Go figure we bought a house during the hottest summer in 75 years. Needless to say, without any irrigation or watering during our negotiations and before closing, our yard was a wasteland. It looked as though several large dogs had been using our lawn as their portable toilet for the entire summer. See Exhibit A:
Besides the heat, the biggest problem was the thatching, a thick layer of organic material, roots, dead grass, and clippings, that had accumulated on the surface and suffocated the grass. After doing some research on This Old House, I decided to get a de-thatching tool, an aerator, and some seed to renovate the lawn.
Just to save you some trouble, I would recommend if you have a large lawn (ours is around 3600 square feet), definitely rent a commercial de-thatcher and/or aerator. While it is great exercise doing it all with hand tools, it would probably be worth paying someone or renting the machines once or twice a year. Go figure, I even got an email from Groupon this morning for a special where a landscaper would aerate a lawn up to 5,000 sq. ft. for $40. This time, it was good to do it myself though.
Step #1: De-weed the lawn. I read about this Fiskars 3-Prong Weeder online, and decided to purchase it for right around $30 from Amazon. It is great at really getting down into the roots and pulling up all sorts of weeds.
Step #2: Clip the grass really short. This is to ensure you can really de-thatch the lawn and give your new seed room to grow. I set our Fiskars rotary mower to about 1 and 1/2 inches. This mower is great for small lawns by the way, but I am beginning to wonder if it is going to work long term for the size of our lawn. Either way, it makes the front look beautiful when cut because it really cuts the grass like a scissors.
Step #3: De-thatch the grass. In the gallery above you can see what the thatching rake looks like. One side has straight, sharp tines, for really slicing into the ground. The other side can be used for cultivation.
Step #4: Aerate the ground to allow water, air, and nutrients to penetrate deeper into the soil. I used a handheld, pictured above, but again it may be worth it to rent one. It took me a couple hours just to do the thatching, aerating, and seeding in a small area.
Step #5: Spread and rake in the seed. I used Scotts Turfbuilder EZ Seed. It is a bit more expensive than most seed (around $40.00 per 5 lb. bag at Home Depot), but it contains a good mixture of Kentucky Bluegrass, fescue, and rye, which is perfect for our sunny location. It also has mulch and fertilizer built in, so you initially avoid the cost of purchasing compost (which would be ideal if you want to go the organic route). I will post and update on how well this product works. Always rake in the seed with the reverse side of a broad rake and gently spread it around for even coverage.
Also make sure to sweep errant seed of the walkways and be careful with your spreading. This seed needs a nice watering within a few days, and it is expected to storm tonight, which is perfect. Also, I have never renovated a lawn before so I will update in a couple weeks to show how it is working. Feel free to share your tips as I am still a beginner.
Total Project Cost: Around $100.00. If you already have the tools or use cheaper seed, this can be significantly cheaper.
Total Time Invested: Approximately 6 hours
**6pm Update: I finally finished clipping, de-thatching, and seeding. Here is the final picture before we get rain tonight: