How to Rejuvenate a Lawn 

Lush green renovated lawn with evergreen privacy tree boarder.

Is your lawn in need of some TLC? Dead spot from the pool? Learn how to rejuvenate your lawn to be lush and green, the best in the neighborhood! Historically, late summer and early fall begin the ideal time for turf renovation/reseeding in Maryland, DC, and Virginia. The season actually starts in late August, but this year with some near 100-degree days, it seemed prudent to wait till the temperatures dropped consistently into the 80s for successful rejuvenation.  

When to Start Lawn Renovation? 

It is best to start turf renovation at the beginning of the fall renovation season. This allows the new grass seedlings enough time to grow and be rooted in before late fall leaf removal. Early fall lawn seeding will enable the new turf grass seedlings to emerge and grow enough to receive 2-3 lawn cuts before the fall leaf clean-ups begin. However, a late fall seeding may create a new grass bed without enough root mass to be able to withstand leaf raking and removal.  

Which Grass Seed Should I Plant? 

We recommend any of the tall-type fescue grasses for Maryland, DC, Virginia, and West Virginia, as there are many varieties to choose from. Depending on the amount of shade the area of the lawn being reseeded receives, you will need to select which tall-type fescue meets your lawn’s requirements. If you are reseeding lawn patches in the existing lawn, then you will want to use the same grass type. If you don’t know what type you have, your landscaper or seed store will know if you bring a sample to them.  

Open bag of grass seed lawn rejuvenation.

Lawn Equipment Needed 

Most homeowners and landscapers will use a verticutter(vertislicer) and core aerator to complete the average lawn reseeding projects. Your local tool and equipment rental stores will have these small machines available for rent. 

Preparing Lawn for Reseeding 

Changing weather patterns in the mid-Atlantic region are bringing warmer-than-normal temperatures in August-September, thus drying the soil out. The soil needs to be a bit soft, certainly not hard like cement. The turf renovation machines, such as a cone-aerator and the more aggressive verticutter machines, need to be able to penetrate the top ½ inch of the soil. Grass seed is shaped like our American football. If it lays on top of the hard ground, it will continually dry out, and germination rates can be poor. Thus, resulting in failed lawn renovation. If you are starting the lawn rejuvenation when the soil is extremely dry, set up a lawn sprinkler for just 20 minutes at a location to soften the top ½” of soil. This will enable the machines to penetrate enough to allow soil-to-seed contact, where the seed will be enveloped in the soil for good germination. 

Lawn Rejuvenation Steps 

  1. Begin by aerating the soil with a core aerator. The core aeration machine needs to be able to pull small ½” + plugs from the soil area. Extremely shallow penetration melts together with the first watering and lowers the seed, possibly sh green renovated la about and drying. 
  1. When we have some turf site penetration, the broadcast seed makes its way into the aeration holes and verticutter for rows. After a few rains or waterings, the worked seedbed areas melt closed around the seed and enable it to stay moist and germinate. The deeper the machine can penetrate the lawn area, up to 1-1.5” deep, the better the overseeding results will be.   

How to Fertilize a Renovated Lawn 

We know today that excessive lawn fertilization may run off with the rains and eventually make its way to the creeks, streams, rivers, and tributaries leading into the Chesapeake Bay. At the completion of the lawn restoration work, apply fertilizer. Don’t wait! Granular fertilizer takes two weeks to be watered enough to go into solution in the soil. So, by the time the turf seeds have germinated, there is fertilizer available to the new turf roots for nutrient uptake. 

Two light half applications of lawn fertilizer 4-5 weeks apart would be better than one big or “normal” fertilization. Using approximately ½ pound of actual nitrogen (the “N” number on the bag) per 1,000 sq. ft. is all that is needed.  

The new seedlings require very little phosphorus and potassium, and most fertilizer manufacturers account for this by including small amounts in their mix. It’s mandated by Maryland/DC/Virginia to help the water quality of the bay and surrounding waterways. New grass requires some fertilizer, but it only needs small amounts in split applications.

