Create a healthy lawn by starting over
Let's get this
from the get-go:
A healthy lawn doesn't
get taken over by weeds.
So if it looks like you're
raising weeds instead of
grass, that's a sign of a
more serious problem.
And that may mean
killing off the grass and
starting over. It's a big
project that'll take several
weekends and may
cost you up to 25¢ per
sq. ft. for equipment
rentals, soil conditioners
and seed. If you're willing
to spend more, you
can lay sod instead of
planting seed, but don't
skip the soil testing and
Are you ready for a
fresh start? Just follow
our guide and you'll be
the happiest gnomeowner
on your block.
Evaluate Your Lawn
Going “nuclear” shouldn't be your
first option. Instead, start with spot
applications of weed killer, dethatching
and core aeration. But if you still
see more than 60 percent weeds at
the start of the next growing season,
your lawn is too far gone to save. Your
best option is to nuke it and replant.
Note: To find out how to dethatch and aerate for greener, healthier grass, search for “lawn.”
Step 1: Get a soil analysis
Don't even think about replanting
until you get the results of a soil
analysis (cost is usually less than
$20). Contact a local extension
service or search the Internet for
a soil-testing lab near you. Select
three different locations around
your lawn and collect samples.
Mix them together and scoop into
a container. Note on the lab form
that you'll be planting new grass
and whether you bag the clippings
when you mow or return them to
the lawn. In a couple of weeks,
you'll get a report with recommendations
about which fertilizers or
soil treatments to add.
Step 2: Kill everything
You can kill the grass with chemicals
like Roundup or Killzall. But if
you hate the idea of using chemicals
and have a large area, rent
a sod cutter to remove the lawn
surface. Or kill the grass by blocking
out its sunlight with black poly film
(4-mil or thicker; about $100 for a 28-ft. x
100-ft. roll). Remove the poly when
the grass is dry and brown (two to
three weeks or longer, depending on
Step 3: Remove the dead stuff
Now comes the upper body workout:
Rake up the dead grass and
weeds before you amend the soil.
Yup, it's got to be done.
Step 4: Improve the soil
Don't think you can fix bad soil just
by adding a few inches of black soil
on top of the old. Instead, rent a
tiller (about $45 per day) to till in
the soil conditioners recommended
by the soil analysis.
black topsoil over bad
soil is like putting chocolate
frosting on a stale
cake—it doesn't fix the
Bob Mugaas, Turf Expert
Step 5: Smooth the soil
Grass seed needs smooth and level
ground to get the best germination.
And it needs good seed-to-soil
contact. So first remove all rocks
and debris, then smooth the soil
with a rake.
Step 6: Add a starter fertilizer
A starter fertilizer gives grass seed
the nutrients it needs to germinate
and grow quickly. Consult with a
local nursery to find the best starter
fertilizer for the seed you select.
Follow the instructions on the bag for
the proper spread rate for a new lawn
and apply the fertilizer.
Step 7: Pick seed to match your site
Consult with the grass expert at a
garden center to select a seed that
matches your site conditions, lawn
care preferences and budget. Ask
about the newer low-maintenance
and drought-resistant varieties.
Purchase grass seed by the bag or
in bulk, by the pound. But buy just
what you need. Don't apply the
leftover seed—extra seed actually
reduces the germination rate.
Step 8: Prepare the seed
To avoid applying too much seed,
mix the seed (4:1 ratio) with a fertilizer/
bulking agent (Milorganite is
one brand; about $15 for a 36-lb. bag).
When to Plant
There are good and bad times of
year for starting a project like this. in
cold climates, plant new grass seed
in early spring as the lawns are just
coming out of winter (early to mid-April)
or late summer from about
mid-august to mid-September. in
warm-weather climates, plant in late
spring/early summer. if you're not
sure, contact your local extension
service to get planting advice from a
Step 9: Spread the seed
Load the seed into a spreader and
apply it. Make sure it doesn't fly into
nearby gardens. Rake to cover the
furrows as shown. Then compact
the soil with a sod roller (rent one
for about $20 per day) to get good
Note: To learn how to use a spreader fertilizer and reseed your lawn, search for “fertilizer.”
Step 10: Add mulch or grass seed accelerator
Cover the soil with compost mulch
to retain water during germination.
Or apply a “grass seed accelerator”
(one brand is GreenView, greenviewfertilizer.com
; about $22 for 30
lbs., which covers 600 sq. ft.). The
accelerator absorbs more moisture
than either mulch or hay and then
slowly releases it. It also degrades
naturally, eliminating cleanup.
Step 11: Water, but not too much
Water the new lawn generously
right after the mulch application,
but stop as soon as you see puddles
forming. Then keep the soil moist
to a depth of 4 to 6 in. for best germination.
Keep watering regularly
as the seedlings appear and grow.
Gradually reduce the watering over
a six-week period. Then switch to
your normal watering routine.
“Most people overwater
Just keep the soil
damp for the best
Bob Mugaas, Turf Expert
Back to Top
Step 12: Cut the grass with TLC
Set the cutting height to 2-1/2 in.
Use a new or sharpened blade to
make sharp, clean slicing cuts.
Avoid using a dull blade—it rips the
grass, setting up the conditions for
Note: Find out how to sharpen a lawn mower blade. Search for “sharpen blade.”
Meet Our Grass Guru
Bob Mugaas is an
Extension Educator in
Horticulture with the
University of Minnesota
Extension. Bob has
authored or co-authored
more than 200 articles on
various topics related to
turf grass management.