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Late Summer Steps for Total Lawn Renovation

August 5, 2014

This time of year I again suggest the lawn renovation steps to convert old hopeless northern lawns to the newer stronger grasses that are available today.

This “kill and replace” strategy is for lawns troubled by the kind of grassy weeds you can’t kill without killing your good grass and for lawns you are fighting a constant battle with lawn diseases.  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, Orchardgrass, Tall Fescue clumps, or Quackgrass that you can’t kill without killing your good grass.

This 20 year old lawn contains weak grass varieties making it a good candidate for the "Kill and Replace" strategy.

This 20 year old lawn contains weak grass varieties making it a good candidate for the “Kill and Replace” strategy.

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

  1. Mid-August, spray the bad lawn area with Roundup.  Be sure to use regular Roundup and not one of the special Roundup products that provide longer term weed prevention.
  2. About a week later do a repeat spray of Roundup on any areas you missed.
  3. 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. If you now have mostly bare soil with the top inch or so broken up you could skip the next Slit-Seeder step and broadcast your seed using a Scotts Spreader.
  4. If you have more dead grass than bare soil, 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.
  5. Spread Scotts Starter Food for New Grass the same day you seed.
  6. Water a couple of times a day for several weeks.
  7. Mow your new lawn when it is tall enough to cut with the height set at around 2-1/2 inches.
  8. About a month after seeding, feed your new lawn with Scotts Turf Builder.

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  1. Dave permalink

    Hi Ashton, can I request my local Scotts lawn service company to re-seed my grass with the heat tolerant blue? I live in Northern KY.

  2. Hi Dave
    Yes, I suspect you can. Suggest you contact them soon so you can get on their schedule.

  3. Mark permalink

    Hi Ashton,

    I wondered if you had any suggestions or resources for me to look at for turf management in the Pacific Northwest, mainly Seattle area? We replaced about 6000 square feet of a full sun area with a full-sun perennial rye, fescue mix from a reputable local landscape supply company, using your steps. Now with the high 80’s temps hitting, it appears that some of the fine fescue grasses are going dormant. If this is the case, do we start over, or should we enhance the rough thin areas only? I loved the article!

  4. Hi Mark
    Perennial Rye and Fine Fescues are good grasses for lawns west of the Cascades. The Fine Fescue does like some shade. You can expect it to come out of the dormant state when temps drop and you start getting regular moisture again (about an inch a week). The key thing is to feed two or three times this fall.

  5. Anthony permalink

    Hey Ashton, what program do you recommend for existing lawns? Overseed, fertilize, etc? Also, do I have to aerate? I live in the Rhode Island area – also if you could explain how to incorporate two to three fall feeds would be very helpful, thank you.

  6. Hi Anthony
    Here is a link to my blog posting on lawn aeration that can help you figure out if you need to aerate: If you decide to aerate, then you can seed and feed afterwards. If your lawn is relatively ok now and you can not see lots of bare soil or dead grass, you can skip the seeding and do your three feedings on this schedule: Sept 1, Oct 10, Nov 20. Good luck with your lawn.

    • Anthony permalink

      Hi Ashton, my lawn is ok not many bare spots would over seeding not be recommended?

  7. Hi Anthony
    Based on where you live and very few bare spots, suggest you go with the 3 times fall feeding program and do the aeration only if you find the thatch or compaction problems outlined in the blog posting. You will find that your existing grass plants will spread with the feedings and fill in any small thin areas.

    • Anthony permalink

      Thanks Ashton, what specific Scotts products do you recommend for the three fall feedings? Again , in the RI area.

  8. Hi Anthony
    If no seeding, Turf Builder twice, followed by Turf Builder WinterGuard. If seeding, substitute Turf Builder Starter for your first feeding.

    • Anthony permalink

      Thanks Ashton, I still have some weeds when do you suggest incorporating a weed fertilizer? The last one? Winterguard plus weed control and also will this provide results in November?

