Aerate vs. Dethatch vs. Overseed

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I have a relatively small lawn (maybe 5 thousand square feet spread across a couple of patches) that has developed seemingly more brown than green spots, including a bit of a mat of dead grass.
I know I need to do something to condition the soil and re-seed this fall.
I am considering aerating, dethatching, and then overseeding. I am confused about which of these tasks requires a power machine (and hence rental) vs. the ability to do by hand.
If the marginal benefit is not too great, I would prefer not to have to rent 3 separate machines.
- My understanding is that aeration requires a power machine to do it right, so presumably I need to rent an aerator.
- Do I need a dethatcher or could I do just as good a job with a special dethatching rake?
- Do I need an overseeder machine or can I do almost as good a job with a standard Scott's broadcast spreader?
- If I rent an overseeder, do I still need an aerator or will the overseeder do a reasonably good job of opening up the soil?
- Finally, is this the right order of operations: Aerate Dethatch Fertilize/lime Seed/overseed Water Water Water...
Thanks
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blueman wrote:

You can get a special blade for your power mower which will do a passable job on dethatching. Follow thwt up wih the manual dethatching rake.
Dethatch first.
Then rent an aereater machine.
Then over seed.
Starter fertilizer.
Water.
Maybe straw as top cover / mulch.
Pray for rain.
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blueman wrote:

And you don't want to lime unless and until you've had a couple of soil samples tested for pH.
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Nope. You left out "soil test".
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OK - I just looked up our state lab and they offer a long list of tests, including the following. Am I right in assuming I just need either the "Standard Soil Test" or the "Standard Soil Test with Organic Matter"?
1. Standard Soil Test: $9 Includes pH, Buffer pH, Extractable Nutrients (P, K, Ca, Mg, Fe, Mn, Zn, Cu, B), Extractable Heavy Metals (Pb, Cd, Ni, Cr), and Extractable Aluminum, Cation Exchange Capacity, Percent Base Saturation.
2. Standard Soil Test w/ Organic Matter: $13 Same as Standard Soil Test with the addition of Percent Organic Matter by Loss on Ignition.
3. Soluble Salts: $4 Includes a measure of the Electrical Conductivity of a 1:2 (soil:water) extract.
4. Soil Texture: $50 A determination of USDA Textural Classification by combined Hydrometer Analysis of silts and clay and Dry Sieving of sands. Title 5 Parameters also determined upon request at submittal. Results presented in Tabular Format.
5. Total Soil Metals: $30 A determination of the Total Soil Contents of K, Ca, Mg, Fe, Mn, Zn, Cu, Pb, Cd, Ni, and Cr. Also included are the non-metals P and B. Analysis by ICP Spectrometry of Nitric/Perchloric Acid Digest.
6. Total Soil Nitrogen: $10 A determination of the Total Nitrogen in the soil by catalytic combustion
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blueman wrote:

...
No you missed the first step.
Find out what the problem is. You are trying to fix half a dozen different problems none of which may be the one causing the problem.
I have seen many people who like to use all of your operations, but get little results because the problem may be the way they mow the grass. The most common lawn problem where I live is mowing too short. Everyone seems to think that because putting greens are mowed short, that is the answer to a good looking lawn..... Not.
I suggest getting the soil tested as a good start. You local county extension office should be able to help you with this and likely many great suggestions for your area. What works in my area might kill the grass in yours.
--
Joseph Meehan

Dia duit
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Good point! I will investigate!
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You can do all of the things that you suggested, or any combination of them, but I don't think you're ever going to be happy with the result. Once you go down the "overcaring for the lawn" road there is no end to it.
Let me tell you what I do for my lawn, and it looks great. I do basically nothing. I mow at the second from the highest setting with my mulching mower, and I let the clippings lie where they fall. I do not provide any supplemental water. This makes the roots go deep, and the lawn "learns" to fend for itself. (A weak lawn with shallow roots that is used to being fed from above might look even worse for a while until it figured out what to do.)
And that's it. Healthy grass has deep roots and is tall enough to shade the lower parts of its blades from harsh sun. The clippings that fall decompose and provide nutrients. Grass doesn't need anything else to survive, honest.
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That is a monumental amount of turf.

If you have thatch, you are watering incorrectly. What are your watering practices?

It is often less expensive to have someone come in and do that for you. Still, what makes you think you have thatch? What does it look like, what sort of grass?

