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We planted some grass in the backyard in spring 2008, not too long after we moved in.  Prior to that it was a densely wooded area.  While the woods were nice, they left us with barely any yard and had slowly started taking over the deck area.  Many of the trees had died, having been overcome by the bugs that killed most of the ash trees in Michigan.  We had the dead trees removed along with many of the scrub or smaller trees.  We left quite a few trees so that we still had most of the privacy yet we had more lawn and a nicer view to look out on.

mb-201009grassPredictably, though, the remaining wooded areas meant that the grass wouldn't get the full sun exposure that it needs to thrive.  About 75% of my grass does well, but there were a few spots in the ‘new' section that I could tell would need regular upkeep.

After three seasons, I knew that it was time to strengthen the grass, and was set to do so by overseeding the areas that were thinned out.

Overseeding is something I hadn't heard of, but once I started reading about it, made complete sense.  You are basically adding more seed to the grass to thicken it back up.  Doing so will restore the lushness and the thicker grass will act as a barrier from weeds.

However, it's not as simple as just dropping some seed down on the lawn.  Nothing is ever that simple is it?

Grass seed will only grow when it is exposed to the dirt, so sprinkling seed around won't accomplish much if you don't prep the area first as most of it wouldn't make it to the dirt.  So, quite a bit of preparation is required.

I did my overseeding last week and thought I'd share the steps I went through:

  • Determine your areas – It's a pretty labor intensive process so you probably want to tackle your neediest areas first and then determine if you want to continue.  We did a portion of our backyard and a small patch in the front yard that had gotten worn out over time.  Most of the remaining areas were fine and didn't require overseeding just yet.
  • Know the best time to overseed – For areas that get snow, the best time to overseed is in the early fall.  For areas that don't, the spring time is the best time.  Around here (Michigan), the roots get shallow during the hot summer months, but will start strengthening back up during the fall in preparation for the winter.  You want to add your grass seed at the right time where it can develop a deep root system, and also do so at a time when weeds are least likely to grow.
  • Cut your grass low – During hot summer months, the best strategy is to keep your grass high, around three inches.  This does two things.  It retains moisture and it provides a ‘cover' against weeds.  But, when it's time to overseed, you want to cut as low as you can.  You want to eliminate that cover, but instead of allowing weeds to grow, you want to give the new seed the opportunity to grow.  Make sure to cut it around 1-1/2″ inches and collect your clippings.
  • Rake out the thatch – Again, the goal is to provide as much exposure to the dirt as possible.  Over time grass clippings will form a thatch.  Normally, this is good as it provides a fertilizer, but now you want it out of the way.  This raking will probably be the most labor intensive part of the process.
  • (Optional) Aerate – I know I'm repeating myself, but creating exposure to dirt is the goal as you want your seed to touch the dirt.  Aerating your grass will allow you to create more exposure to dirt as well as loosen the soil.  Our soil had not compacted much over the last couple of years, so I skipped this step this time.
  • Cut again – Even after raking out the thatch, I ran the mower over it one more time and got another bag and a half of clippings that had been worked up during the raking.
  • Lay down your seed – Buy a good quality seed and lay it down with a spreader.  I made two passes, going in two different directions, first side to side, then up and down.
  • Water – You want your grass seed to develop and just like with a new lawn, watering is the key component to ensuring that your grass takes root.  Watering three times a day for the first week, then two times a day for the next two weeks is key.  Essentially you never want your ground to get dry while your seed is taking root.
  • Wait to cut – Wait at least a couple of weeks before mowing.  This shouldn't be a big problem since you cut it so low to begin with.

So far things are looking good but we will really see how things go in the spring. Hopefully we come up with a nice lush lawn that will stay that way for a couple of years.  I know that the backyard will require regular attention, but it's worth it to have the yard plus the trees.  The best of both worlds!