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Every househunt involves compromise. If your tradeoff to a beautiful new home is accepting the lousy lawn that came with it, or your fixer-upper extends to the backyard, we’ve got you. Because unless you’re short on time, you can tackle a lawn renovation—most makeovers just require a solid plan, a little heavy lifting, and patience.
Follow this guide and you’ll have everything you need to rehab your lawn. Don’t forget to snap some pics along the way, you’ll want proof of “how it started, how it’s going” when you’re sitting out there, admiring your hard work.
Chances are, your lawn just needs some serious—and then consistent—TLC to get it back into shape. Wiping out everything that’s there and starting over is a lengthy process (more on that below), so if you can salvage what you were “blessed with”, that’s the easier way to get equally stellar results. Here are some tasks to tackle.
When the yard is just a sea of weeds, you need to knock out the bad stuff—dandelion, clover, ragweed—and strengthen the good stuff (your grass). Use Scotts® Turf Builder® Triple Action and Scotts® Turf Builder® Southern Triple Action in the South to fertilize your lawn while controlling weeds at the same time. The best time to apply is in spring, so, once the weather warms up, grab your spreader, follow all label directions, and turn that ship around. Read our guide to getting rid of weeds for more tips, as well as how to prevent these lawn invaders moving forward.
Sometimes a lawn is just simply worn out (especially at an older home that’s seen years of enjoyment). If the grass is looking thin, you can overseed it to get it back in shape. You’ll want to buy grass seed that matches your grass type or use Scotts® Turf Builder® Thick'R Lawn® Sun & Shade (the 3-in-1 formula helps feed your lawn and improve the soil, too). Follow all the label directions and spread it over your lawn at the right time: For Northern lawns that’s in spring or fall, and for Southern lawns it’s late spring through early summer. For the best results, read our step-by-step on how to overseed your lawn.
If you’ve been taking care of your lawn but the grass isn’t growing like it should, it could be compacted. There are two ways to loosen up your lawn.
1. Aeration. If the lawn at your new house has experienced drought or just years of heavy activity, it may need to be aerated. This just involves removing plugs of soil from the ground so that air, water, and nutrients can reach the roots. You’ll need to rent an aerator, and possibly do it twice if you have a large lawn. Get the full lowdown on how to aerate your lawn.
2. Dethatching. The other way to open things up is by dethatching your lawn. Simply put, thatch is a mix of living and dead grass that builds up between the soil and the grass blades. A half-inch layer is good (it buffers temperature extremes, helps retain moisture, and serves as a protective cushioning). More than that, though, and some of it’s gotta go. How you tackle it depends on your lawn size, but our guide to dethatching will give you all of the info to DIY for yards big or small.
If your grass is discolored or has funky-looking patches, it could be a fungal infection. Because disease spores can float in the air or hide in the soil until the conditions are perfect for multiplying, even well-cared-for lawns can be affected by problems like brown patch, red thread, or rust disease. If you think you have a fungal problem, use this guide to identify common lawn diseases, many of which can be treated with Scotts® DiseaseEx™ Lawn Fungicide (following all label directions).
If you’re battling more than one problem or want a different grass type, you may want to start from scratch and re-build a brand new lawn. Your yard is going to be out of shape for a while, but once it’s all in place, you’ll have a brilliant greenspace done just to your liking.
Whether you decide to reseed your lawn or lay down sod, you’ll need to get rid of your current lawn first. There are three basic ways to go about that.
1. Use a product like Ortho GroundClear Super Weed & Grass Killer1 to quickly take out your lawn in one fell swoop. Make sure to follow the instructions!
2. Give your lawn a buzzcut, then cover every square inch in clear plastic sheeting for 6 to 8 weeks.
3. Blanket your lawn with 7 to 10 layers of newspaper. Wet it down, add 5 to 7 inches of mulch, grass clippings, or compost on top, and then wait 6 to 8 weeks.
You also need to decide if you want to grow grass seedlings or just flip the switch with sod. Reseeding a lawn is less expensive than sod, but the process will take a longer amount of time.
• If you reseed your lawn, prepare your soil, make sure your grass type matches your area, and then time your seeding accordingly. Cool-season grasses should be planted in spring or early fall, while early summer is the best time for warm-season grasses.
• Your DIY outlook doesn’t have to change if you choose to go with sod. Just make sure your soil is nice and loose (it helps with establishing the roots) and you can easily lay sod on your own. Read our DIY sod-laying guide to get all the steps.
Spend some time watching where the sun and shade hit your yard, as this info can help you determine where to plant trees, the best spot for a veggie garden, or which ornamentals will thrive in your landscape beds. Having a plan can help save time and money so you don’t end up planting seed or putting down sod just to rip it up for a bucket-list feature like an outdoor kitchen or a koi pond.
Once your lawn is looking good, make sure to keep it that way! Here are a few pointers for ensuring the grass is always greener on this side of your lawn rehab.
• Mow high. Most grass thrives at 3 to 4 inches high, and the best practice is to never remove more than a third of the grass blade in one mowing. But to really become a master mower, check out all of our tips for mowing your lawn.
• Water deeply and infrequently. Most lawns need 1 to 1.5 inches of water per week. The roots will grow stronger if this is applied during a single watering or divided into two waterings a week. Get even more tips for watering your lawn to keep it lush.
• Fertilize regularly. A seasonal boost of lawn nutrition will keep it green, but it will also help it become stronger and thick enough to stand up to weeds.
You may not want to think about your lawn for a while after this, and fair enough. Join the Scotts program. You answer a few questions about your location and grass type, and our handy subscription service sends you the right product for a season, or a whole year.
After all, you deserve it. Big projects, like a complete backyard makeover, aren’t easy. But, they are achievable and you’ve got the photos (and perhaps, a few sore muscles) to prove it. Now that your lawn is in prime condition, call a few friends over, soak up the compliments, and revel in the good times that a great yard sparks.