Again, it is about the same price to pay someone to do this for you and you should make sure they use a core aerator, not just prongs. This will leave little turd shaped things on the lawn which will wash down with the next good rain..

You will be dead if you use a dethatching rake! Your lawn is enormous, unless you don't actually know how large 5,000 square feet is.

Where do you live, what kind of seed?

You do not nee an overseeder. Of course a broadcast spreader is only about 20 dollars and you can use it to get seed down relatively evenly and it's also good for fertilizing.

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Jangchub wrote:

<snip>
huh? 5000sq ft is .114 acres. One acres is 43,560 square feet. Thats not a huge area in my world. maybe in Manhattan or some place.
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Well, my house is 2500 square feet and there are four large bedrooms, a huge livingroom, giant kitchen and two full baths with walk in closets in every room. So, double that and you have the equivalent of a house with eight bedrooms, two livingrooms, two giant kitchens, four full bathrooms and many huge closets. That's a lot of turf to manage for a homeowner.
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Nonsense.
My first house sat on a 60'x135' lot. That's 8100 square feet. Subtract 10'x70' for the driveway, 24'x35' for the house, and 12'x20' for the garage. That leaves 6320 square feet. I mowed the whole thing with a walk-behind power mower in about forty minutes.
--
Regards,
Doug Miller (alphageek at milmac dot com)
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On Wed, 30 Aug 2006 01:04:21 GMT, snipped-for-privacy@milmac.com (Doug Miller) wrote:

And the point is, that is an incredible amount of energy to use and waste water and money on.
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At this point, I'm thinking about the electric bill. Cooling 5000 square feet could cost a lot.
--
Mark Lloyd
http://notstupid.laughingsquid.com
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On Tue, 29 Aug 2006 22:48:39 -0500, Mark Lloyd

We have a 50 foot pool and a 2500 square foot home and last month, which was entirely over 100 degrees with no relief at night cost us almost 400 dollars. We keep the air at 79 because of my medical condition. And those are TX prices. My mother lives up on Long Island ON the water. She uses her air conditioning about half the time and her house is not quite 2000 feet and her bill was 475 last month.
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First, cut some sod samples to see what's going on with the soil, in both a green and a brown patch. Water first with a sprinkler for 15 minutes before trying to cut the sample, and then wait 15 minutes before cutting. Can you get a spade in easily? If so, it probably doesn't need aeration, unless you've got traffic lanes (a dog patrolling your fencelines, a mailcarrier wearing a path, etc.). Is there a difference between the two samples in how far the water penetrated into the soil? Is there a lot of dead stuff (like more than 1/2 inch) just above the soil in brown areas making a layer that water doesn't penetrate? If not, you don't have thatch (and chances are, you don't have thatch anyhow -- unless you've been feeding the lawn quite heavily. http://www.extension.umn.edu/distribution/horticulture/DG1123.html
Were the brown areas quite green in cooler temps, and the areas that weren't so green are now green? If so, that suggests you've got a mixture of warm season (Zoysia, buffalo grass, crabgrass, etc.) and cool season (bluegrass, fescues) in your lawn, and they're reacting quite predictably to summer temps.
If you get back to us with the results of that spade test, we can suggest some better ways of going on.
Personally, I'd start with a soil test, especially if you've not been liming and fertilizing regularly. That's no matter what the spade test shows. I'd also pull a sample for a shake test, to determine particle size composition of the soil.
My gut feeling is you've probably got a mixture of warm and cool season grasses; if the warm season grass is crabgrass (it'd be green now in hot weather), it's an annual and can be "cured" with proper fertilization, mowing and overseeding. Might want to poke around on the web and match pictures of blooming/seeding grasses in your lawn to some of the common lawn weeds.
Assuming you've got crabgrass, I'd suggest running through the areas with a tiller, scattering (by hand) in good fresh lawn seed of desirable species, firming up the soil, and then watering this fall. Apply lime and a good "starter fertilizer" without pesticide this fall; lime and a spring fertilizer next year. And get the mower blade sharpened... one of the biggest causes of ratty looking lawns.
Kay
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Hmmmm, well the patches are irregularly shaped and randomly scattered with each alive and dead area maybe only about a couple square feet. Even the live areas aren't exactly lush (they still are thinned out and have brown within them, just not all dead). And btw, we don't have a dog or anything like that...
I did fertilize 3 times this spring (once with Scott's Stage 1 and twice with Scott's stage 2). I used the second application of Stage 2 because I feared that after the huge rainstorms in May/June (we live in the Boston area) that the anti-weed protection had dissolved and that the fertilizer had been used up by the rapid initial growth caused by the rain. The lawn did grow quite lusciously at first probably due to a combination of rain and fertilizer.
There are 2 additional possible causes to our problem.
First, our lawn lies on a sloping hill surrounded by maple trees so the soil tends to dry out; however, as above we had a VERY wet May/June and I have been watering the lawn since 3 times a week for 50 minutes. I am hesitant to water more due to the cost of water and I was told that better to water fewer times for longer to encourage root growth and discourage crab grass. Also, even on the other side of the house where the lawn is flat, the grass is pretty anemic with a lot of mixed in dead strands (just not as severe or patched as in the sloped areas).
Second, because of the near constant May/June rains, the initial grass grew pretty lushly to about 6-8 inches high before I had a chance to cut it. I then cut it back to the medium setting on my mower/mulcher so I don't know if I "shocked" the lawn too much. This tends to leave about 2-3 inches of lawn.
Interestingly (and perhaps this is the KEY), is that while the lawn was growing extremely fast and green during the April/May rains, it has hardly grown anywhere (even in the relatively green areas) over the past 8 weeks - so much so that when I mow there is very little to cut. Even in the non-dead areas, the grass is thin with mixed in brown strands and very anemic growth.
So it seems like something "shocked" almost the entire lawn causing some areas to die and other areas to fade and stop growing.
Regarding thatch, what I mean is that there is dead grass that is lying in a light mat on the ground, particularly in the dead areas -- most likely representing a combination of grass that died and the longer grass that I cut earlier in the season during the rains.
Hopefully, this is helpful in adding more detail...

