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How to Kill Your Bad Lawn and Start Over

August 1, 2012

If your lawn is troubled by the kind of grassy weeds you can’t kill without killing your good grass, or if you are fighting a constant battle with lawn diseases, or if you have a lawn that is more than 20 years old and is looking tired and old, consider lawn renovation.  We are approaching the best time of year to renovate cool-season grass lawns (Bluegrass, Ryegrass, Fescue).  Starting over allows you to use today’s top-of-the-line seed blends that do a better job of tolerating drought and attacks by insects or disease. Starting over may be the best way to get rid of perennial grassy weeds such as Nimblewill, Bentgrass, Tall Fescue clumps, or Quackgrass that you can’t kill without killing your good grass.

These are the steps to renovate a lawn by killing the existing grass and establishing a new lawn:

  • Mid-August, spray the bad lawn area with Roundup.
  • About a week later do a repeat spray of Roundup on any areas you missed.
  • A week later mow your dead grass as short as possible removing the clippings as you mow.  Rent a Dethatcher (also known as a Power Rake) and run it over the dead lawn in two directions.  Set the machine low enough so that the blades are touching the soil.  Rake up the dead grass and add Scotts Turf Builder Lawn Soil to any low spots.
  • The next day rent a Slit-Seeder to seed your lawn with Scotts best seed blend for your situation.  For our best grass seed, go with one of the Scotts Turf Builder Grass Seed blends rated for Sun, Sun/Shade, Dense Shade, High Traffic, or Heat-Tolerance.  I am a big fan of Scotts Turf Builder Grass Seed Heat-Tolerant Blue Mix.
  • Spread Scotts Starter Fertilizer the same day you seed.
  • Water a couple of times a day for several weeks.
  • Mow your new lawn at around 2-1/2 inches.
  • About a month after seeding, feed your new lawn with Scotts Turf Builder.

I know you will be very pleased with the results of your hard work. And, I predict you will score extra points on the home front.

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44 Comments
  1. bob Holdan permalink

    I am looking for the best drought grass seed there is to replant in my lawn. I have quite a few dead spots that are very, very brown. I am either thinking of doing it later this summer or fall, or maybe wait until next year after seeing if all these spots come back next spring or not. What is the name of your best grass that will thrive in drought conditions? I live near madison, Wisconsin.
    Thank you.

    Bob

    • Hi Bob
      Suggest you use Scotts Turf Builder Heat Tolerant Blue Grass Seed. This fall would be better than waiting till next spring as this will give your grass more time to establish a strong root system prior to next summer. Take a look at blog posting and photo in: “Will your lawn bounce back from the drought?” to help you decide if your grass is dead. Good luck with your lawn.

  2. My lawn has been overrun with crab grass. We brought in topsoil in the spring and seeded a large area and now it is almost completely crab grass. What can we do short of a total renovation. Thinks

    • Hi Betty
      I have seen that problem so many times when using topsoil. I always recommend folks put down Scotts Starter with Crabgrass Preventer or Step 1 for New Seedings when planting grass seed in topsoil. These products will keep crabgrass from germinating without harming the grass seed you are trying to grow. (Sorry you had to learn this lesson the hard way like I had to learn it years ago.) Now you can spray your Crabgrass with Ortho Weed B Gon MAX plus Crabgrass Killer as this product will not harm your establihed good grass. You will be able to seed any bare spots in about 30 days. If you do not have any good grass in these areas, you can use Roundup to kill everything and you will be able to seed in 7 days.

  3. Lois Beck permalink

    I have a hill behind my patio that is nothing but clay dirt with some weeds that I keep cut. I have lawn service but they do not put in new lawns. Tell me all the steps I need to do to before I leave for Florida for the Winter to get grass established. I am a 74 year old lady but I am going to give it a shot to establish some kind of grass doing it myself. I live in the country and have sun and shade on the area.

