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Lawn Restoration

for Bermuda and Zoysia Lawns

A lush, healthy green lawn can make or break a landscape. If your lawn is old, tired and full of thatch it may be in need of a restoration.


A restoration allows you to improve your lawn without removing the existing turf. While restoring your lawn is not nearly as labor intensive as removing all of your turf and starting over, it may still require several weekends of work.

In this section, each step of a lawn restoration is described, some of which are essential and others optional. In most parts of North America, the best time to begin restoration is late summer or in fall, although adjusting pH and dethatching can be done in the spring to prepare for a fall restoration.

Remove Thatch and Weeds
When beginning a lawn restoration, the first step is to remove any thatch buildup -- even low levels that would otherwise be acceptable. Unless you can expose the soil between the old grass plants, the steps that follow will have poor results.

The best time to dethatch is when your lawn is thriving - not when it's stressed in the heat of summer or cold of winter. To begin, set the height adjustment on your mower to cut the grass about 1 inch or so high, essentially half its normal mowing height. Mow the entire lawn. Short grass will make dethatching and surface preparation easier. if you will be overseeding it will also improve seed germination rates because more seed will make contact with the soil and seedlings will have greater exposure to the sun.

The easiest way to remove thatch from a lawn that is over 3,000 square feet is with a power dethatcher, which should be available at rental stores. For smaller lawns or lawns with a thin 1/2- to 1-inch layers of thatch, a manual thatching rake will do a satisfactory job. When using a power dethatcher to remove average amounts of thatch and to scarify the soil, set the blades to cut 1/8 to 1/4 inch into the soil. Make several test passes on an inconspicuous area of your lawn to judge how much thatch (and turf) will be removed. If too much or too little is removed, raise or lower the blades accordingly. The spacing between blades can be adjusted on some machines, but this is difficult to do and so is best done by the rental store staff. The blade spacing for Bermudagrass and zoysiagrass is 1 to 2 inches. Most rental store owners will know the optimum settings for the grasses grown in your area.

When using a vertical mower to dethatch, make several passes over the lawn in perpendicular directions. It is important to be thorough. Remove the thatch you pull up after each series of passes and add it to your compost pile. When you have finished dethatching, remow your lawn to a height of 1 inch.

On a lawn with thick thatch (more than 1-1/2 inches), you may need to partially remove the thatch and allow the lawn to fully recover before the next dethatching session. Removing too much thatch all at once can do more harm than good. The rule of thumb is to remove what you can without tearing up holes of more than a couple of square inches in live turf. This may not be possible on lawns with very thick thatch--more than 2 inches. In that case, your lawn may not be salvageable and may need to be replanted from scratch. See PLANTING A LAWN

Fill Depressions and Level Bumps
While you are dethatching your lawn, check for bumps and depressions. These may have been caused by poor grading, uneven settling, or the decomposition of buried tree stumps, logs, or roots. Mark any irregularities with latex spray paint so you can find them easily when you are ready to level them.

To level small bumps, raise the sod with a sharp spade or sodcutter and remove the necessary amount of soil beneath it. Cut out at least a 2 by 2-foot section of sod. If you lift smaller patches of sod, they will likely dry out and die. While the soil base is exposed, mix in some compost and fertilizer. Watersoak the area using a hose and press the sod back into place. Keep the area watered to prevent lawn brownout.

Slight depressions can be smoothed over by topdressing: applying to the surface a combination of topsoil and compost. Native screened top soil is recommended over top soil sold in bags. Fill depression and rake smooth with a landscape rake. When handling larger depressions - -those more than an inch or two deep and several square feet in area - raise the sod; fill the depression with a mixture of screened native top soil, humus, and fertilizer; replace the sod, and press it in place. Be sure to keep repaired areas moist, or the edges will dry out and turn brown.

Adjust Your Soil's pH
Before applying anything, it is best to test your own soil or obtain test results from a professional testing service or your local extension agent. If your soil test shows that the soil pH is low, add lime according to the test recommendations.
Pelletized lime is the preferred type because it is readily available and can be safely, easily, and accurately applied with a rotary spreader.

The more clay and organic content in your soil, the more lime you will need to correct the pH. Sandy soils require less lime to raise pH. If you need to add more than 40 pounds of lime per 1000 square feet to correct your pH, do it in two or more applications. And don't apply lime with fertilizer mixed in the same spreader. The resulting chemical reaction will release the nitrogen you want for your grass into the air. After spreading lime, water the lawn to wash the particles off the grass leaves and into the soil.

rarely is it that a lawn in Georgia clay needs a lowering of pH. In the event yourlawn does, add sulfur according to you soil test recommendations. Sulfur amendments are also available in the form of compounds, such as ammonium sulfate. These compounds can be used in place of elemental sulfur, but they can burn turf if used in excess. See amendment packaging for details on amounts that can be safely applied to turfgrass.

Sulfur acts within one month to lower soil pH. To avoid applying too much, don't try to make your correction in one application. To meet recommended amounts, make several surface applications a few weeks apart and water the grass after each application.

