Organic Lawn Renovation: The Plan

Poor lawn with lots of weeds
Because I was planning on killing and reseeding parts of my lawn last year I didn't take as good care of those areas as I should have. I didn't do anything about the weeds and didn't water regularly. As a result the lawn in one section in particular has gotten very bad and it wasn't great to begin with.

Three sections will be renovated in total. Two are in decent shape but one of the sections requires a bit of regrading and I might as well reseed the other since they're in close proximity and I feel the grass should match.

For the past few weeks I've been gathering all the tools I'll need for a lawn renovation as well as finalizing the supplies and methods I'll be using.

Below you'll find my lawn renovation plan as well as pictures of my existing lawn and description of some of the issues I'm having.

Why Kill The Existing Lawn?

The lawn is old and over the years different types of grass seeds have been used which give the lawn an uneven appearance. Some of the grasses grow very fast while others hardly grow at all and there are a bunch of weeds in one section. There are also sections with depressions as well as bumps that need to be smoothed out. Additionally the soil is a little low in organic matter and the soil structure could use some improvement by adding compost.

It's easier to tackle all the issues by starting fresh with some new grass seed.

The Plan

Day 1

Tomorrow I start killing my existing lawn. I'll be using two different organic herbicides instead of RoundUp/Glyphosate which is normally used in this step. Each of my three sections will be split in half and so that I can compare the effectiveness of each in this process under different conditions.

I'll be using BurnOut II from St Gabriel Organics and Nature's Avenger from Cutting Edge Formulations.

These products work best with full sun and temperatures above 80 degrees. I was going to start today but tomorrow will be even hotter as will the rest of the weekend.


The weed killers start working within hours. Any areas that I had missed on Day 1 should be apparent and I can spot treat using the appropriate herbicide for that area.

Day 7

Unlike glyphosate based herbicides like RoundUp, these organic alternatives are not systemic and will not kill the roots. They only kill the leaves of the plant but without the leaves the rest of the plant is susceptible. If there is enough stored energy in the roots for some of the weeds and grasses to grow back I will re-spray with herbicide to kill any new growth as suggested by St Gabriel Labs.

Day 8-9

At this point the existing lawn should be sufficiently damaged and if necessary I'll mow the grass at my mower's lowest setting and bag the clippings to remove some of the debris and/or use my Ames True Temper Thatch Rake to both clear plant debris and start cultivating the soil.

Using a combination of tools including rakes and a Garden Weasel Cultivator I'll start incorporating compost into the top of the soil, fertilize using an organic lawn fertilizer,correct grade issues and probably reshape the garden beds.

My soil's pH appears to be fine in those areas but since the organic herbicides I'm using contain acids I'll recheck the pH and add some Fast Acting Lime if necessary.

Day 10

On Day 10 of the process I will put down new grass seed. My initial plan was to plant a good Kentucky Bluegrass mix but I've changed my mind and will be going with a Turf-Type Tall Fescue mix. Unless anything changes I'll be using Jonathan Green Black Beauty grass seed. There might be some better TTTF grass blends out there but there were a number of reasons why I decided to go with Black Beauty. One of the primary ones was that it's something I can find locally. TTTF doesn't spread like KBG does so every 2-4 years it might need to be overseeded if thin or bare spots develop. I decided it would be more convenient to use a seed I could find locally.

After seeding I'll follow an appropriate watering schedule. Depending on the weather the first week I might have to water lightly twice a day to keep the seeds moist for good germination. The second week I can probably cut down to once a day. After that I can slowly increase the watering times and decrease the watering frequency.

Existing Lawn Condition

Section 1

Section 1 is the largest as well as the worst section of the three. The soil structure is very poor, there is a wide mix of grasses including everything from fine fescue to tall fescue. This section is in full sun and gets little to no foot traffic.

Section 1 also has the worst weed problem. Weeds in this portion of the lawn include dutch white clover, wild violet, either purslane or prostrate pigweed, some dandelions, crabgrass, some veronica speedwell, something that looks like nimblewill and possibly goosegrass.

This section of lawn also has some issues with what I believe is red thread or some other type of disease which I've been able to successfully control with corn meal.

It gets little traffic and requires more water than I've been applying, especially this year, which caused the grass to suffer.

Old lawn Section 1 
  old lawn and weeds section 1 old lawn and weeds section 1

Section 2

old lawn section 2

Section 2 receives partial sun. It is shaded by a large tree for about 1/2 the day. The grass here is more consistent. I've been overseeding here regularly with a Kentucky Bluegrass Mix (Jonathan Green Sod Maker) and it normally looks good. There is a bit of crab grass at the edges but that's about it. The area needs some serious regrading. Some areas are uneven and if I'm not careful get scalped by the mower. The grass looks much better than the photo indicates but not as great as it usually because I haven't watered or fertilized as regularly as I normally would because of the renovation.

Section 3

old lawn section 3

This section was regraded and planted with a fine fescue mix because it receives little sun throughout the day. It has been slightly neglected because of the renovation plan but otherwise looks pretty good. The photo also doesn't look that great because of the mix of sun and shade throwing off the colors and brightness. (See my post on how to take great lawn photos for more info.) As with Section 2, Section 3 looks pretty good and just a little bit of care and a little reseeding would make it look great but because these sections can be seen at the same time I'd like more consistency. I also feel Black Beauty might do better in shade than fine fescues.

I'm excited to finally get this process started and will be posting updates as I go.
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