      Thank you,Anthony

  9. Hi Anthony
    Suggest your first or second feeding this fall be Turf Builder Weed & Feed.

    • Anthony permalink

      Thanks Ashton, what is the difference between Turf Builder Weed & Feed and the Turf Builder WinterGuard With Plus 2 Weed Control?

  10. Hi Anthony
    The weed controls are the same, the difference is in the feeding.

    • Anthony permalink

      Hi Ashton, when you say Turf Builder twice for the first two fall feedings do you mean the Scotts Green bag plain fertilizer or the red bag fall one?

  11. Hi Anthony
    Suggest regular Turf Builder (or Turf Builder Weed & Feed for one of the feelings). Turf Builder WinterGuard would be your last feeding.

  12. Joyce permalink

    Hi Ashton,
    I live about 50 miles south of Richmond, VA (Southside) I have a horrible problem with thatch every year around this time. For the last 5 years, I dethatch, aerate, overseed, lime and fertilize every Fall. Then in the Spring I have a plush,green, beautiful lawn. Problem is, once the heat and humidity of the Summer moves in, my beautiful lawn moves out. My question is, do you think my lawn would benefit from not overseeding for a year? Would it help if I just dethatch as needed, then aerate, lime and fertilize this Fall?

  13. Joyce permalink

    Just one more thing, I dethatched several weeks ago and with the cooler, rainy weather we’ve been having, the lawn is trying to make a comeback:)

  14. Hi Joyce
    Based on where you live your lawn is either Fescue or Bermuda. If you have Fescue and your grass is alive and not damaged too much from dethatching (bare soil showing) you can just feed 2 or 3 times this fall. If not you should seed. I like the Heat Tolerant Blue blend. If you have Bermuda it will go dormant in winter and you will have a brown lawn if you do not seed this fall.

  15. Mary Williams permalink

    I moved here in northern Mi. a year ago. I have a lot of bare spots in my lawn. I tried to reseed last year, but it didn’t do much good. I didn’t add good soil. I have all sand. I would like to know what kind of grass seed to buy and how to prep the soil for reseeding. A lot of this grass is clover and other grass that just came up automatic. When would be a good time to use your weed and feed?
    We don’t get much rain.

    • Hi Mary Williams
      Sept 1 is a perfect time to seed where you are located. Suggest you use one of the Scotts Turf Builder Grass Seed blends based on your conditions: 1) Sun, 2) Sun and Shade, or 3) Shade. If you are able to mix some organic matter (like Scotts Lawn Soil) into the top few inches of your soil via a tiller, then that will help your sandy soil hold moisture. Be sure to keep your grass seed moist for a few weeks while you are getting germination and initial growth. Feed your new grass Scotts Turf Builder Starter Lawn Food 2 to 4 weeks after seeding. Do not apply any weed controls until your new grass has been mowed 4 times. You can put down Scotts Turf Builder WinterGuard Weed & Feed in the areas that you do not seed, or in your newly seeded area after your new grass has been mowed 4 times. This product will kill weeds like clover as long as your daily high temps are hitting the upper 50’s. Be sure to apply Weed & Feed to moist foliage when rain is not expected for 24 hours.

  16. Dennis permalink

    I live in Maryland and it’s already Sept. is it too late for me to kill my lawn?

    • Hi Dennis
      The ideal time to put down seed in Maryland is Early September. I have seen great success planting all the way thru this month. Since you can plant grass seed a week after spraying your lawn with Roundup, you have time to do the job… but hurry.

  17. Frank permalink

    I’m in Southern VA (near NC border) and just laid new seed (Scott’s Heat-tolerant Blue Mix) last week. Was that futile or opportune time? Weather reports show 70’s all week…
    Also, could use a good idea what’s next for me as well, thanks!

    • Hi Frank
      You are a couple of weeks late based on the typical start of cold weather in your area. However, having said that I have see great success from seedings in Virginia in late Sept. Keep the seedlings watered for the next several weeks and then begin to lengthen the time of watering and the days between watering to get good establishment. Even if you have a frost, that is no problem because the soil is still warm. If you did not put down a Starter lawn Food when you seeded, it would be good to put this down around the time that you are seeing grass that is an inch or so tall. Then in a month after this put down Scotts Turf Builder WinterGuard (this will be in November).

