The Q&A Archives: How do I help the lawn recover?

Question: I have a large backyard at a new house that is in pretty bad shape. Very choppy, dry sharp grass w/ a few bald spots - pretty sure it's St. Augustine. What's the quickest and cheapest way I can get good grass in there by summer? I thought about those spray (green) companies, or just laying sod over the top (will that work?).... other ideas? I don't want to spend a lot, but I'm willing to invest a little so the kids have a great place to play this summer. Any info is MUCH appreciated.

Answer: Robin,

If your grass cover is currently 75% or more I would not resod. You can bring the lawn back with good care. Start by taking a photo and/or sample of your grasses to your County Extension Office. They can identify what you have and assess whether it is worth saving. If it is, then apply 1/3 inch of screened compost to the surface of the grass. As an alternative you can spread one bale of peat moss per 1000 square feet and then water it in well.

Good lawn care can be summarized in three cultural practices: mowing, watering and fertilizing. If you will do these three properly, your lawn will be the best on the block!

Frequent mowing is better than infrequent mowing. Mow on a 5-7 day schedule, removing no more than 1/3 of the leaf blade with each mowing. For example, a St. Augustine turf should be mowed to 2 1/2" when it reaches 3", while a semi-dwarf bermuda or zoysia would be mowed to 1 1/2 or 2" when it reached 2 or 2 1/2".
While many homeowners like to water 15 minutes a day, your turf will benefit from a good soaking applied less often. Apply 1/2 to 1 inch of water once or twice a week. A coffee can makes a good rain gauge to test out how long it will need to be run to apply an inch. Frequent wetting promotes disease problems and a shallow rooted turf. Let the soil dry out a bit between waterings and the grass will develop a deep root system and do much better.

Fertilize with no more than 1/2 to 1 pound of nitrogen in spring after you have mowed the grass twice (around mid April), and again in fall (around late September). Apply a product with a 3-1-2 ratio of nutrients as this is roughly the ratio of nutrients grass takes in. So, for example, if you purchased a 15-5-10 fertilizer (15% nitrogen), you would apply about 7 pounds per 1000 square feet (1 pound / .15 = about 7). If you purchased a 21-7-14 fertilizer (21 % nitrogen), you would apply about 5 pounds per 1000 square feet (1 pound / .21 = about 5).

Healthy turf will choke out most of its weed problems. When the turf is thin and soil is exposed to the sunlight, weeds will sprout and you have a battle on your hands. So first concentrate on the above 3 cultural practices and you will be amazed at the results.

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