Lawn Care: How to Repair a Lawn

Achieving a lush grass lawn doesn’t have to be a constant struggle. And you don’t have to pay big bucks for a lawn service to douse your yard with chemicals either. Growing healthy, green grass is mainly just a matter of knowing what to give your lawn, and when to give it.

In this story, we’ll show you what to do in the spring, summer, and fall to get a grass lawn so nice you could cut it up and sell it as sod. These steps will work for any yard, regardless of climate or soil type. The products shown in this article are available at lawn and garden centers and some home centers.

We worked with lawn care expert George Dege, better known as Mr. Lawn. He has been teaching lawn care classes since the 1970s and has helped thousands of homeowners improve their lawns. As the third-generation owner of a lawn and garden center, he has been in the lawn care business “forever.”

Spring care

1: Vacuum the pebbles

Gravel and sand hinder grass growth, so vacuum them up. Start along the street and vacuum into the yard until you no longer hear stones getting sucked up. Then do the same thing along the driveway.

2: Check the spreader’s “throw”

To apply the right amount of fertilizer, measure from the wheel to the edge of the dispersal pattern. Then space your passes across the lawn so the coverage overlaps by 6 to 8 in. Do this test every time you spread a new product.

3: Don’t spill on the grass

Park your spreader over a tarp or your driveway when filling the hopper. Spills and leaks can saturate one spot of your lawn and kill your grass.

4: Improve your soil

Soil activator helps retain water in sandy soils and loosens clay soils. It also helps aerate the soil, decompose grass clippings and reduce erosion.

Once the grass starts turning green, it’s time to start your lawn care. That’s usually mid to late March for Northerners, early March for Southerners. Don’t fret if your lawn is slow to green up. That’s good. The thicker the lawn, the less sunlight that reaches the individual blades and the longer it takes for the grass to turn green.

Get rid of the stones and sand that the snowplow or snowblower threw into your yard over the winter. Raking isn’t effective—you’ll only get about 15 percent of the stones and pebbles. Instead, use a shop vacuum (Photo 1).

The snow piles that sat on your lawn all winter compacted the soil. You can loosen the soil and improve water penetration by applying gypsum (a 40-lb. bag covers 200 sq. ft.). Test your broadcast spreader‘s dispersal pattern on your driveway. Fill the hopper, set the spread rate so the holes are wide open for gypsum and walk at your normal speed. Then measure how far the gypsum is dispersed on each side of the spreader (Photo 2). This tells you the distance to move over with each row when you’re spreading—you want the spread patterns to overlap by 6 to 8 in. Broadcast spreaders always “throw” farther on the right side than they do the left. You don’t need to spread gypsum over the entire lawn; just 10 ft. back from the street and the driveway. Buy a high-quality broadcast spreader on Amazon here.

For your spring and summer mowings, cut just the top third of the grass. So if your grass is 3 in. high, take 1 in. off the top. Mowing more than one-third stresses the grass. You can mow the grass shorter in the fall.

Between your second and third mowings, apply a lawn fertilizer with slow-release (time release) nitrogen (a 20-lb. bag covers 5,000 sq. ft.). Always fill your spreader over a tarp or driveway (Photo 3). Follow the spread rate listed on the fertilizer bag and spread it on the entire lawn.

Fifteen days after applying the fertilizer, spread soil activator on the lawn (Photo 4; a 40-lb. bag covers 4,000 sq. ft.).

Vacuuming the Lawn?

“Your neighbors will think you’ve lost your mind when they see you vacuuming your lawn. But by the end of the summer, they’ll be asking you for lawn care advice.”
—Mr. Lawn

Late spring, early summer

5: Measure the right amount of water

Set a cake pan halfway between your sprinkler and the edge of the spray pattern. Watch your clock to see how long it takes the sprinkler to fill the pan with 3/8 in. of water. Water for that amount of time three times a week, unless it rains.

6: Water with a timer

If you don’t have an automatic sprinkler, an inexpensive timer frees you from watching the clock every time you water. The timer controls the sprinkler, so you’ll be sure the lawn gets the proper amount of water.

7: Neutralize dog spots

Gypsum and water are the antidotes for dog spots in your yard. Gypsum neutralizes the dog urine, and the water soaks the area for new grass seed. If you treat the brown spots early, your grass won’t die.

8: Stop crabgrass before it starts

Apply crabgrass preventer to any areas where crabgrass previously grew. A hand spreader is perfect for small areas, like along the pavement where crabgrass tends to grow.

Proper watering is crucial to a healthy lawn. The best time to water is early morning when the sun starts to rise. You lose some water to evaporation in the middle of the day. And watering at night leaves the grass wet too long, which can cause fungus and other diseases in the summer.

Give your lawn 3/8 in. of water three times a week. Calculate the amount of time it takes your sprinkler to dispense that much water (Photo 5). Set a timer (sold at home centers and lawn and garden centers) on your hose spigot so you won’t have to watch the clock (Photo 6). Increase from 3/8 in. to 1/2 in. when the daytime temperatures are above 80 degrees F.

If you have bare spots in your lawn caused by your dog, sprinkle gypsum on the spot and saturate it with water (Photo 7). Plant new grass seed in the bare spots and keep it watered.

Crabgrass will grow when the soil warms up to 55 degrees F. Apply a crabgrass preventer to keep that nasty weed from coming back. Timing is everything. If you apply the preventer too early, it will be ineffective. And once the seeds germinate, it’s too late. In northern states, late April is the best time. Mid-March is recommended for southern states. Check with a local garden center to find the best time for your area.

Apply the preventer wherever you had crabgrass the previous year, which is typically along the street, driveway, and sidewalk (Photo 8).

In mid-May, give your lawn its second application of lawn fertilizer.

Mid to late summer

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