    • Hi Lois
      When I hear someone talking about establishing grass on a slope, I think of all the ways a new seeding can get washed away during establishment, the high cost of sodding a slope to keep this from happening, and the ongoing maintance of mowing that slope can be a problem. If your slope is slight, based on your description for sun/shade, you can seed with most of the Scotts blends like Turf Builder Sun & Shade or Heat Tolerant Blue. If your slope is severe, then you might consider a ground cover of plants such as juniper or something else recommended by your local nursery. If you decide to seed, just know that it is best to rough up the soil to some extent so the grass seed has somewhere to root and to spread Scotts Starter Fertilizer the day you seed. A light mulch of wheat straw can help hold the seed in place if there is the chance for erosion. If you spread straw, you should be able to see 50% of the soil when looking down. I hope I have helped you.

  4. Joe permalink

    a “slit-seeder” was mentioned. What is that? I usually us my spreader to distribute the seed.

    • Hi Joe
      Grass seed needs to come in contact with soil to live after it begins to germinate. In other words it needs to have a place for the initial root to hook into. If you are seeding onto bare soil, this is not a problem to use a regular lawn spreader. If you are seeding into an existing lawn where the grass seed is not readily touching the soil, there is a piece of equipment that can be rented called a slit seeder. It actually slices thru the lawn into the soil and plants the grass seed into these grooves. This is not totally necessary, however it is one of those pieces of equipment that was devoloped for professional turfgrass managers that is available at rental centers for homeowners to use.

  5. Larry permalink

    what is the best way to get rid of tall fescue grass in a kentucky blue lawn?

    • Hi Larry
      There is not a good way to kill clumps of tall fescue without killing your Kentucky Bluegrass. Roundup will kill the fescue, however it will also kill your good grass. Once the clumps of tall fescue are dead, they can easily be removed and you can seed since there is only a 7 day waiting period to seed after applying Roundup.

  6. Adrian permalink

    Ashton,

    My used to be beautiful St. Augustine is looking bad and Bermuda is taking over. How do I rid of it and not damage St. Augustine?

  7. Hi Adrian
    I am sorry to say there is not a good way to take out the bermudagrass without damaging your St. Augustinegrass. Bermudagrass only likes sunny areas and St. Augustinegrass likes both sun and can do pretty good in shade. St. Augustinegrass also likes taller mowing than Bermudagrass. Many folks have mixtures of both grasses, especially if they have a combination of sun and shade. Many folks allow these two grasses to coexist. Roundup kills both grasses, however multiple applications may be required, especially on Bermudagrass. Many times the Bermudagrass comes in if chinchbugs, sodwebworm, or brown patch has killed the St. Augustinegrass.

  8. Thanks…am doing bare spot repairs with Scotts EZ Seed and over seeding with Scotts Tall Fescue Mix and am getting good results. I live in East Tenn and my lawn is tall fescue. Am currently waiting 30 days after putting down Scotts Starter Fertilizer prior to putting down Scotts Turf Builder. Question: which type of turf builder should I put down: Scotts Turf Builder with 2% Iron or Scotts Turf Builder Winterguard?
    Thanks

    • Hi jjm747
      Feed with Turf Builder with 2% Iron. This will give you a bit more nitrogen than Turf Builder WinterGuard to help your new seedlings get maximum establishment prior to winter. If you have about 6 weeks after feeding, you could also come back with a feeding of Turf Builder WinterGuard as early as the first week of December in your area.

  9. Thanks for your help. Have done everything you advised and will do a feeding of Turf Builder WinterGuard first week of Dec. Overall results have exceeded my expectations.

    • jjm77: Thanks for your feedback. Glad your lawn is doing great.

    • Gino permalink

      Im located in Vancouver canada. Could i wait to seed til after i aerate a few weeks after power rake? Or is it better to power rake, seed and then aerate in the fall?

      • Hi Gino Thanks for giving me your location. Based on where you live you should try to get your seeding done by mid April. Core aeration helps if you have a half inch of thatch or more or if you have very compacted soil. A Power Rake or dethatching machine is done when you really want to get down to the soil so grass seed has a better chance of growing. The down side is that when you set it to get down to the soil, you can really tear up your existing lawn. Core Aeration is a better option for heavy thatch when you do not want to tear up your lawn. So now to answer your questions: Dethatching prior to seeding will help your seed get established, core aeration will also help the seeding process, just not as much. If you want to do both this spring, you are better off doing both prior to seeding so that you will not injure your young seedlings. If you wanted to wait until fall to core aerate you could. We do not sell the product in your area that prevents weeds when you are seeding. Good Luck with your lawn.

