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You don't aim to make a new lawn. All you want is to fix an old one. How do you go about it? Your present turf is a bit thin in spots and has too many weeds, and its surface not as even as it should be. Altogether it looks a little sad and ragged, not exactly a feature of which you are proud. Perhaps you've made attempts to improve it - a little seeding in spring, occasional fertilizing, ineffective stabs at eliminating weeds. You may even have top-dressed it with humus or something that a persuasive peddler sold as humus. All with little advantage. Now you want to do a job, without excessive cost or labor.
First determine if the area can be repaired more easily than renewed. If the soil is very poor or shallow or if more than half the greenery is weeds, forget about renovation and decide upon remaking. It will be cheaper and better in the end. Test the depth and quality of the soil by lifting a few plugs to a depth of six inches or more and examining them carefully. Have a lime test made.
If you decide to renovate, plan to do the top-dressing and reseeding involved in early spring, late summer or early fall, not in late spring or summer. Begin preliminary weed elimination any time. Make the job as thorough as possible. If the area is large, use one of the selective commercial chemical weed killers. Follow the manufacturer's directions carefully. Although,
when making over a lawn, discoloration of desired grasses is of small importance, you don't want to kill any. Even with these aids some hand weeding will likely be needed.
Major Lawn Repair
When the time comes for the major fixing, mow at a height of one inch. Eliminate obvious low spots by lifting a few turfs, packing good soil beneath and replacing them. Then, with an ordinary iron rake, scarify the soil surface, removing as much dead grass, leaves and other debris as possible. If the soil is compacted, aerify it using a spiked roller, a special hollow-tined aerifying fork or a regular garden fork jabbed in to make holes a few inches apart. Should the soil be acid, apply agricultural lime or ground limestone and in any case a fertilizer that has most of its nitrogen in an organic or slow-release form. Use sufficient fertilizer to supply one pound of actual nitrogen for every 1,000 square feet. Spread it when the grass is dry and work it shallowly into the surface with a rake. Then spread a quarter-inchthick layer of a screened mixture of good topsoil, coarse sand and some bulk organic matter such as compost, sedge peat (humus), leaf mold or peat moss. Smooth with the back of a rake and then sow a good-quality grass seed mixture at two to four pounds to each 1,000 square feet. Work the seed into the soil with a rake or broom and roll or pat it with the back of a spade or a wooden tamper. If you water afterward, make sure you use a very fine spray to avoid washing the seed. Usually it is better to wait for rain.
Following this treatment give consistent attention to eliminating weeds. Keep up a regular schedule of fertilizing, watering and other cultural care outlined in other chapters and repeat the renovation treatment described above in the following year if it seems desirable. There is no magic formula for making a poor lawn good at one fell swoop.
Renovating a lawn calls for effort and cash. Before embarking on the project, be sure the measures outlined are likely to bring results. There are situations - dense shade or matted tree roots near the surface, for example - where it is better to plant ground covers than it is to plant grass.