How do you fix a broken lawn?
October 10, 2011 11:17 AM   Subscribe

I hurt my lawn. Help me heal it.

New homeowner here, with little knowledge on how to make things grow.

But we put in our own new lawn a year ago, and it was doing pretty well for a while. But now, it's got large patches of dirt and the grass is failing all over the place.

I think what happened is a) I didn't water enough at first during the horrific heat wave we had here in the summer; and b) I over-did the anti-weed spray.

The spray was one of those "attach to your hose and spray on" type of things. In retrospect I used a hell of a lot for a small lawn. Now I have no weeds in the yard, but it looks pitiful.

What should I do to get my yard looking less like a case of grass/mange and more like a real lawn? I figure I should re-seed, etc. But not sure how best to do that. And what to do about the soil? Did I mess it up for good?

Also, any suggestions for a good online source for lawncare help would be appreciated.
posted by papercake to Home & Garden (11 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
The chances of you being able to do anything meaningful this year are very slim considering we're slipping into fall now. I would concentrate on a fresh start next spring and either resod or reseed.

If you have the resources I would also consider installing a sprinkler system with a timer. There is no way my lawn would look nearly as good as it does if I had to water it myself. I'm simply not home enough and even if I were I'd find it difficult to remember to do this.
posted by FlamingBore at 11:23 AM on October 10, 2011

I recently repaired my own lawn that was largely dried out and had bare patches and it was pretty simple. Here's what I did:

1) Fix the sprinklers and set them to run for 20 minutes every morning around dawn.

2) Spread grass seed on the thin spots.

3) Leave it alone for three weeks.

It looks pretty good now, and the total cost and effort were low. Ignore the neighbor's ugly yard. I am putting in a hedge and some trees to obscure that.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 11:23 AM on October 10, 2011

It's also possible you have some lawn disease and/or grubs. You should do preventative maintenance to treat for both.
posted by rich at 11:24 AM on October 10, 2011

Response by poster: Is it really too late? I thought the fall was a good time for planting.
posted by papercake at 11:26 AM on October 10, 2011

I live in California and lawns tend to grow back by themselves in the fall because that's when it starts raining, and it never snows. What lawns do over the winter will vary highly with your climate. So whether it's too late or not depends on how long you think it will be until frost and snow.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 11:28 AM on October 10, 2011

Fall is a fine time to sod, and it could be okay to re-seed depending on when your first frost is expected. You want the grass to get a good foothold in before the frost, so make sure you time it right. If you choose sod, you've got a bit more time than if you choose seed.
posted by cooker girl at 11:30 AM on October 10, 2011

Response by poster: Definitely going to try seeding, first. Do I need to put any topsoil over it? Or what about these grass and fertilizer combos I see at Home Depot? I have a bunch of seed left from when I initially put the lawn down. Should I just use that?
posted by papercake at 11:36 AM on October 10, 2011

I see you're in NJ. I'd check the Farmer's Almanac or something similar to see when your frost might be. I'd hate to spend all that time getting it ready only to have it die. Ideally, you'd till the patches and fill with any topsoil if needed. Then you'd put the seed down (I don't tend to like the seed/fertilizer combos; they don't work well IME) and put straw over it. Keep it moist (not too wet!) until you see the little shoots and then you back off on the water just a bit.
posted by cooker girl at 11:46 AM on October 10, 2011

Fall is a good time for seeding cool weather grass like fescue. If you live someplace that's consistently hot and dry in the summer time, you may find that fescue is more trouble than it's worth. In my area (Zone 6, middle of TN), the summers are just too damn hot. Some wild bermuda grass has taken root and rather than fight it, I've waved the white flag and am now encouraging it.

Why? It's a hot-weather grass that stands up to brutal wear and tear and tthanks to a really deep root system, hardly needs water, ever. The trick is controlling it - it spreads like crazy and is nearly impossible to eradicate once it's there. There are sprays that can control it (I started using Ornamec in a small pump sprayer to keep it out of plant beds, but very sparingly as its fairly nasty stuff. Roundup works too, but Ornamec will actually kill it dead).
posted by jquinby at 11:52 AM on October 10, 2011

Yeah, stay away from the weedkillers all together: despite the claims they make, they pretty much kill plants indiscriminately. They also soak into the soil where they get drawn up by any trees you might have. On top of everything else, it runs off any beneficial critters who can take out nasties.
Track down a source for compost. Some services will come out and blow it over the lawn for you. If you can't find that, you can always just spread a thin layer over the lawn yourself. Water gently. The idea isn't to bury the lawn, but to let the compost get down to the soil. Topsoil wil not work here, as it is just filler. Come spring, you should be back in business.
posted by Gilbert at 1:18 PM on October 10, 2011

Also, fret not about it being too late. I live in Central NJ and put down a whole new layer of topsoil and grass seed in the last weekend of October last year. It looked beautiful come spring. Then I let the summer heat kill it by not watering it.
posted by InsanePenguin at 2:24 PM on October 10, 2011

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