  10. Gino permalink

    I wanted to power rake, then apply dollop rail and then reseed my soggy lawn. With the intention of aerating the lawn in a week or to ( mid April). What do you think?

    • Hi Gino
      Power rake and/or slit seeding helps get the grass seed in contact with the soil. If you were also going to core aerate, I would also do this before seeding rather than a few weeks after. The main thing to remember is that you are likely to stir up some weed seeds that are in your soil. In most areas of the country we sell a Starter Lawn Food with Weed Preventer that will prevent crabgrass and other weeds while allowing your grass seed to germinate. If I knew where you are located this would help me more specific with my recommendations.

  11. Brian Millican permalink

    About a year and a half ago, I had sod laid in my front yard. The company that laid it promised me that it would grow in nicely even though I have some shady areas. The lawn looked great during that first summer, but now it’s as dead as can be. Instead of being a vibrant green color, it’s brown and some spots simply look like dirt. I’m convinced that the sod vanished in some spots because there is dirt where the sod used to be. I watered the new sod like crazy that first summer, but now it seems to be long gone. Here is my question for you … instead of ripping up what is left of the sod, can I simply spread a product like Scotts ez-seed over my lawn? Will the seed have any success? I’m desperate for a nice lawn, but I refuse to pay a chunk of money to have the old sod ripped up and replaced. Please advise.

    -Rookie

    • Hi Brian (Rookie)
      EZ Seed is very tolerant of the seeding location. It will have the best chance to survive if the seed actually can contact the soil. Some folks break up the top inch or so by slicing the soil before planting. (One example is making a tic tac toe grid with a spade so the soil is broken up a bit so the roots have a place to begin growth.) Let me know where you are located so I can suggest the best grass seed for your area (In some areas we sell several EZ Seed Blends.)

      • Brian Millican permalink

        I live in Clanton, AL (right in the middle of the state). We experience very hot summers here and our winters are mild. Please keep in mind that I need to do my entire front yard. If you don’t mind, advise me on what to do, keeping in mind that it’s a large area. I’m sick of my yard looking so dead …

      • Hi Brian Do you remember what kind of sod they put in? You are in an area that can grow many types of lawns. For sunny areas: Bermuda, Zoysia, and Centipede (These lawns go dormant in winter and take on a brown look.) For shady areas: Fescue or Zoysia. (Fescue generally will stay green in winter, however it struggles during summer the further South you go.) The most common grass that grows without even being planted is Bermuda. If the sod folks said that their grass would tolerate some shade, they may have put down Zoysia. Zoysia is slow to green up in spring and what you think might be dead, might just still be dormant. In any case, it would be good to put in the same kind of seed as the kind of lawn you have now so your lawn will not be patchy. Hope this helps.

  12. roy skinner permalink

    I have rye grass or wheat grass not too sure which one in patches throughout my lawn … how can I get rid of it without killing grass I like ? or is there no way other than killing with roundup and using easyseed ten days after

    • Hi Roy
      I am going to give you an answer based on most areas of the U.S. Wheat grass, which grows from seeds that are in straw used as a mulch for new seedlings, can not tolerate repeated mowing and will generally die out during hotter weather. Rye grass, if it is the annual kind will do the same, more quickly in areas with hotter summers. So if either of these are your problem, keep mowing your lawn with a final cut around 2-1/2 inches and reevaluate in late summer/early fall. If you have follow up questions on this, let me know where you are located so I can give a better answer.

  13. Scott De Young permalink

    Help! Last night I sprayed the lawn with what I thought was 2-4d to kill off the remaining dandelions and other weeds. Been doing this for the last 10 years. After the first spraying of about an acre, I had a funny feeling that I may have just screwed up. I went and check the bottle and I used Glystar insead (basically roundup). The bigger problem is that we are hosting my daughters wedding on August 16. The grass was fairly long so in an attempt to save it – we cut it as low as possible within a few hours of the spraying.