Again areas are random with no apparant difference.

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That's exactly what I'd expect of a lawn with a disease, weed or insect problem, especially one that's stressed from being in shade.

I don't know the correct mowing height for your lawn, as you don't tell us what species you're growing. But yes, this could contribute to your problems. So could OD'ing on the fertilizer/weedkiller combination.

That's not thatch. Thatch is almost impenetrable by water, thick, spongy and undecayed. You've just got some duff.
You have an excellent extension service in Texas; they can help you identify the species of grass you've got, do a soil test, make fertilization recommendations, and tell you what diseases or cultural problems they see in samples you submit. Now that I know you're in Houston (I thought your original post's headers indicated a yankee lawn <g>), a fungal disease is a whole lot more likely. Or you may have a lawn with species poorly chosen for your growing conditions. Or you may have an insect problem despite your earlier application of grub control.
Here's a start for you from the TX extension website: http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/plantanswers/turf/turf.html but I think you'd probably be best served by picking up the phone and dialing your area extension office (I know there's one in Dickinson, and I'm pretty sure there's a Harris County office, too. Ask how to submit samples for analysis and disease inspection.
The key to having a lawn that looks good without killing yourself is to choose the species you're growing to match soil and water and sun conditions, fertilize and lime properly, mow at the correct height and correct time, and keep those mower blades sharp. Ragged cuts are open invitations to diseases. With the proper selection of species and cultivars (varieties) and good mowing practices, you'll spend less time on the lawn, and need far fewer treatments of one sort or another.
Kay's rules for sanity in lawn care: -- choose your species well -- know your soil -- mow properly -- treat the problems you've actually got, not the problems you might have.
Kay, who spent more than enough time in Houston in August <vbg>
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["Followup-To:" header set to rec.gardens.]
Gads, I need caffeine. You said Boston, not Houston. My apologies.
Same basic advice, holds, though -- shake test for soil texture, send out samples for nutrient analysis, pH, possibly for salinity, find out who does disease testing in your area...
A conversation with the local extension office (or maybe one of the outreach offices of gardens in your area) may get you some leads on possible diseases that have been cropping up recently.
Usually, when weather is triggering a disease or insect outbreak, it's all over, not just in one yard. If yours is the only area really affected, I'd be thinking cultural issues.
But I'm willing to bet thatch isn't your problem. Had you said there are different textures of grasses in the green and brown spots, I'd have thought crabrass and hot weather. With the water stress you've been having out there, however, it could be a number of things.
Kay

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What you are told is correct. But 3 times a week is probably way too much. 1 inch once a week is what I hear recommended. You need to measure your watering rate to get it right.

I see recommendations to never remove more than 1/3 of the grass in a mowing. Otherwise, you remove the leaves, and only stem is left. This could be your problem. Better to mow longer, then mow again in a few days.
Bob
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