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Overseeding Your Lawn

There are two main reasons for lawn overseeding: to thicken and improve the appearance of a thin or patchy lawn, or to give winter color to a dormant southern lawn.

Overseeding a Thin or Patchy Lawn

Older lawns may need overseeding when the turf thins because of drought, thatch, insect damage, or disease. Newer lawns may be thin as a result of seeding too lightly at first planting. Regardless of the reason, if your lawn is thin or patchy, overseeding can dramatically improve the appearance of the lawn without having to perform an entire lawn renovation.Overseeding Your Lawn

Spring and fall are the best times to overseed, when cooler temperatures and moisture prevail. Follow these steps for a successful overseeding.

  1. Determine if thatch is a problem. Dig up an area of turf with a shovel. If the layer of dead roots and stems just below the green blades is more than half an inch thick, consider renting dethatching equipment before overseeding. It is important to remove this layer so that the new seedlings have an adequate soil layer in which to grow. Dethatching also helps your remaining turf to thrive by allowing moisture and nutrients to reach the grass roots.
  2. Add a layer of topsoil if necessary, before overseeding, especially if tree roots cause an inadequate topsoil layer. Spread a thin layer of screened topsoil over the lawn, and rake it in. Never add more than 1/4 of an inch of topsoil, or you may smother the existing lawn.
  3. Choose a grass seed compatible with the conditions in your lawn. Once you have determined the right grass seed type, check the package for how much to buy for your lawn size. The package gives recommendations for lawn overseeding.
  4. Mow the lawnslightly lower than normal the day before you overseed.
  5. Apply fertilizer when you spread the seed.
  6. Keep the seedlings moist. Keep the top one inch of soil moist (like a squeezed-out sponge) for the next several weeks.

You can mow the lawn after overseeding, unless the ground is extremely wet or muddy, in which case mowing could tear the new seedlings from the ground. On the other hand, if the soil is too dry, your lawn mower could pick up the seeds and blow them around — water a dry lawn before mowing.

Keep in mind that a thin lawn could be the result of poor soil. Consider having your soil tested, and follow a fertilization schedule that is right for your lawn. Finally, remember to mow high and often and water when your lawn shows signs of drought-related stress.

Overseeding a Southern Lawn

Southern lawn grasses such as bermudagrass or St. Augustine go dormant (stop growing and turn brown) in response to cold weather. Many southern homeowners overseed their existing lawn with a northern-type grass in fall, so that the lawn stays green through the winter.

Steps for overseeding a southern lawn are similar to the steps above. There are a few tips to remember, however.

  • The proper seed type is very important. Lawn overseeding in the south is typically done with an annual northern grass type that dies once summer arrives. The grass type you choose should die off in heat; otherwise, it may compete with the main turf type in summer. Annual rye grass is popular for this purpose.
  • Dethatch or add topsoil if necessary. See the guidelines above.
  • Seed early enough in fall so that the overseeded grass grows well by the time winter arrives. Timing varies by geographic region, so check with a local nursery professional or your Cooperative Extension Service for proper timing.
  • Avoid using a fertilizer on the new overseeding, because southern lawns can suffer damage when fertilized during dormancy.
  • Mow as needed. See the guidelines above.

Republished with permission from The Scotts Company,


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