Aerate vs. Dethatch vs. Overseed

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When was the last time you fertilized? Watered? Where are you?
Bob
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I fertilized generously with Scott's stage 1 in early April. Then generously with Scott's stage 2 in early May, then again with Scott's stage 2 in early June since I was concerned that with all the heavy rains we experienced in Boston in May/June that the anti-weed protection had washed away and that the fertilizer had been consumed.
I also limed once.
We live in the Boston area.
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If by "anti-weed protection", you mean weed-n-feed type fertilizer, it kills on contact, and you get no weed control benefit after rain or watering. That's why they say don't water for 3 days. Don't worry about it. It's done its job.
You could be over fertilizing, causing the grass to grow too fast and become at risk due to heat and drought. I do light fertilizing about half as often as you do, here in Seattle which isn't nearly as hot as Boston.
Bob
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Have you considered the possibility of disease or bugs?
Brown areas can be caused by this. For instance, grubs will chow on the roots and create brown spots. You can usually grab the brown turf and pull up a patch because they have destroyed the roots. Or if you go cut down at the edge of the brown and pull up the edge you will actually see the grubs. A prime indicator of grubs is skunks that dig in your yard. People want to shoot the skunks not realizing they are doing them a favor by digging a relatively small hole to eat their delicasy food, grubs.
Disease is another story. Gotta ID it.
Bottom line whether it's bad mowing or someone spraying Triox on your lawn at night, you gotta ID the root cause and not just throw stuff at it like a jackpot.
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Agree.
Not grubs cuz I applied Grub Ex in April. We also have had grubs previously and this is nothing like it (no holes from squirrels, no turf picking up).
Could be other disease but don't know how to identify. Also, as mentioned in a reply to another poster, the whole lawn seems to have been "shocked" into slow and anemic growth -- with some areas growing very, very slowly (doesn't need mowing even after 3 weeks), other areas thinned or admixed with brown strands of grass, and other small scattered patches just all dead.
Any suggestions on how to ID disease or do you need to send a sample to some "expert" somewhere?
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writes:

Those lawn service franchises will ID and treat it as part of the periodic fertilizing fee. They do charge extra for things like aerating, lime, soil testing, etc. They advertise if you are not happy between feedings with progress they will come back at no charge. When you have a problem as you do, in the long run it will cost less then guessing , buying and applying on your own. When they get it straightend out just cancel it.
Just a possible approach.
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Blueman. You have got some excellent advice to your question, especially checking things out your soil before you do anything. One matter I will add that no one else has, and it is not a big things, see what the soil life is like. Kay suggested cutting a core out of your soil. When doing that check to see the worm life in your soil. If you have sweet stuff all worms it indicates that probably your soil is not functioning that well to support growth. You can bypass the soil life and grow grass however having a functioning soil life will make it easier to get a nice lawn and keep a nice lawn. You may well have to do everything else suggested to you, but once you have gotten there simple things like mowing higher, mulching grass in to the lawn, going very lightly on chemical sprays and changing synthetic fertilisers to organic fertilisers (though mulch mowing will deliver many of the nutrients back in to your lawn) will encourage your soil to operate as it should and support a nice healthy lawn. As an example, a good population of worms do a good job of keeping thatch under control and build up a layer of humus that retains moisture.
rob
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Don't know about Boston area, but here in NJ this was a very bad summer for disease. There are many lawns in my area that suffered severe damage. I had some problem areas as well, most likely pythium blight and brown patch. The grass in a few areas just collapsed and died in the first two days of 90+ heat.
I'd start by getting the soil tested and adjust the PH if needed. Are you sure you have a thatch problem? Thatch is a thick layer of undecayed grass matter that is so dense water has a difficult time penetrating. It is most common on bluegrass and usually not a problem with fescues.
Now is the best time to aerate and overseed. If the grass has been a problem for sometime, is of poor quality, disease prone, etc, you may want to kill it all off and reseed the whole thing. You can do that with Roundup and reseed about 10 days later.
Forget about doing it by hand. You can get quotes on having it done, but I think you'll find you can do it yourself for a fraction of the cost. You can rent a core aerator for $50 for a half day. Same for a slice seeder. I'd aerate first, then use the slice seeder. While you can just spread the seed around after aerating, using a slice seeder is far more effective. It cuts slits and gets the seed into them, assuring good germination.
Make sure you choose the right type of grass for the location and conditions. Buy only the best quality seed. There are many new varieties of really superior seed available today. After seeding, put down starter fertilizer and keep it constantly damp for 2-3 weeks.
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