Dead Lawn: New Topsoil or Rototiller?

Hi Everyone,
The former owner of a house we recently moved into did not care for his lawn and it is mostly dead. I want to put new seed down. I think the soil is OK because the neighbors all have great lawns. So I am wondering which should be my approach to prepare the ground:
1. Should I rake up what I can and then put a few inches of new topsoil down? or...
2. Should I rent a rototiller to just break up the existing soil?
Thanks in advance!
Jon in NJ
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These are great questions. Where about in NJ are you? I am in the Phila Area.

some trees and that you want them to be healthy. Adding soil under your trees can suffocate your trees. The require oxygen in the root system in a process called respiration. Adding more soil can reduce the oxygen contact thus cause suffocation. For mulching suggestions for your trees check this out.
Mulching - http://home.ccil.org/~treeman/sub3.html and
http://www.treedictionary.com/DICT2003/M/index.html Look up "Mulch"

Again you would have to stay away from your trees with the rototiller. Your non-woody absorbing roots are in the upper 4" of soil. Killing them by this means would create problems for your trees. If your not within the drip line of your trees (roots can go further than drip line) then if you rototilled in leaf compost or mushroom soil that may help you. BTW I sell organic mushroom soil in PA. I get it directly from the certified organic mushroom growers. Just a thought.
Bottom line is to always consider your trees before performing other treatments.
Sincerely, John A. Keslick, Jr. Arborist http://home.ccil.org/~treeman and www.treedictionary.com Beware of so-called tree experts who do not understand tree biology. Storms, fires, floods, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions keep reminding us that we are not the boss.

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rake. compost. overseed. roll to make it even. straw over the top and set up a flip flop to water every day in the morning if you arent getting nice showers. we brought a lawn at our rental back from the dead in 1 year with this regimen. oh, and we used weed killer because the lawn was full of weeds. but it was a sprayer and we hit individual weeds with it. Ingrid
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And if you choose pesticides it might be wise to do a little research first with respect to you, your pets, trees and wildlife. http://home.ccil.org/~treeman/spring.html
Sincerely, John A. Keslick, Jr. Arborist http://home.ccil.org/~treeman and www.treedictionary.com Beware of so-called tree experts who do not understand tree biology. Storms, fires, floods, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions keep reminding us that we are not the boss.

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Hi Everyone, and thanks so much for the info.
Actually, I have trees in this little yard, so my only goal is really to get grass to grow. Sounds like I'm better off with a rototiller & rake than with new topsoil, yes?
Thanks again!
Jon
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If you would like healthy trees keep the tiller away from the drip line of the trees. Proper mulching of your trees would not be a bad idea if you have concern with the biological health of your trees.
Sincerely, John A. Keslick, Jr. Arborist http://home.ccil.org/~treeman and www.treedictionary.com Beware of so-called tree experts who do not understand tree biology. Storms, fires, floods, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions keep reminding us that we are not the boss.

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do not rototill. it not only will sever the tree roots but it brings up weed seeds from below the surface which will all germinate and you will have nothing but weeds quickly. Ingrid
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