Q: I had a remodeling project going on in the back of my house just before the government put limits on people working. The project is done, but the tractors, wheelbarrows and other equipment did a lot of damage to the grass in the side yard and backyard. At the time of the remodeling, it was too early to fix the yard. I know I need to reseed, but what else should I do?
A: Fixing the soil is as important as adding new grass plants. If the work was done when the ground was frozen, there probably wasn't too much compaction of the soil. The same goes for a warm area if the soil was dry. If the soil was damp and the equipment was compacting the soil, then core aeration is needed. Grass seed will have a hard time growing roots into in a compacted soil. Any tree or shrub roots growing under the compacted soil will also have been adversely affected.
Most lawn and garden soils are supposed to act like sponges. They have large pores for water to drain through and small pores to hold water. The large pores allow air to move into the soil supplying roots with oxygen. A compacted soil is like a sponge that is smashed down. There are very few large pores, so water doesn't move through the soil, and there is practically no air for the roots. Compacted soil does not provide conditions for healthy plants.
Core aeration improves oxygen, nutrient and water movement into the soil. It is best done during the season when grass is actively growing. The cores should be removed 2 to 3 inches apart and 5 or 6 inches deep, if possible. If the tines on the machine are farther apart, then multiple passes are required. To get them in deep, make sure the soil is damp but not too wet.
Leave the soil cores on the lawn to decompose naturally. Adding a thin layer of compost on the lawn will help improve the soil even more. The grass seed can be spread right after the aeration, or it can wait a few days for the cores to break down.
Keep the soil damp for the seeds to sprout and then water as necessary. A starter fertilizer can also be used. The fertilizer will also help any of the existing grass crowns to grow and spread.
Apply the seeds to an area wider than what is necessary for the lawn repair. You can even plant the seeds over the whole lawn. The seed mix will have different varieties of grass than the existing lawn. If you just apply the seeds to the areas needing repair, you might see two different colors and types of grass. If you spread the seeds out into the areas that don't need repair, the colors and visual differences between the old and new grasses will blend in better.
Does your side yard need to be grass? If you don't use it for anything except access into the backyard, then maybe it could be something else. How about a paved path for access, and the rest can be planted into flower beds or vegetables?
A side yard of grass is just wasted space that has to be mowed -- all work and no benefit. Well, the benefit is erosion control, oxygen creation and temperature moderation, but most of that will also occur if the area is planted in flowers. The flowers will be lower maintenance, and some of them can be cut to bring indoors. Vegetables can be grown to provide healthy, fresh, great-tasting food for the kitchen and outdoor grilling.
Jeff Rugg's weekly column, "A Greener View," can be found at creators.com.