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Renovating Your Lawn – Step by Step

What is your idea of the ultimate yard? Some of us dream about that perfect lush green grass lawn rambling up to our suburban homes and landscape. Others dream of having our families and friends picnicking or playing yard games such as bags, croquet, or bocce ball on the rear yard lawn; while others dream of just being able to walk in the backyard with soft green grass surrounding our bare feet; while others feel that the ultimate yard is just securing enough of a solid lawn cover so that your family, friends and pets aren’t walking in mud. Realistically, these “dreams” can become reality for many homes in the Chicago area; although some goals may have to be adjusted due to shade or other environment concerns. Here at A.G. Landscape Materials, Inc. and A.G. VanGundy Landscape, Inc. we stand committed to help you achieve those goals. If you are a do-it-yourselfer, but don’t quite know where to start with your lawn renovation then this is the blog for you. If you think you’re a do-it-yourselfer, but aren’t quite sure, read on and then make your decision. If you decide that you’d prefer someone else do all or part of the work, then please keep A.G. VanGundy Landscape, Inc. in mind. Either way, let’s get started:

Step 1 – Assessment

Is the lawn bare? Is it completely bare? Does it have a lot of bare spots? Can you see if there is gravel in the lawn?

Is it full sun or shade or both? If it’s in the shade, how much of the time is in the shade? 20%, 50%, or more?

Now, if the grass looks brown/tan and lying down with new green shoots coming through it, you may have thatch build up.

Finally, does water stand on the lawn for a day or two after a rain? If yes, then you have a drainage problem that may simply require some soil spread over the effected area or you may have to refer to our blog on drain tile work or ask about grading.

Write down your assessment. In this blog, I will address most of the above problems. I will follow up with a blog about fertilizers and then maintenance and watering and patience.

If the lawn has some bare spots or is just sparse, then use a rake to loosen the soil a bit. There’s no need to rake up more than an inch or so, the raking is so that when the grass seed is applied, it has a chance to connect to softer soil and imbed itself as opposed to lying on a hard surface. If the area is too large to do by hand, then rent a power rake and set the tines to scratch the surface. Then apply the grass seed. For seeding purposes, we at A.G. VanGundy Landscape, Inc. have had better luck seeding in late April/early May once the temperatures are higher. I would recommend overseeding these types of lawns as follows: 6 lbs per 1000 sq. ft. for sunny locations and 8-9 lbs. per 1000 sq. ft. for shady locales, depending on the amount of shade. A.G. Landscape Materials, Inc. sells a great seed that is available in 5 lb. bags and 25 lb. bags. Now, if in the bare spots you see just a little gravel, don’t worry too much. But, if you see the gravel is very apparent and that it is impossible to remove for whatever reason, you may try lightly raking in a ½” – ¾” layer of Organic Compost (also available at A.G. Landscape Materials, Inc.) and apply the grass seed. Increase the above seeding rates by a pound or pound and a half.

Often the lawn has this dead brown material that looks like laid down grass with some green grass shoots trying to push their way through. This is thatch. A thin layer of thatch at the soil can actually be beneficial in that it holds moisture longer. However, once it gets too heavy it “chokes out” the good lawn and should be removed. You know it’s too heavy when the grass looks dead brown. If the area is small, then this can be raked out manually with a thatch rake. After the material is disposed of, overseeding should be done at a rate again of 6 lb. per 1000 sq. ft. for sunny locations and 8-9 lbs. for shady locations.

If the problem areas are due to standing water or poor drainage and if the area can be graded by simply adding soil, then try to following these recommendations:
Spread a good, clean pulverized soil, similar to that sold at A.G. Landscape Materials. Soil that is not too light, but workable is fine. Make sure the top is soft, yet firm. Patting or lightly rolling the soil then raking the top ½” – 1” helps. Apply a good quality grass seed to the soil and lightly rake the seed into the top ¼” of soil. Address the areas surrounding the new soil area by raking out the dead grasses and seed directly in them as well. This will spread seed into a greater area so that the lawn does not have as much of a “patched” look. It is best if the entire area can be overseeded. I like to increase the seed rates in these applications by at least 2 lbs. per 1000 sq. ft.

Please be careful with pre-emergent weed control prior to seeding as the use of these chemicals may stop or slow down grass seed germination.

Hopefully, these tips help. Please look forward to our next blogs where we will address fertilization, watering as well as a complete re-sodding of a lawn.

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