Is your lawn looking a bit worse for wear? You may know that your grass needs improving but don’t know how to renovate your lawn. A complete lawn renovation may seem like a daunting task but it can be one of the most important parts of the lawn care calendar. It can be tempting to pack away the mower for another year once the weather starts to get a bit cooler and the dry weather has gone. But your autumn lawn care can be incredibly important to ensure a great looking lawn the following spring. Follow our 9 step plan for a successful diy lawn renovation.
Is Autumn a good time to do a lawn renovation?
Autumn can be the best time to scarify and over seed a mossy lawn. The ground will still be warm from the summer heat and there is plenty of moisture around to aid seed germination. This will mean less watering will be required than might be needed in the dry springs of recent years, plus any watering is less likely to evaporate away.
But the grass is too wet, won’t that harm the lawn?
Moisture is a good thing to aid lawn recovery. If you try to do a lawn renovation in mid-summer when the ground is dry you may not only damage the grass but you could even damage the machines on the parched earth. Plus you would have to water several times per day in summer as the heat dries the seed, whereas in Autumn, especially from September – October there is usually a lot more rain.
Admittedly it will be a bit more of a mucky job at this time of year but it is well worth the muddy boots.
What is a lawn renovation?
A lawn renovation is the process of removing old dead grass, moss and thatch from a lawn and introducing new seed in order to invigorate and give the lawn new life and vigour. These new species will often be more drought and disease tolerant, as well as more visually appealing than the older grasses.
Often a top dressing is applied at the same time which will not only smooth out small bumps and hollows, but also act like a blanket for the new seed, improving germination.
What equipment do I need?
You don’t need to splash out on fancy equipment to renovate your lawn, a mower, spring tine rake and garden fork for aeration will do a sufficient job and may be perfect for a very small lawn. Grass seed and soil can be spread by hand and brushed in with a garden broom or back of a rake.
The bigger the lawn gets the more important electric or petrol machines are for a good result. I recommend:
Stiff brush / level lute
Lawn renovation process:
- Mow the lawn low
- Aerate the lawn
- Scarify the lawn
- Clear debris
- Scarify again
- Spread the seed
- Top dress the lawn
- Work in dressing and level the lawn
- Optional extras and aftercare for best results.
Step 1. Mow the lawn low
The first stage should be to mow the grass low, at around 20mm or as low as you can without churning up the grass. It doesn’t matter if it looks a bit rough as it is about to look far worse with what is to follow! The reason for this is to ensure that when you are scarifying you are removing thatch and moss and not simply cutting long grass. We also don’t want the old grass smothering the new seedlings by growing too long too soon. A nice short mow will give us a bit of extra time.
Step 2. Aerate the lawn
This step could be seen as optional, it certainly isn’t essential in order to achieve germination of the new seed but we do recommend aerating before seeding and top dressing.
The main reason for aerating is to relieve compaction, especially when using a hollow tine aerator. If the soil is hard and compacted after a long hot summer new seed roots will struggle to penetrate the soil and root deeply. By relieving this compaction the roots have room to spread out and grow.
Thousands of little holes in the lawn also provide nice little pockets for seed to sit in which will improve the chances of germination.
A petrol machine will make a much easier job of aerating but this can be done by hand either with a garden fork or a manual hollow core aerator. Ensure that you rake up the cores before the next stage. It is possible to aerate a week or two before hand as the cores will naturally break down and the scarification will help to remove any remaining cores.
Step 3. Scarify the lawn
Heavily scarify the lawn to remove as much old dead grass, moss and thatch as possible. New seed needs to make good contact with the soil in order to germinate properly. If seed is spread into a mossy or thatchy lawn the seed will not be able to put it’s roots down into the soil and will simply die.
A scarifier with fixed blades will usually be the best tool for the job as this will cut through the thatch more effectively. They also have the benefit of leaving slight grooves in the soil surface which can be nice little pockets for new seed to germinate. However any scarifier or rake can do the job, if yours is an electric scarifier with spring tines it will just need a few more passes.
Step 4. Clear the debris
Rake or blow the moss and thatch into piles and remove from the lawn. Try and get as much of the debris as possible as a clean surface will provide a better seed bed.
Don’t worry at this point if the lawn looks like a disaster. Things will have to get worse before they get better!
Step 5. Scarify again
We recommend scarifying in at least two different directions to achieve a clean seed bed, although more passes may be necessary with a lower powered machine. Set the blades so that they just brush the soil surface, without making the machine struggle too much. If the thatch is particularly thick you may have to start with the blades higher and lower them on the second pass.
