I live in a suburb of Cleveland Ohio. My lawn, in the last 2 months
is getting a lot of weeds and it looks like I have a layer of thatch
between the blades of grass. I have a sprinkler system which waters 3
times a week, however we have had a wet summer so far. I have
fertilized using Scotts brand fertilizer during the cycles described
on the bag but the lawn doesn't look much better. I think I should
thatch the yard but am unsure if I should wait until fall and then
reseed and fertilize again. Is there anything I can do now,
escpecially before the weeds get much worse?
If you followed the directions Scotts puts on the bag (remember... they
want to sell more fertilizer), and watered three times a week, and
you've had a wet summer, too, it would be amazing if you had a healthy
There's not much you can effectively do now to make the lawn look better
for the rest of summer that will have any long-term benefits. There are
some things you should start doing now, but they won't have immediate
1. Pull weeds, or spray them with Round-up. Remember that Round-up
works by being absorbed through the foliage, so if you pull, don't
spray. Round-up may also kill what's left of the grass it gets on, so
it'll look real bad after a couple of weeks. When September comes, stop
2. Stop watering. The only good watering would do at this point is
make it easier to pull weeds.
3. In mid-September, detatch. Bring in a dethatching machine. Rake
away all the thatch.
4. Check how hard the ground is. If it's hard and crusty, and water
puddles on top of it, aerate it, too. You can leave the cores that the
aeration pulls out while making it's holes.
5. Now's the time to fix any unevenness. Spread some good soil or
(fully) composted organic material. You don't need to go too deep. The
deeper you go, the more settling there will be, and the more uneven
it'll be later.
6. Spread some grass seed. Check with your local extension office to
see what kind of mix they suggest for your area. Don't just buy the
stuff Home Depot has the most of. Depending upon conditions, you may
want to use a slightly different mix for full sun vs. full shade areas,
but be aware of transition areas if you're going to have grass that
looks very different in different areas.
7. Use some starter fertilizer, but only apply at 1/3 to 1/2 what
the package recommends.
8. Wait a couple of weeks. If germination isn't even, scratch the
soil in the barer areas, and reseed.
Hopefully the fall rains will be enough, but don't let the lawn dry-out
for the first week after seeding. After germination has taken place,
leave it to Mother Nature for the rest of fall. You probably won't have
to mow before winter, but if you do, mow high. Be careful about the
falling leaves. You don't want to tear-up the new sod while raking. A
blower or vacuum is a good idea this year.
Next spring, fill in any spots that aren't coming in well. Fertilize
just once, and again, only at 1/3 to 1/2 the package recommendations.
Mow high, and don't cut off more than 1/3 the blades at a time. Leave
the clippings. (If it gets away from you, and your mower's highest
setting takes more than 1/3, then bag the clippings, and compost them.)
Mowing high is especially important as spring is ending, and you're
going into summer.
Your lawn needs only 1 inch of water a week, preferably at one time.
Mother Nature may not cooperate on the once a week idea, but you're the
one in control of any extra watering. Put some cans out on the lawn to
see how long you need to run your sprinklers to get 1". If you get
puddling or massive run-off before you hit 1", it's okay to break it
into two sessions, but the time between the sessions should be measured
in hours or minutes, not days.
Infrequent, but deep watering will encourage deeper roots. Deeper roots,
in turn, create a situation that's better able to survive unusually
conditions. Mowing high results in more blades, and more shade on the
soil, keeping the soil cooler, and keeping it from drying out too fast.
It also lessens the light available for light-activated annual weed
seeds. And mowing frequently enough that you're never taking more than
1/3 the blade lessens the shock of the mowing, and leaves you with small
enough clippings that you can leave them on the lawn. The decomposing
little clippings help with the shading of the soil, and ultimately add
fresh organic material to the soil meaning you don't need to fertilize
At the end of the first year, evaluate whether aeration needs to be
done. (It's highly unlikely that detatching needs to be done if you
followed the regimen.) After aeration, over-seed, and put on some
"winterizer" fertilizer, again at 1/3 to 1/2 the package
The second year you shouldn't need to do any fertilizing. The lawn
should be self-sustaining. Perhaps a light spread of winterizer
fertilizer in the fall, but nothing else. (The winterizer fertilizer is
formulated to help with root growth. Don't even think of using
high-nitrogen fertilizer for top growth. That's a short-term solution,
that'll bite you in the end.)
Thanks for the detailed suggestions. It sounds simple enough. Are
you in fact saying that whenever I fertilize (new seed or old lawn)it
should be at a rate that is 1/2 to 1/3 of what is stated on the
package? And fertilizing as called for by Scotts, four times a year,
is not necessary?
If properly watered, and mowed, the clippings loft on the lawn to
decompose should provide nearly all the fertilization the lawn should
Following the Scotts "program" can give you a nice looking lawn in the
short term under the right conditions because it emphasizes top growth.
What you get is a thirsty, chemical dependant lawn -- the sod equivalent
of a junkie. The more you use, the more you depend on it until you go
past the point of no return, and crash.
Scotts sells fertilizer and seed. Their best interest is in creating a
"program" that sells these things -- especially if it creates
short-term, nearly instant results. They aren't interested in telling
you how to get a great looking lawn that takes a year or more to happen,
especially if it doesn't sell more product. They'll tell you how to get
a great looking lawn in a few months, assuming you're committed to using
their products for the few years until it crashes. With any luck, you'll
convince yourself that it crashed because you took a shortcut from their
program, so you'll go out, buy Scotts seeds, and then start over again,
following the program for a short-term lawn, only to repeat it over and
over again. (And maybe you'll move to a new house before the big crash,
and you'll never know.)
Follow the method I outlined, and your lawn will look crappy the rest of
the summer. Next year will be a rebuilding year - it may look good, but
you might not win any awards. But two or three years down the road, and
the time and (especially) money you'll spend on your yard will be a
fraction of what your Scotts-happy neighbors will be spending, and your
neighbors will need to do major renovations multiple times before you
You'll also have fewer weeds. Weeds are plants of opportunity, and
they'll like those shallow-rooted, nitrogen filled, short-trimmed lawns
with lots of exposed soil surface better than they'll like a dense,
longer lawn, with composting clippings protecting the exposed soil,
which is often dry on the surface, but rich, loamy, and moist a couple
inches down where the grass roots are.
Oh... and I almost forgot something. I have a neighbor who waters every
day. He's got some interesting patches where the insects are hatching
their eggs, and eating the lawn. The constant dampness provides a nice
environment for them. They don't get that on my lawn.
Now I'm not totally anti-fertilizer. It has it's use. My lawn gets a
light winterizer fertilizer each year. I just don't believe that
following the Scott's "program" is the best way to care for your lawn. I
have nothing against their company, either. They have a couple of nice
seed blends for my area, and they put their name on some nice spreaders.
I hear they have some nice power equipment with their name on it, too.
They just have too much incentive to get you to buy fertilizer, and lots
Grass needs between 1 and 1 1/2 inches of water a week to grow well. It is
also better to water deeply les frequently than to water lightly more
frequently. Therefore, I would re-think the sprinkler setting. You can
usually attach a water senor to prevent the system from operating when it
isn't needed. I wouldn't water more than twice a week.
For information on lawn and garden issues, you should check out the Ohio
Cooperative Extension Agency website:
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