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
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
- 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:
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
Then rent an aereater machine.
Then over seed.
Maybe straw as top cover / mulch.
Pray for rain.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
If you have thatch, you are watering incorrectly. What are your
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
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.
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.
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.
Doug Miller (alphageek at milmac dot com)
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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>
["Followup-To:" header set to rec.gardens.]
Gads, I need caffeine. You said Boston, not Houston.
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
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.
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.
HomeOwnersHub.com is a website for homeowners and building and maintenance pros. It is not affiliated with any of the manufacturers or service providers discussed here.
All logos and trade names are the property of their respective owners.