Overseeding a lawn

I have a lawn which I inherited 15 years ago, on purchasing my home. It appears to be a mixture of several kinds of lawn grasses, plus clover, crab grass, and weeds(which I continually pull out). My thought was to spread grass seed over it and try to get it to look more uniform. My grass also shows no tolerance to dry spells, although I have been giving it plenty of 10-10-10 fertilizer. What preparations should I do for overseeding, and what is the best time to do it? Can I simply drop the seeds onto the lawn, or should I first add some top soil for the seeds to take hold? What kind of grass seed will be drought resistant here in the Midwest?
Sherwin D.
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sherwindu wrote:

Over fertilization isn't going to help the lawn. If anything, it'll harm it.
The Midwest is a large territory. Check with your county extension office for their recommendation for your area. They are likely to recommend a blend rather than a single strain.
The time to overseed is early fall: After the heat, and just before the fall rains. When you're ready to start, mow it low -- like a putting green. If there is a thatch, rake it out first, renting a dethatching machine if necessary. If you haven't aerated, rent a core aerator, and run it over the lawn. (Aerating is a good idea every couple of years; some people recommend it up to twice a year.) Add some organically rich soil, or some fully decomposed compost. Spread the grass seed. A couple of weeks later, if there are spots not filling in, use a rake to score the surface, and spread seeds in that area.
Next year, start some good habits. Mow high, and mow often enough that you aren't cutting away more than 1/3 the blades. Let the clippings on the lawn. If you can't resist fertilizing, spread some time release fertilizer at about 1/3 to 1/2 the package recommendations. When the spring rains stop, water 1" a week, all at one time if possible. (If it puddles and runs-off before getting a full inch, you need to aerate again in fall.) Mow high.
The most common mistakes people make with their lawns are: 1. Watering shallow, and too frequently. (Frequent, shallow watering encourages shallow roots. Shallow roots can't take a drought.) 2. Mowing too low. (Most grasses you'd use in the Midwest are best at 2-3", not the 1-2" a lot of people try), 3. Fertilizing too much. (Leaving the clippings, assuming you're mowing frequently enough, should provide most, if not all, of the fertilization you'll need.)
Consider removing parts of the lawn, and converting them to beds. Few things take as much time an resources as a lawn, especially when you're trying to keep it green in summer. And few things are as boring as a unadorned carpet of a single color. (Also, the larger your lawn is, the more those bad spots stick-out. Larger beds draw attention away from the smaller lawn, and well chosen perennials take far less maintenance than grass -- especially in summer.)
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Warren H.

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Great advice all around. I especially like the bit above. I did exactly this - I removed about 60% of the lawn area and replaced it with planting beds. Lawns require an incredible amount of resources - fertilizer, herbicides, water, and time. Instead of having lawn as a feature, now it is just the element that ties the whole landscape together. Furthermore, the only lawn that I attempt to keep in ideal condition is the part near the street that adjoins my neighbor. I don't water or fertilize the rear lawn. My neighbors remark that they don't have time to tend to flower beds, but in reality, they spend much more time and money on their large lawns then I do on my mixed shrub and perennial beds. Most of the effort comes in the spring when I have to do the annual clean-up. After that, there is almost no care, and I can do what is needed on my schedule, unlike a lawn that demand cutting, feeding, and watering on its schedule. I also changed the way I care for the lawn. I now cut high and only apply turf builder in the spring and fall. I used to bag the clipping, now I remove the bag and let the mower mulch the clipping. Since I don't water or fertilize the rear lawn, I also don't have to mow it very often.
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Isn't that the way terrorists do their lawn?
cindy

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Yes, but don't tell anyone.
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Why 10-10-10?
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Most fertilizers sold in garden stores are way too heavy in the Nitrogen. The 10-10-10 gives a good balance with the potash and potassium. The potassium is
supposed to encourage root growth (possibly part of my problem).
I am an avid gardener and fruit tree grower, but I also like my open space which is where the grass comes in. There were some good points in the replies, but I was also looking for some news on new hearty grass varieties. Although my lawn looks kind of neglected with all the clover, crab grass, etc., about 60% of it
is regular grass although of several different varieties, including the sod my village put in when they repaired my curbs. Will this overseeding of grass overcome what is currently there? I live in the Chicago area, in case that helps the recommendations.
As regards later replies, most lawn fertilizers sold near me are like 18-5-3. Maybe the organic fertilizers have lower numbers, but they are very pricey. I know it is somewhat impractical to keep my lawn green in the summer, but it really looks terrible, if it goes dormant, especially since it does not do this uniformly. I do have a mulching blade on the mower and only rake when necessary.
Thanks for all the good advice,
Sherwin D.
Vox Humana wrote:

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tolerant, but if you follow the advice given by Warren previously (which was excellent , btw), your lawn will begin to develop a deeper and stronger root system and will be more tolerant to periods of drought. For most northern states, lawns are typically blends of cool season grasses - they want to be dormant during the heat of summer and while they may look brown and dead, they are simply wating for fall rains to rejuvenate and come back to life. We artifically attempt to keep them green and lush by pouring on lots of water, but you can safely let them go dormant and significantly reduce your water usage and bill.
10-10-10 is not a great formulation for lawns. Most lawn fertilizers will have their three numbers in a ratio of 3-1-2. Avoid fertilizing in summer - spring and fall are the best times for cool season lawns. And if you invest in a mulching mower, your fertilizing needs will be greatly reduced.
Just think of how much money and time you could save - allow your lawn to go dormant in summer, reducing your watering needs and mow often and long with a mulching mower, reducing your fertilizing needs.
pam - gardengal
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says...

Fertilizer won't help drought, in fact is likely to make it worse. In general, bluegrass is good for sunny areas, fesque likes a bit of shade, ryegrass tolerates trampling. Most lawn mixtures have some of each so you can broadcast the entire lawn and whichever kind most likes the area it falls will tend to take over. Overseed in Spring or Fall, Summer is pretty much a waste. The nice thing about grass, and which has made it such a popular ground cover, is that it doesn't require much to start or grow, so you don't have to make special preparations, but you can if you want to.
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My father had a way with lawns, and always added a light coating of good soil in the fall (he called it side dressing), then spread the seed, then raked with a leaf rake, to shake the seed down to ground level. When I do an area, I like to cover it with cheesecloth (actually the plastic equivalent) which lets the sun, air, and rain through, but keeps the birds from feasting on my seed. I take the cheesecloth up after the seed has germinated. Some people use a coating of straw to serve the same purpose, but I think they risk uprooting the new grass when they rake it off, and around here the cheesecloth is easier to get than straw, and reusable.
sherwindu wrote:

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