    Did a lot of praying last night. At least the ceremony area wasn’t spray, but the areas that was will still be visible to the guests.

    To reseed, I have seen your suggestions above. That helps. I would like to skip step number 2 the 2nd spraying of Roundup. If our lawn was fairly clean from weeds in the first place – do we need to wait the full week before reseeding? I am planning on detaching and power seeding. Just looking to give the lawn as much time to green up before August 16 as possible.

    Any advice you can give a Dad who has to walk his daughter down the aisle in the back yard would be really appreciated.

    Thanks Scott.

    • Hi Scott
      I feel your pain. I have done stuff like that, although not what you described. You could joke that the wedding is such a big deal you used all your green (including what was in your lawn) to pull it off! The 7 day wait to seed was the standard direction for years. The Roundup labels now say to wait 3 days to plant grass seed. Check the label on your product to see if you see a longer length of time. Good luck!

  14. Todd permalink

    I live just North of Pittsburgh, PA and am considering reseeding my backyard due to the so-so success we’ve had with the lawn (probably due to heavy shade). I am not concerned about maintenance. Just want to have a thick green lawn if possible.

    To snuff out the existing lawn and provide a good base for establishing the new lawn, I am considering covering the entire lawn with 4 inches of top soil, followed by the removal of a few trees to improve the sunlight, adding irrigation, followed by a fine fescue blend of grass seed (more shade tolerant)(a friend suggested Poa Supina for use in the shade). This seems to be easier than attempting to kill the existing grass with chemicals, which may damage the trees, and would give a good base for the grass to get started, and would minimize competition with the deeper tree roots for water.

    • Hi Todd
      If you can add that much soil without messing up the grading around your home and without suffocating the roots of trees you wish to keep alive, sounds like you have a plan. My only suggestion is that sometimes topsoil can contain the small roots or seed of difficult to kill perennial grasses that will show up later. These plants, (like quackgrass, orchardgrass, timothy, etc.) will prove hard to kill without killing the good grass you are planting. One thought is to put down the top soil, and then water it regularly over the course of a month or so and then kill off any growth with Roundup prior to seeding. (Some turf managers would do this twice before planting if the grasses were particularly troublesome.) Roundup will not hurt your trees and you can plant grass seed within a week of killing the weeds. If you are getting 3 or 4 hours of filtered sunlight in this area then you should be able to grow a blend of shade tolerant grasses.

  15. Stewart permalink

    We have a lot of bent grass in our yard which we hate. I have been told the only way to get rid of it is to apply roundup, which we have done. My question is… can we just turn the soil without raking. We are going to have this area resoded when it’s prepared.

    • Hi Stewart
      Bentgrass has a strong root system. The approach I have taken is to spray with Roundup. Look for any green growth about 7 to 10 days later and spray again. Then seed or sod 7 days later. The two sprays helps to make sure you got it all. You can rototill the dead growth into the soil without raking it up, however if there is a lot of material you may find it best to remove before preparing your soil for sodding.

  16. Ashton…just finished a lawn renovation project on a section (1000 sq ft) of my yard as follows:
    1. I started with 3 separate applications of Round-Up on Sept 13, 20, and 27, 2013. Results were good as it killed everything. I removed the dead weeds and other debris
    2. Aerated on Oct 4, 2013
    3. Put down Scotts EZ Seed for Tall Fescue Lawns on Oct 5, 2013, following all directions (watering, etc.)
    Results: Grass started growing as advertised a short time later. However, a couple of weeks later a very green type of weed that is low to the ground appeared. It now covers almost all of the area. Am not sure, but suspect it is a clover type weed. What did I do wrong and how can I get rid of this weed without killing the new grass? Am beginning to think that the EZ Seed product might have had some type of quality control problem.