Add Nutrients
When restoring a lawn, apply the fertilizer recommended by the results of your soil. Use a slow-release fertilizer if possible, and avoid putting down more fertilizer than you need. Adding too much nitrogen can cause rapid growth and a thinning of plant cell walls, which makes grass more susceptible to disease. The excess fertilizer may also leach and eventually find its way into waterways, polluting them. If you did not test your soil, apply a slow-release fertilizer with an Nitrogen-Phosphorus-Potassium ratio of 3-1-2 or a natural, non-burning fertilzer such as Milorganite, which is rich in organic matter.

Build Organic Matter and Microbe Numbers
The right dose of fertilizer won't help much if your soil does not contain an adequate population of microbes, you need billions of these microscopic organisms per handful. Microbes not only digest grass clippings, dead grass roots, and stems, but they also make their nutrients available to living grass plants.

To have a thriving microbe population, your soil must contain 2 to 5 percent organic material. A topdressing of compost, such as Claycutter or Mushroom Compost, mixed with topsoil followed by aeration will eventually incorporate some organic matter into the soil without disrupting the lawn. When top dressing your lawn, apply about one cubic yard of Claycutter or other compost per 1,000 square feet. SEE: Making Your Own Compost

Aerate Your Lawn
Aeration, also called core cultivation or aerifying, is an important part of any lawn restoration program. It allows grass roots to deeply penetrate the soil, helps fertilizer and organic matter get to roots, allows oxygen to reach the roots, and makes it easier for water to soak into the soil. Simply aerate once in the fall. Avoid aerating during dry summer months because you may damage an already stressed lawn. There are several types of aerating tools. Manual aerators allow you to do small areas a little at a time and to aerate corners and other tight areas that are difficult to reach with large equipment. You supply the power for these tools by pushing the hollow cylinders or corers into the turf - much as you would push in a spade. Small power aerators work similarly and are available at rental stores. Some machines use a rotating tillerlike action that pushes the corers into the soil and extracts small plugs, as the machines pull you forward. These lawn mower-size machines will fit into a full-size station wagon, mini-van, or pickup truck and they require two people to transport them.

Avoid aerators that only poke holes in the lawn without removing plugs because they are of less value to your lawn. The largest aerators will require a truck and several helpers to transport them but do a better job. With these machines, the corers are vertically plunged into the turf to extract a sizable plug. You may opt to have a pro tackle this job.

Aerators penetrate your lawn best when the soil has been moistened by rain or watering; so, unless it rains, water your lawn the day before aerating. When aerating, make several passes in several directions over every square foot of lawn.

Prepare the Surface and Overseed (If Necessary)
In the South, the best time to overseed a Bermuda lawn starts in late spring and goes through mid-summer. Starting then gives the young grass plants a better chance to germinate, establish strong roots, and store food needed for winter.

NOTE: Overseeding hybrid Bermuda or Zoysia lawns that were initially planted using sod is not recommended. Only overseed bermuda lawns that were initially planted from seed.

Before you begin, choose the seed that was intially used to plant your lawn. If you're not sure what type was used visit a local nursery and ask them about the best types of Bermuda seed. At Wilson Bros Nursery we are recommending 'Panama Turf-Type Bermuda', which currently ranks highest in color and turf density. Panama Bermuda should be broadcast using a hand-held spreader, with micro-settings, at a rate of 1 pound per 500 square feet.

TIP: Do not use 'Common Bermuda' seed as this grass is primarily used for pastures.

For sowing grass seed, the recommended approach is to apply seed to the edges of the area you are sowing first. Then divide your seed and apply half while walking in one direction, the other half while walking in a perpendicular (opposite) direction. Spread extra seed on bare areas.

Finally, follow up by applying a thin coat (just enough to cover the soil) of wheatstraw or hay to bare areas. This mulch coating will help retain moisture necessary for seed germination and help to hold the seed in place if there is heavy rain. Avoid putting down a heavy layer that would inhibit grass growth.

If you have a lawn with grass that spreads by stolons (aboveground runners), such as Bermudagrass, St. Augustine, zoysia or buffalograss, you may introduce new grass plants by inserting plugs or patches of sod.

Care for Young Grass Seedlings
Your work to this point will have been in vain if you don't care for the young grass plants as the seeds germinate and begin to grow. The most critical need is to apply water at once or twice a day, depending on the temperature and assuming no rain. If the soil is allowed to dry out, the seedlings won't germinate or will soon wither and die. To maximize the germination rate, soak your lawn on the same day you sow the seeds. On the next day, assuming no rain, lightly sprinkle the lawn for about 5 minutes morning and afternoon. Be sure you have moistened the soil to a depth of one inch. Keep the overseeded lawn moist until the young grass plants are 2 inches tall by repeating a light watering every day after periods without rain. When the grass is 2 inches tall, resume normal watering patterns.

Begin mowing once the new grass reaches 2 inches. Use a sharp blade; a dull one may tear up young grass plants. Otherwise, stay off the seeded areas except to fertilize once more. If needed, apply the rest of the fertilizer as recommended by your soil test, or apply Milorganite fertilizer.


Maintaining a Bermuda or Zoysia Lawn
Choosing The Right Grass




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