by hand. This is the simplest way to ensure your lawn gets the water it needs.
It only has one small problem:
You can't just turn on your hose and leave it. You have to hold it and spray water until the ground appears to stop absorbing it.
Then, to ensure that you've watered it enough, you have to go back outside an hour or so later and measure the depth of moisture.
Your water needs to get at least six inches deep to ensure a healthy lawn.
Everything You Need to Know About Lawnmowers
Your lawnmower is your most crucial lawn maintenance tool.
Much of proper lawn maintenance involves cutting your grass, so it's important to understand that you need the right lawnmower for your job.
There are two types of lawnmowers out there:
Push mowers and ride-on mowers.
Push mowers are everything from your gas-powered lawnmowers to electric mowers, and even to old-style reel mowers. They're called "push mowers" because you walk behind them and push.
Ride-on mowers are exactly what they sound like. You ride them.
So, to determine which one is best:
First, how big is your lawn? Is it something you're willing and able to walk thoroughly at least once a week? Push mowers are great for lawns in most neighborhoods.
However, if your yard is bigger than a quarter acre, you might want to consider a ride-on mower. Not only will that be easier on you physically, but you'll spend less time cutting your grass.
That makes cutting your grass less of a chore, so you're more likely to do it on schedule.
Both push mowers and ride-on mowers have their own set of unique features, quirks, and designs. To learn more about each mower, click here.
Of course, if you have a lawnmower, you have a piece of lawn care equipment that requires maintenance.
You can learn your mower's specific needs in the owner's manual.
We have some general tips for lawnmower maintenance you should know:
That last one, sharpening your blades, isn't just important to maintaining your lawnmower, it's also necessary for good lawn maintenance.
A dull blade rips the grass blades, putting more stress on your lawn. A sharp blade cuts cleanly, reducing stress and ensuring all your grass gets cut to its proper height.
To properly sharpen a mower blade, check out the video below:
Home Lawn Care Hacks You Never Knew
So you've read all of this, and now you're wondering, "Is there any way to make any of this easier? Maybe a shortcut or two?"
Did you ever think of using newspaper to block weeds?
Put newspaper over places where you've pulled weeds, then put topsoil, grass clippings and seeds on top of it.
The newspaper both smothers the weeds and decomposes, providing an additional boost of natural fertilizer to your lawn patches.
Do you love coffee? And eat oranges?
You can use those coffee grounds and citrus peels as critter repellant around your yard. Some animals don't like the smell and will stay away.
We've discussed weeds extensively above, but:
Did you know that you can use regular old table salt to kill them? You can also use vinegar. Both can kill weeds effectively without harming your soil or presenting a danger to your pets or children.
A mixture of Borax and water sprayed on the leaves of weeds can kill them, too, again in a non-toxic manner.
How do you keep your grass clippings from clogging up your lawnmower blades?
Well, you can use cooking spray on the blades. Be careful if you have a gas-powered mower you have to turn over, though. If the tank has fuel in it, you'll wind up spilling it everywhere.
Lawn Maintenance and Renovation Don't Have to be Impossible
The bottom line on lawn maintenance and renovation is that when you do it right, you can change your ratty, pale, sickly lawn into a beautiful, thick, green oasis that's the envy of your neighborhood.
Granted, there are a lot of steps. There are a lot of considerations. There's a lot to think about.
And you probably have more research to do than just reading this article.
However, this information gives you a great jumping off point. You know the basics, and you now know what to look for to meet your specific needs.
Have an idea or some information we've forgotten? Feel free to leave it in the comments!