    • To jjm747… Sounds like you had one or more of the winter annual weeds like chickweed or henbit germinated from seeds in your soil when they received ideal growing conditions. These weeds are easily controlled with Ortho Weed B Gon MAX, however your new grass needs to be old enough to have been mowed 4 times before treating. You can spray these weeds as long as you are getting a mid day temp of at least 50 degrees. Winter annual weeds germinate in fall, live during cooler months and then die in summer after producing seed for the next year. Summer annual weeds, like crabgrass, grow in an opposite cycle: germinate in spring, live during the warmer months and then die in winter after producing seed for the next year. It is likely you had some of the winter annual weeds in your lawn sometime over the past few years depositing the seeds in your soil that were brought to the soil surface for germination when you aerated and created the conditions to get your grass seed growing. I think your ultimate situation will be good as your new grass fills in once the weeds are killed later this fall or next spring.

      • Thanks for your analysis. Since I live in East TN and have mowed the new grass only twice, it appears from reading your recommendations that I should wait until spring before using Ortho Weed B Gon MAX. Is there anything special that I need to do when I apply Weed B Gon in the spring? I ask the question because I normally put down Scotts Turf Builder with Halts Crabgrass Preventer around March 1.

      • Hi jjm747 If you need to wait till spring, you can use the same temps as a guideline to spray: Mid day at least into the low 50’s. I would allow a week between feeding with Turf Builder Halts and your Weed B Gon spray.

  17. Jonathan permalink

    Can we use this tips “August 1, 2012″ in the month of march?

    • Hi Jonathan
      The first step of killing off the existing area needs to be done when you are getting some growth so that the weed controls will be absorbed into the plant to kill roots and all. This means you need to be getting some consistent warm weather that triggers some mowers running in your neighborhood. Then when you get around to establishing your new lawn, you will need to determine if there is enough time to get seed established prior to hot summer weather. (You generally like to have at least a few months.) The alternative is to sod after killing off the existing bad grass. If you have more questions, let me know where you are located and this will help me provide more specific suggestions.

  18. Jay permalink

    Is there ever a situation you would consider some other brand than Scott’s?

    • Hi Jay
      Gosh… great question. I am most familiar with Scotts products having sold them when I was in high school in the early 60’s. I ran into lots of satisfied Scotts users when I was with the Virginia Extension Service after graduating from college. I guess my 40 plus years with Scotts as either a Scotts Associate or retired advice giver sets me up with more personal experience with Scotts products than with other alternatives. Sort of a comfort zone I guess.

  19. Hi Aston. Last year I used my tillers thatching tines and did my whole lawn. The Round up, waiting a week. Round up again. All your instructions were followed. Then I seeded and covered the area with chicken wire cause we have a lot of cats around here and I didn’t want them to dig it up thinking it was a big litter area.

    The snow covered the area and then this spring the grass came up and filled in beautifully. Everybody commented on how lush it was and was like walking on a carpet. I was proud.

    We had a lot of rain and then the heat hit. I live in north eastern New Jersey. BTW I used Scotts North Eastern mix grass seed. All of a sudden big sections of the lawn turned brown. Fungus or just burnt grass I don’t know. How do you tell if it’s a fungus problem?

    Obviously I have some repair work to do. Should I till it (thatch it ) again and start over. Repair just the brown areas? (They’re big.)

    Can I just rake up the bad areas and reseed? If it is fungus, do I have to wait to reseed?

    Any other possibilities you know of that I am not thinking of?

    Trying not get discouraged! Need some advise.

    Thanks.

    • Hi Joe T.
      Sorry to hear about your lawn. Fungus problems generally occur with high humidity and temps (in the 80’s and above for both over extended days with very little relief at night). You will generally see circular patterns of brown grass, however not in all cases. In some cases the grass blades will have spots on them before they turn brown. You should be able to rake the bad areas and seed around Labor Day Weekend.

  20. Hi, once again. Thanks for your quick reply. Talking to some neighbors, someone told me that it was probably fungus that wiped out my lawn and that it might have happened cause I did not mow the lawn low enough. The higher blades of grass kept the moisture too long inviting the fungus since we did have a period of high humidity and temps well into the 80’s.

    Should I cut the grass lower than I usually would in the spring?

    Should I use a fungicide just to be sure? Is it dangerous to do so?

    • Hi Joe T
      A good height for your area and type of lawn is about 2-1/2 inch after the cut. This is a good height for spring, summer and fall. If you feel the fungus is still active and your grass is still alive and you will not be seeding, you could still treat with Lawn Fungus Control.

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