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If you have had a dry summer with below-normal rainfall, you need to replenish soil moisture before preparing a seedbed. Give the entire lawn a thorough watering, soaking until water has penetrated to a depth of at least 6 inches, then allow the surface to dry for a day or two before starting soil preparation.
Most deteriorated lawns have a built-up layer of dead and partially rotted grass stems, roots and rhizomes just below the green grass leaves. This is known as thatch, and it must be removed before reseeding so water and fertilizer can reach the new seed. For small lawns, you can remove thatch with a garden rake. For large areas, go over the lawn with a power dethatcher, also known as a vertical mower or power rake. These machines can be rented from garden centers. Remove the clumps of matter left by the machine with a garden rake and level the soil by raking it.
The best time for lawn renovation throughout the U.S. is mid-August to mid-September. Most weeds have not yet dropped their seeds and there will be little new weed growth. Also, reseeding at this time will give the new grass a chance to establish itself before going dormant for winter. Get rid of the weeds by manually pulling up large, spreading weeds. Follow up by applying a selective herbicide product that kills common broadleaf lawn weeds while not harming grass. For tough grassy weeds, like quack grass or crabgrass, use a nonselective herbicide such as glyphosate on the spots where these weeds have established themselves. Normally, all weeds will be dead within two weeks. Apply another herbicide dose in three weeks to get newly sprouted weeds.
Water the Site
If you are faced with a neglected lawn that’s partially dead and is being taken over by weeds, you may be able to renovate it. Restoring a deteriorated lawn may be possible if the weeds and dead spots cover less than 40 percent of the lawn area. Renovation of a weedy lawn involves more than just mowing down the weeds and throwing some grass seed over the lawn.
The soil nutrients most important to healthy grass plants are nitrogen, potassium and phosphorous. Supply these nutrients by applying a commercial fertilizer formulated for starting lawns and lightly rake it into the soil before you reseed. Buy a grass-seed blend suited to your climate and local conditions and spread it over the lawn with a drop spreader or rotary spreader. Absent a different recommendation from the grass-seed grower, spread the seed at a rate of 2 pounds per 1,000 square feet on a lawn with substantial plots of live grass and 3 pounds per 1,000 square feet on bare soil. Water lightly once or twice a day to keep soil moist but not sopping wet. Don’t mow until the new grass gets 3.5 inches tall.
Herb Kirchhoff has more than three decades of hands-on experience as an avid garden hobbyist and home handyman. Since retiring from the news business in 2008, Kirchhoff takes care of a 12-acre rural Michigan lakefront property and applies his experience to his vegetable and flower gardens and home repair and renovation projects.
Herbicides can target weeds before they germinate from seed – pre-emergent – or as developed plants – post-emergent. Before you seed, you can use a non-selective, post-emergent herbicide to control any weeds in the area to be seeded. Most of these can be applied up to two weeks before seeding to control any existing weeds. Herbicides should not be used after seeding until the new seedlings are established. Mowing and spot treatments can be used to control weeds until the seeded area is actively growing and requires only maintenance watering. Establishment times vary depending on the type of seed you use and your weather conditions.
Only use a weed and feed if the weed infestation is completely uniform over the entire lawn and all species of weeds targeted will be affected by the herbicide in the weed and feed. This scenario doesn’t occur often, so it is more likely the use of an herbicide and a fertilizer separately will be needed. If the weeds are uniformly spread over the area to be treated, match the appropriate weed and feed product to your grass, the seed you have recently applied or want to apply, and the time of year.
It’s important to know a little about herbicides so you can make the best choice for when to apply seed in an area that has been treated for weeds. The most common types of herbicide in weed and feed products are selective and systemic. Selective herbicides target a species of plant to kill while systemic herbicides work by being absorbed though the roots and then transported throughout the plant, killing it from within. Read the bag label to see what kind of herbicide is used in the weed and feed you are considering using or have used. The bag label will tell you how many days you must wait before applying seed to a lawn that has been treated with that product.
Weed and feed fertilizers are often used in combination with seeding. Weed and feed formulations consist of two components: a herbicide to kill weeds and a fertilizer to strengthen the turf. The herbicide will weaken the grass as well as the weeds and the fertilizer will strengthen the weeds as well as the grass. When applying seed over a weed and feed application, remember that some weed and feeds can prevent grass seeds from growing.
It is important to know what kind of grass you have growing or want to have growing. Certain chemicals act differently on different species of grass and weeds. For example, the common herbicide 2,4-D is toxic to some cultivars of St. Augustine grass (Stenotaphrum secundatum), which grows in the area roughly covered by U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 8 through 10. Another common herbicide, atrazine, is potentially lethal to grass when applied in temperatures above 85 degrees Fahrenheit. Use the instructions on the bag of each weed and feed product to determine how it will affect seeding.
Sara DeBerry is a graduate of the University of Florida holding a masters degree in environmental horticulture and a minor in entomology and nematology. DeBerry has been writing for government agencies since 2004 and has published peer reviewed scientific articles during her studies at UF.