Lawn Care Basics: The Grass is Always Greener
Patching with sod
What you need: shovel or spade, rake, sod strips, kitchen knife, water
Sod is the quickest and easiest way to patch a bare spot in your yard. You can lay sod at any time of the growing season. Dig out the patch area an inch or so below the existing soil so the finished patch will be level with the existing grass. Rake the area smooth. From a strip of sod, cut a piece that is the same size and shape as the area to be patched. Make sure the edges fit snugly into the surrounding lawn. Step on the patch to settle it, and water deeply. Keep the patch and surrounding lawn well-watered until established.
Patching with seed (Step 1)
What you need: shovel or spade, rake, organic matter and fertilizer, grass seed, straw, water
Even if you don't need to repair a large area, you can still use seed to patch a damaged lawn. Use a shovel or spade to dig around the edge of the area you need to patch. Strip off the grass and weeds in the patching area. Remove the roots of perennial weeds.
Patching with Seed (Step 2)
Prepare the soil the same way you would if you were starting a whole lawn from scratch. Dig in organic matter and a slow-release fertilizer. Then rake the soil smooth and level.
Patching with Seed (Step 3)
Sow seed thickly. Use the same kind of grass that you have, or if you're not certain, use a blend to better match the surrounding lawn. If you can't make a match, use seed that will grow vigorously in the patched area. Sprinkle a thin layer of straw over the patch and water thoroughly. The straw protects the seed and the tender new grass as it sprouts. Covering the soil also reduces moisture loss to evaporation. Keeping the soil evenly moist is key to good germination and growth. Water frequently and consistently. Mow when the grass reaches at least 3 inches high, and cut less than a 1/2 inch off the blades until the patch is well-established-- four to six weeks.
Patching with sprigs or plugs (Step 1)
What you need: shovel or spade, organic matter and fertilizer, rake, topsoil, grass sprigs or plugs, water, rotary tiller
A fast way to repair a lawn is to use sprigs or plugs. This method is best done with warm-season grasses such as Bermuda grass, zoysia grass, or St. Augustine grass in the spring. Before planting, prepare the soil by tilling or digging in organic matter and granular, slow-release fertilizer. Smooth the soil with a rake. Just like sod, fresh plugs should be kept cool and moist until planting; plant them as soon as possible after you bring them home.
Patching with sprigs or plugs (Step 2)
Set the plugs in a grid pattern; the closer you set them, the sooner the patch will fill in. Using sprigs to establish your patch is less expensive than plugs. But it takes a little more work to prepare a planting area, put the sprigs in, and care for the area until the grass fills in.
Patching with sprigs or plugs (Step 3)
After you clear, rotary till, and amend the patch area, sprinkle the sprigs evenly across a moistened bed and cover with a light layer of topsoil. Some sprigs won't sprout, but the roots of most will take hold. For more even coverage, plant sprigs in 3-inch furrows 4-12 inches apart. Or, plant sprigs in a grid pattern, as you would plugs. Whether you plant sprigs or plugs, weeds will try to occupy the spaces between the grass before the grass fills in, so be persistent. Keep the area well watered. Mow when the sprigs or plugs reach 3 inches high. Cut less than 1/2 inch off the blades of grass until they are well-established.
Repairing by overseeding (Step 1)
What you need: lawn mower, rake, grass seed, spreader, lawn roller (option but useful), Topsoil or fine compost, water
Because overseeding means planting grass seed into your existing lawn, the secret to success is getting the grass seed in contact with the soil. To make sure that happens, mow the existing grass as close to the ground as possible without actually scalping it back to bare soil. Rake the clippings. Mow and rake a second time to help expose more bare soil. You may not need a second mowing if your lawn is badly in need of repair.
Repairing by overseeding (Step 2)
After the soil is exposed, go over it with a metal garden rake to make the surface rough. A rough surface exposes more soil, making a better seedbed.
Repairing by overseeding (Step 3)
To compensate for uneven germination in the existing grass, sow seed at the same rate as recommended for new lawns. Most people put the seed on with a common drop spreader. Put half the seed on in strips across the lawn and then apply the other half from a different angle. The exact angle doesn't matter. Just be sure to go over the area thoroughly on two passes to ensure consistent coverage, which makes for a thicker, greener lawn.
You can also use something as simple as your fingers or as complicated as a slit seeder to get seed on the soil. Slit seeders are power tools that open up slices of lawn for better seed-to-dirt contact. Find them at your local rental store.
Go over the whole area with a weighted garden roller, or top-dress with a good topsoil or fine compost. Water the seed in well. Mow the new grass when it is 3 inches tall at a medium-low setting so the late-sprouting seeds will get good light. Frequent, regular watering--about an inch per week--is essential to establishing a new stand of grass. You can treat it as an established lawn in four to six weeks.