Why Fertilize the Lawn in the Fall? 

The fall is the best time to rejuvenate a lawn; as the angle of the sun gets lower in the sky, the grass plant sends up additional tillers on the sides, versus straight up, to create more leaf blade area to gather more light. The added turf tillers benefit from the fall lawn feeding by enabling them to spread more roots. This produces lush thick lawns. 

In the mid-Atlantic/Northeast regions, turf grows differently in the spring. Grass will send tillers straight up to gather light in the spring. As the sun rises higher in the sky, grass will send its shoots straight, and fertilizing can then cause excessive growth. Only fertilize when the grass is generating new roots rather than blades, typically during the fall season in our area. 

The Maryland Lawn Fertilizer Law of 2011 bans fertilizing between November 15th through March 1st. Virginia has a fertilizer law banning phosphorus in fertilizers in the state and mandating records for commercial applicators. DC’s fertilizer law is similar to Maryland’s but also bans fertilizing when it is raining, 24 hours before and after rain, or when soil is saturated. DC also prohibits using it within 15 feet of drainage ditches or waterways.

When to Water after Reseeding the Lawn

We want your fall lawn rejuvenation to be successful, so watering is the key. You only need to water lightly to keep the top ¼”-½” inch of the soil damp in areas where new grass roots are forming. No deep watering since new roots of the grass are at the top. Excessive soil moisture can lead to root rot, causing the new turf to fail. Starting fall reseeding early allows for natural fall rains and dew, minimizing additional watering. 

Care and Maintenance After Lawn Rejuvenation

  1. Mowing – Do not mow earlier than 4-6 weeks after reseeding. If the new grass needs to be at least 1” taller than the standard mowing height of 3”. Therefore, you would mow the new grass when it reaches a height of 4 inches for the first time. Mowing too frequently or too short will cause the grass to become injured. This results in allowing weeds like crabgrass to grow and grass to turn brown from drought and foot traffic easily. The ground should be dry when mowing, or it will damage the grass and require additional reseeding work. 
Mowing the lawn when it is at least 4" tall and cutting it to 3" after reseeding is best for a lush green lawn.
  1. Weeding – We recommend pulling weeds by hand since chemicals can injure grass, plus the chemicals end up in our waterways. Montgomery County, MD has strict rules on lawn chemical use. It is not recommended to use herbicides on new turf until you have mowed it at least three times.
  1. Fertilizing –You don’t need to feed the lawn for rejuvenation until the following March, after the initial fertilization. However, if you initially fed it before September 15th, you can apply a second dose before November 15th. Usually, turf establishes itself within two years. At that point, you may only need to fertilize once a year in the fall.
  1. Watering – Keeping new seeds moist and preventing them from drying out is crucial during germination. We recommend daily watering in the morning, especially during dry periods, but don’t over-saturate. Sandy soil along the Chesapeake Bay, coastal areas, and tributaries will dry out quickly, so frequent light mists are best. Water the grass less frequently but for longer periods as it matures. This will allow the water to moisten the first 4-6″ of soil.  

Alternative to Fertilizing

Lawns do not necessarily need routine fertilizing, so before any lawn treatment, test your soil. As my doctor says, “Test, don’t guess’. You can potentially avoid applying fertilizer by using a mulching mower, leaving lawn clippings on the lawn. Also applying ½” of compost or leaf mulch to your lawn 1-2 times a year can help renourish your lawn. 

In addition to rejuvenating your lawn, planting noninvasive shrubs, trees, and groundcovers as borders will provide a low-maintenance “frame” around your lawn. Giving your home a professionally landscaped look.  Privacy trees are a perfect complement to the framework of one’s lawn. Evergreens provide not only visually appealing privacy but a sound buffer as well. We have locally grown and installed living fences for privacy screening for homes and businesses throughout Maryland/DC/Virginia/West Virginia for over 40 years.