Many things damage, dent, and render dormant a flat, lush lawn during its growing season. The secret to fall lawn repair? Top dressing and re-seeding. Here's how it works.
Summer does a number on your lawn. Anything from removing a shrub to parking a car to letting Sparky go for a run to leaving the Slip N' Slide out too long can turn a blanket of lush green grass into a collection of crushed and dried-up blades. Luckily, a technique known as top dressing -- coupled with a re-seeding of the lawn -- can help undo the damage.
While the top-dressing technique can be used any time of year, for most regions, fall is the best season. In most places, fall brings cooler temperatures, and many grasses grow better in cool weather. Plus, if you can get the grass to sprout in the fall you can put your lawn on a complete fertilizing schedule come spring without worrying about new seed. We realize that the actual season is different in, say, Vermont than Virginia, so let's just say that some time around when the kids go back to school is a good target for getting this project underway.
Top dressing is a good solution for small and large lawn repairs. It's relatively inexpensive and easy to DIY. But first, let's review the basic categories of lawn damage:
Lawn Damage: Suffocation
If the lawn can't breath, the grass dies. Culprits include trash bags, sheet plastic and kids' toys. Say you're remodeling or or doing some kind of attic or yard cleanup. If you stage a row of plastic trash bags on the grass for a bunch of weeks while you amass enough for the dump run, the lawn below it can die. Furthermore, if the contents of those bags are heavy (see 'impact' below) -- think asphalt shingles, landscape debris, and plaster -- they can dent and compress the turf. You'll get the same effect if you leave the plastic kiddie pool, Slip 'N Slide, or sand box in the same place all summer. Even if you lay out sheet plastic for an outdoor painting project, you expect suffocated grass. Sometimes it'll come back, but you have to catch it in time.
Lawn Damage: Impact
Impact injuries, large and small, occur most easily when the turf is saturated, like it is after a few days of rain. Parked cars, heavy equipment (like a truck or tractor), foot traffic, bicycles -- all of these can dent, divot and damage grass.
Lawn Damage: Excavation
Removing things from the grass can cause big damage to the lawn, and it often takes a little time for this damage to show up. Say you remove a shrub or a tree from the lawn. Once the hole is re-filled and re-seeded, and the earth settles over time, you're left with a deep hole or small divot that's sometimes called an 'ankle twister.' If you run outdoor wiring, it's typical that a trench should be excavated about 24 inches deep (and the wire run in conduit). Once that trench is re-filled, expect the soil to settle several inches. The same can often happen around improperly back-filled deck, pergola, and fence posts or other areas where the yard has been dug up like a retaining wall.
Top Dressing and Re-Seeding, Step by Step
The basic ingredients for top dressing a lawn are pretty simple: healthy soil, seed, fertilizer, and water. As for tools, a shovel, wheelbarrow, and steel rake should cover it. Here's how we do it.
Step 1: Import Soil.
Whether it comes by bucket, barrow or bag, pile loose, healthy top soil in or around the damaged area. For soil that has a lot of clay, mix in some organic matter like peat moss and cow manure to keep it soft.
Step 2: Spread Soil.
Spread the soil using a steel rake, adding soil as necessary to fill low spots. For soil that has lots of clumps that gather in the rake tines, flip the rake upside down. Spread evenly.
Step 3: Use the Rake Handle.
Since "even" can be hard to see, use the rake as a guide to be sure you've filled in a larger depression.
Step 4: Stone and Bone.
If there are any, the rake will pull uproot rocks (stones) and roots (bones) within the soil. Pull them to the edge and remove them. For the clumps of soil that'll come with them, use the rake to stamp them back into regular dirt, leaving a nice, feathered edge of soft soil.
Step 5: Seed.
My wife Theresa and I have had luck with Scotts PatchMaster
, while doing projects over at the MyFixitUpLife
. It's more expensive than a paper-bag of seed from the hardware store, but its comes pre-blended with optimum amounts of seed, starter fertilizer and -- what may be the best part -- mulch. The mulch holds the main ingredient of a successful lawn repair...
Step 6: Water.
Many-a-homeowner is frustrated with lawn repair because they don't water enough. And when the seeds don't get enough water it either takes forever for them to come up (fueled by rain or ground water), they come up in patches, or they don't come up at all.
We like to put a lot of water down -- but apply it gentl y-- so we use a standard garden hose and our fireman's nozzle
for a high-volume yet gentle shower. When watering, the key is to soak the ground without washing the seed away. This takes a few minutes with a hose, which we like to do twice a day. In other words, you want wet soil beneath
the grass seeds so the root system is attracted down to the water. Apply too little and the roots don't grow deep because all the water is at the surface.
What's your lawn repair advice?