Lawn and Order: Correcting a Delinquent Lawn

Learn ways to revitalize your lawn and restore your grass to its former glory.

By: Paul Cox

Right now I should be enjoying a lush lawn. It looked great last season -- a soft mat of vivid, green zoysia that showed well from the curb and made a great backyard playing field for my kids.

beagle resting on lawn

Beagle on lawn

Learn how you can have a lush lawn again.

Photo by: Image courtesy of Ben Rollins

Image courtesy of Ben Rollins

Learn how you can have a lush lawn again.

This spring I was a little slow to grab the rake and the weed preventer, so my lawn is losing the turf war with crabgrass, dandelions and a variety of broadleaf bad guys. And on top of my weed worries, my lawn is showing some bald patches. 

The starting point for growing a lush lawn is choosing the right grass based on sun and soil. But if your previously-healthy lawn is suffering like mine and you want to get it back in shape, you can give it a little TLC -- timely lawn care.

“It’s something a lot of people could tackle if they get the right information and grow the right grass,” says Gary Peiffer, an agent with the DeKalb County Extension Office in Georgia. 


Your course of fertilization begins with a soil pH test, a measure of a soil’s level of acidity or alkalinity. Soil’s pH affects how well grass can pick up nutrients. Here’s how to test your soil pH.

Lawns generally should be fed at least twice per year, but frequency can vary depending on the type of grass you’re growing. See this list of tips on how to fertilize properly.

Don't let all the numbers on the fertilizer bag throw you. Lawn care expert Ahmed Hassan explains what they mean in this video.

How to Fertilize a Lawn 02:35

Ahmed Hassan shares detailed expert information on how to fertilize a lawn.

Remember: The more you feed your lawn, the more you’ll have to water and mow. 

Controlling and Preventing Weeds

Dandelions need little introduction, but here's help identifying some of the most prolific lawn invaders. 

Dandelion and Henbit

Dandelion and Henbit

You can probably ID this dandelion, but what about other common lawn invaders?

Photo by: Image courtesy of Felder Rushing

Image courtesy of Felder Rushing

You can probably ID this dandelion, but what about other common lawn invaders?

The best weed prevention is a thick, healthy lawn. But a thorough weed control strategy will involve applying both pre-emergent herbicides, which control annuals, and post-emergent herbicides, which also target perennial weeds, says Peiffer.

Follow these tips for applying pre- and post-emergent herbicides, and your local county extension office can advise you on the best time to spread your pre-emergent.

It's vital to know exactly how much herbicide to spread based on the size of your lawn. So, take some extra time before spreading to measure. 

Tip: Measure a roughly 3-foot step, then carefully walk your lawn and count your steps.

Even in a thick turf, dandelions can still find a way to grow. When mowing, I like to keep a small, weeding tool like this one stuffed in my back pocket so I can dig out any weeds I run across. 

Despite following all the weed-control rules, it’s tough to keep your lawn completely weed free. Weeds can, for example, blow or wash in from your neighbor’s yard. So, don’t fret if you see a prickly lettuce pop up now and then. 


Need to fill some thin spots? Overseeding involves some prep work and attention to a watering schedule, but it's a common fix for thin grass. Here's how to overseed.

amend soil by adding compost,leaf mold or peat

amend soil by adding compost,leaf mold or peat

Sprinkle a little mulch over the seed to keep the seed moist and discourage birds from making it their breakfast.

Sprinkle a little mulch over the seed to keep the seed moist and discourage birds from making it their breakfast.

Dr. Denise DeBusk, environmental and community horticulture agent for the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension office for Alachua County, Fla., recommends this watering schedule for new seed: Water 1/4 inch twice each day (morning and evening) the first week after it's spread. Cut watering back to once per day the second week, and then water every other day the third week. Sprinkle mulch over the new seed to help keep the seed moist and discourage birds from eating your potential new lawn. 

Tip: Set a small tuna can on your lawn to collect the sprinkler water so you can then measure how much you’ve watered.


If your backyard is the home field for family soccer games or badminton tournaments like mine is, thinning grass may be caused by compacted soil. It might be time to aerate -- the process of scooping or “coring” holes into your lawn so oxygen, water and nutrients can penetrate deeper into the soil. Aerating also can break up soil that’s been compacted and hardened by heavy summer use. Here's how to aerate

Core Aerator


An aerator’s tines penetrate a lawn about 2 inches deep, letting oxygen, water and nutrients reach further into the soil.

Photo by: Photo by Julie A. Martens

Photo by Julie A. Martens

An aerator’s tines penetrate a lawn about 2 inches deep, letting oxygen, water and nutrients reach further into the soil.

It’s best to aerate when lawns are actively growing. Depending on your climate, the best time of the year to aerate cool-season grass, such as fescue, rye or bluegrass, is in August through October. Consider aerating warm-season grasses, such as Bermuda, zoysia or St. Augustine, in the warmer months of April through June.  

Pest Problems and More

There are other reasons that could be causing your lawn to fail. Is your lawn dying or browning in patches? Notice any volcano-shaped mounds of soil on your lawn? Bugs, grubs and gophers are at the top of a Most Wanted list, but there are other unwelcome guests that could be a challenge to expel from your lawn. Here’s a guide to identifying lawn pests and their damage, and tips for getting rid of them.

Some other possibilities to consider if your lawn looks unhealthy: Is there a drainage issue that might make growing grass difficult or impossible without re-routing the water? Have you planted trees or changed your landscape so your lawn gets less sunlight this growing season? Are you planting the correct grass? Contact your local extension agent for help with these and other questions.

Got pests and weeds? Ortho has you covered. Trust the Ortho® family of products to provide solutions to pest and weed problems in and around your home. Visit to learn more.

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