Answer: Sounds as though the soil has become compacted over the years. You can aerate the lawn to renew it, leaving the plugs right on top. Rainfall and regular watering will dissolve the plugs and they'll disappear in a week or two. After aerating, lightly broadcast seed over the entire lawn. You can add a thin layer of sand over the seed to help protect the seed from birds and to help fill in the holes from the aerator.
Be sure to fertilize regularly (April, June, September and early December) to help your lawn grow lush, mow to keep it about 2 to 2 1/2" tall, and water deeply every 10 days during the warmest part of the summer.
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