Ask the Expert: 5 Key Steps for Renovation & Overseeding

Fall is the best time to renovate cool-season turf grass lawns, and early spring is the best time for warm-season grass lawns. The reason is straight forward, these are the periods when the greatest amount of root growth is taking place. Whether you are providing a ‘maintenance’ renovation or creating a new lawn, promoting healthy, deep root growth is the surest pathway to success.

We’ve reached out to Jeffrey Thrasher, Central’s Liquid Chemicals and Fertilizer Products Manager, and asked him to share these helpful tips about lawn renovation.

From Jeffrey

Lawn renovations vary by degree, depending on site conditions and customer needs. Let’s walk through the potential steps beginning with managing a healthy lawn to a complete renovation.

Step 1: Core Aeration

Core aeration is a maintenance procedure that should be an annual or semi-annual part of most lawn care regimens. If you ask the average homeowner what are the benefits of fertilization or good mowing practices, he or she might have a ready answer. Asking the same about core aeration will likely result in a shrug of the shoulders. Educating your customers is the best way to promote a service that ostensibly looks like you have turned their lawns into a mess of holes and plugs.

Oxygen is the most important element for healthy plant growth. Roots must breathe in order to absorb water and nutrients. Microbes that provide numerous critical functions for plants, beginning with the decomposition of organic matter, must also respire to live. Opening holes in the lawn creates pathways for the air to filter into the soil adding the essential oxygen to pore spaces. The list of additional benefits continues from there including; improved water filtration, reduced runoff, deeper, denser root systems, more efficient absorption of fertilizer, release of toxic gases and reduced soil compaction.

A properly aerate lawn will have between 10 and 20 plugs per square foot. That may sound like a lot of plugs but rest assured that at this time of year they will break down quickly. Anyone who has performed this task with old manual style aerators, that require the weighted drum to be lifted by hand with each turn of the machine, knows what an arduous task this can be. Toro manufactures hydraulic aerators that have made the job much easier. Their 21” walk-behind model automatically lifts the drum when turning. Their 30” stand on model utilizes a foot pedal to lift the drum and can make zero turn maneuvers. This machine has a 200 lb. capacity hopper attachment for seed or fertilizer and can aerate and make an application on two acres in one hour. Right now is an excellent time to invest in Fall Equipment, be sure to ask your local Central Rep about our Equipment Program and financing options.

Step 2: Overseeding

Overseeding is often the next step in the process. It is done in cool weather so that soil moisture can be maintained at high enough levels to create adequate germination. Overseeding following aeration helps to create soil to seed contact that is also essential for good germination. Choosing the right seed depends on your region, existing turf, and site conditions. Whatever species and cultivar you select the most important consideration is selecting blends with seeds types that have achieved high rankings from the National Turfgrass Evaluation Program (NTEP). This program evaluates seed for color, growth performance and disease resistance. All of Central’s seed mixes qualify as high NTEP rated varieties. Be sure to connect with your local Central rep about our Fall Seed Early Order Program and the varieties that will work best for you and your clients.

Step 3: Evaluate Conditions & Test Soil When Needed

If you are facing a lawn with patchy growth you should consider slice seeding instead of overseeding. In this case an investigation into the causes of the poor conditions should be considered before launching your renovation. That begins with a soil test, for advice on how to read a soil test check out our article in last month’s newsletter. Responses to underlying conditions are briefly reviewed in that article and should be addressed as part of your recommendations. Slice seeding after core aeration offers a double benefit, the slicing blades will break up the plugs and the seed will make better contact with the soil, improving germination rates.

Step 4: Top Dressing

Top dressing is a step that can be added following the above procedures or be provided as a standalone service. For homeowner lawns, top dressing most often addresses the need for additions of organic matter to the soil. When applying fertilizers with organic matter there is never enough volume of material to actually change the soil structurally. Top dressing is an opportunity to improve soil structure.

There is a wide range of volume and types of organic matter that could be considered depending on soil conditions and the goals you are working to achieve. Whatever the rate or material, top dressing with organic matter will improve the soils water holding capacity, cation exchange capacity, reduce fertilizer requirements, stimulate microbial life, increase seed germination and provide a long-term nutrient source.

When to Recommend a Full Renovation?

The decision to fully renovate a lawn can require a high financial investment from your client. This cost is significantly increased when choosing to replace the existing lawn with sod rather than seed. A rule of thumb for deciding is 50%. If half the turfgrass has been displaced by weeds or dead patches you are likely better off recommending a complete renovation. Again, the first step in this scenario is to investigate the conditions that led to such a poor outcome. You will need to apply a broad-spectrum herbicide and remove the top layer after the herbicide has done its work. Add compost or topsoil and mix it into the top 6-8” of soil, grade and roll. Finally, sod or seed and if seeding cover with mulch.

Step 5: Starter Fertilizer

Whenever you seed or sod a starter fertilizer should be included in the process. People often ask, can I fertilize and also protect water quality? Using enhanced efficiency fertilizers is the answer to protecting water quality. That way the nutrient ends up in the plant and not in the water. At Central we recommend Hudson Valley Natural fertilizers which use advanced technology and organic matter to improve nutrient efficiency ?and promote healthy soil. Hudson Valley Natural makes a 15-15-5 Seed Starter. It is high in phosphorus and nitrogen to promote seed germination and early growth and has the right balance of potassium to be available as an essential major nutrient while not overwhelming the cation exchange sites needed for secondary and micronutrients that are essential for new turf.

Lawn renovation is a win-win. It is a great source of revenue and done correctly is an even better source for client satisfaction.

Finally, rely on the experts at Central to help you with any of your turfgrass or ornamental tree and shrub questions. We stay at the leading-edge of the industry. We have experts on staff at all our local branches and they’re ready to help you grow!

About Jeffrey Thrasher

Jeffrey Thrasher is a licensed Arborist with more than three decades of experience in the Green Industry. Jeffrey built a successful tree, lawn and landscape company in Westchester County, NY and Fairfield County, CT. After selling his business, he began work with fertilizer manufacturers to establish distribution nationally. This extensive hands-on knowledge and background has given Jeffrey the necessary tools and background to troubleshoot and solve the most difficult tree and ornamental issues. Jeffrey is an excellent resource to help you finding the right product and solution for your customers.