Step 6. Spread the seed
The next step in the process is to spread the new grass seed over the lawn
Try to choose a grass seed that will blend in with your existing lawn, if you have lots of coarse grass a fine fescue mix will not succeed and be swamped by the stronger grasses. Similarly if you have a fine lawn its best to choose a mix that doesn’t contain ryegrass. As with most things in life you get what you pay for, a better quality seed may cost a bit extra but will be stronger and more resilient than a very cheap mix.
A drop spreader is the best method of applying seed, as there are many different brands of spreader it’s impossible to advise how to calibrate each one, some trial and error may be needed. If in doubt I would always recommend you go lighter and make several passes until all of the seed is used up, rather than apply too heavy and run out before the end or apply too unevenly.
How heavy should I spread the seed?
Ideally apply at half rate and apply in two different directions to ensure an even coverage. Refer to the packaging for the correct application rate but a general rule of thumb 35-50 g per square meter is usually about right. I would go for a slightly higher rate to allow for the fact that birds will eat a few.
If in doubt you can just scatter the seed as evenly as possible by hand. It’s usually hard to apply too much seed to a lawn (though it is possible ) most people apply far too little.
Step 7. Top dress the lawn
This step is like the icing on the cake. The addition of soil will greatly improve the success of new seed germination, helping hold in moisture and heat, as well as protecting it from birds and being washed away by rain. It will also provide important nutrients for the new seedlings.
Which top dressing?
There are multiple different types of top dressing that can be used, which would deserve its own article. As a rule a good quality top soil is usually the best compromise. This will have organic matter which will help retain moisture but will also contain some sand which will help level out small lumps and bumps and prevent the soil from being washed away by heavy rain.
You can use compost which will certainly provide nutrients but you will need a very good quality product. Some composts can be very coarse, with small twigs and stems which will not disappear down into the sward easily and will sit on the surface. These will not be a good medium for the seed to grow through.
Sand is good if you want to level out the lawn, however it does not retain moisture effectively, which will mean you will have to water regularly to ensure germination. It’s definitely not impossible but the point of a renovation is usually to get new seed to grow so it is easier to use an organic based soil.
How heavy should I apply
lawn top dressing?
Try to use as dry a soil mix as possible. If it is too wet it wont drop down between the grass blades properly and can smother the existing grass. It also won’t be easy to spread evenly over the lawn.
The best method is to grab a shovel and broadcast the soil over the lawn, working your way across the lawn until you have a light layer.
I would aim for a layer of 5-10mm , or around 4-6 litres per square meter. If you have large bare areas I would go with the higher figure. Any thicker than this and the seed may struggle to work its way through.
Step 8. Work in the dressing and level the lawn
Work the dressing down into the turf. This can be done with a stiff brush or the back of a rake. For best results I recommend a level lute. This will work the soil into the grass while at the same time levelling out little bumps and hollows in the turf surface.
Once the soil has been spread you can give it a light roll with a garden roller to improve seed to soil contact but this is not essential.
And that’s it! In a week or so the new grass should start to poke through and in a few weeks the lawn will look better than ever.
Step 9. Optional extras and after care for best results
Water – this is the most important aspect of after care. If there is no rain after a day or so you should water the lawn. In the Autumn this may not need to be any more than once every few days but if done in the Spring or early summer twice daily watering may be needed to keep the seed moist. Keep watering even once the seed has germinated, and until it is established.
Cover – If birds are a big problem or if temperatures are set to drop then covering with a fleece layer will speed up germination whilst protecting the delicate seed. Once the new seed is around 1-2 cm tall the fleece can be removed. This may be an expensive step on a larger lawn though.
Feed – I don’t recommend you feed before the renovation, as you don’t want the existing grass to grow too quickly and swamp the new seed. It is better to wait 3-4 weeks until the seed has established before applying a light Autumn fertiliser dressing, but often the soil dressing is sufficient food for the grass to establish.
Traffic – Try and keep off of the lawn until the new seed has established. Walking on very new seedlings can damage or even kill them, ruining all your hard work.
Mow – Once the grass is 40-60 cm tall give it a light mow, being careful not to remove more than a third of the grass blade. Keep mowing throughout the winter, it’s best to keep it at a good height ready for spring rather than let it grow out of control and needing rescuing in the spring.
Leaves – Make sure you don’t allow leaves to sit on the surface as these will rapidly kill the delicate grass if allowed to remain covered for even a couple of days. Lightly rake or blow the leaves off without disturbing the seed bed. If leaves are a problem in your garden then it may be best to leave the renovation until the Spring.
Good luck with your lawn renovation, it can be a big job but well worth the effort. If you want the experts to do it for you, a lawn renovation can cost less than you might think. Get in touch for a free quote today