It happens to the best of green thumbs: you were a little overzealous with the fertilizer or a little under focused on watering. Before you know it, your lawn is looking tired, or worse, brown and dying.
There are a lot of things you can do to bring your lawn back to life, that won’t require anything as drastic as sodding.
Reasons Why Lawns Go South
We’ve talked before about pest control, pet urine damage and weeds, so visit that post to get more information on those issues. In this post, we’re going to talk about other ways your lawn can go downhill in the summer: too much or too little watering, cutting the lawn too short, soil that is hard and compacted down, a pH imbalance in the soil and so on.
Your first step should be to test your soil’s pH levels to see if the levels fall within a normal range. Good quality compost can help to balance high levels of pH in the soil. That said, your patchy lawn might be the result of other activities, so read on!
Is Your Lawn Acidic?
A pH level that indicates acidity in the soil means adjusting the balance. A natural, simple way to do this is to add epsom salts to your lawn. Despite its name, it’s not actually sodium based. Epsom salt is actually made of magnesium and sulfate, a chemical compound that will help balance the acidity in your soil naturally.
Compost Your Lawn
Yes, your lawn needs to eat but too much fertilizer creates a two fold problem: first, it creates a ‘dependency’. Your lawn will not draw nutrients from the soil but rather wait for you to feed it. Second, fertilizer will attract some pests.
Adding a layer of high quality compost, on the other hand, will enable your lawn to build up and draw the nutrients it needs, without your help.
Cut With Care
The single most frequent way people kill their lawns is by cutting the grass too short. The tiny blades will dry up far more easily in the summer sun. Set your mowers blades at the highest level to make sure you’re not cutting off more than a third of the blades at a time. It’s better to cut less, and cut more often, rather than thinking that one big chopping will do the trick!
Pull Up Dead Grass
After you mow your lawn, use a rake to pull up dead grass. Too much of it in your lawn will only prevent the roots of healthy grass from getting the water, nutrients and fresh air it needs to thrive. If you don’t do this, over time, your lawn will build up a thatch of dead grass and other detritus, again preventing water, air and nutrients from reaching the roots. You can break up the thatch, if you’ve built one up, but best to avoid it in the first place!
How Are You Watering?
In the middle of a hot day, you might enjoy a nice misting from the hose, but your lawn won’t. First of all, water early in the day. Middle of the day watering leads to heavy evaporation in the hot sun and late night watering just leaves the lawn waterlogged through the night, making it prone to fungus and other issues. If you have in-lawn sprinklers, get a timer and set it to run in the early a.m.
Now that we’ve got timing down, how much should you water? It might be intuitive to assume that a light but more frequent watering would be best, but in fact, that can lead to a shallow grass root structure. That shallow structure will become ‘dependent’ on you to water regularly. Instead, water less frequently but when you do, give it a good soaking so that the root structures that develop are deeper and more solid. Half an inch of water a couple of times a week is all it should take, even in the hottest weeks of summer.
Aerate Compacted Soil
If part of your lawn issues are that your soil is too compact, particularly in high foot traffic areas, water, nutrients and air can’t get to the roots. It’s time to aerate your lawn! You can rent an aerator, which will pull plugs of earth out, allowing the water, air and food to reach the roots more easily.
Starting From Scratch
If, despite all your efforts, your lawn just isn’t coming back to life, you might decide your best course of action is to start all over again. It’s a big job but a lush, green lawn is such a lovely sight… Here’s how you would go about it:
- Cut the sod. You will be slicing through existing root structure to make it easier to pull up.
- Remove the sod / grass. You can then lift up existing sod, roots and all.
- Till the soil.
- Spread a good dose of compost, to the tune of 2-3 inches, all over.
- Grade your soil / compost. You want to break up any big clumps and give yourself a level playing field!
- Spread the grass seed.
- Water well for the first soaking and every day, possibly twice a day during very hot weather, until you start to see the grass seed sprouting.
Bringing a dying lawn back to life isn’t impossible but it does take a little hard work. A good landscape company will be able to help you out, if you can’t manage it. The time and effort will be worth it when you can sit on your lawn chair and enjoy your fabulous lawn for the rest of the season!