      • Frank Rodrigues permalink

        Springtime is coming close and I’ve completed my application of the Heat tolerant blue mix, It set well, but I have spots that I need to fill in, but I don’t know what I need to do to start out in the springtime. What fertilizer should I use (with or without weedkiller, etc) and how should I seed the holes, before or after the fertilizer?

      • Hi Frank Rodrigues
        Suggest you feed with Scotts Starter Lawn Food with Weed Preventer. This particular weed preventer will allow your grass seed to germinate while preventing crabgrass and other weeds from germinating. Other crabgrass preventers will keep your good grass from germinating as well. You spread this after you have done your seeding. The food will also help your grass that got started last year. About 6 weeks after seeding and feeding, feed again with Turf Builder.

      • Frank Rodrigues permalink

        When would be a good time to do that? We’re going to have a few cold days this week but starting to get warmer soon. Also, ive been a big fan of the 4 step program bags from scotts (taking care of my grandfathers lawn, but that was a well-established lawn). Could i eventually start using that or do u need to wait?

  18. Hi Frank Rodriques
    You can seed when your soil warms up to allow germination. This is typically around the time you are starting to see yellow forsythia bushes start to bloom. For example, when I lived in Columbus, Ohio I did spring seeding around April 10. Since you are familiar with the 4-Step program, I am going to shift my previous product recommendation. Your first feeding after you have seeded will be Step 1 for New Seeding. This contains the crabgrass preventer that can be used when seeding. Once your new grass has been mowed 4 times, you can then apply Step 2 and follow up with the other Steps at two month intervals.

    • Frank Rodrigues permalink

      lawn came in nicely, in parts. I think the biggest issue is that snow comes so late that (not bragging) since we have the nicest lawn, the neighbor’s cats come and pee on our lawn through the winter. and now I have brown splotches all over. Our dog plays in the yard but I’ve trained him to pee poop when on our walks only. I guess my question is how can i fill in those spots, and when? or should I just wait till fall seeding time? Step 1 of Scotts went down two weeks ago, as well, by the way.

  19. Hi Frank Rodrigues
    I think you will see your lawn fill in the thin spots as you feed this year. Typically spots that are smaller than a dessert plate fill in as the bluegrass is fed. You can then decide if you need to seed in fall. The brown areas may be snow mold. A light raking with a leaf rake will allow air and sunlight get to the crown of the grass plant so growth will be more robust. Do not rake too hard as your crabgrass prevention barrier is on the soil surface.

  20. Dennis permalink

    I live in Maryland my yard is a mess (lots of brown bare spots and weeds). I don’t have a sprinkler system and it’s already hot here. I’m wondering if it’s too late to see any improvements even if I hire a professional lawn care company? Wondering if I should just wait and hire them next spring to get me ready for the summer of 2016?

  21. Hi Dennis
    Thanks for giving me your location. You might let your lawn ride until late summer/early fall when you can do a lot to improve your grass. Fall is a good time to plant grass seed in Maryland. Scotts Heat Tolerant Blue would work well in your area. Also, feeding your lawn a couple of times in fall will increase root growth. Fall is also a great time to kill lawn weeds.

  22. elias permalink


    my lawn is much worse that the one pictured above

    i want to follow the advise posted here, “kill everything and start over” but my concern is that to begin with, the quality of my lawn soil is not good.

    i’ve skimmed over web articles from the horticulture extension that talk about sending soil samples for analysis, but then, what do i do with that information? and how do the soil lab results change the steps to follow above?

    • Hi Elias
      The best chance to improve sandy soil is when rot totaling to plant a new lawn. Two inches of organic matter tilled into top 4to6 inches of native soil can really help. The primary benefit of a soil test is to see if the soil pH is too acid and lime is needed.

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