Question: Restoring a well trodden lawn

By | 19/12/2023
A thin, compacted lawn

Hi Kris,

First, congratulations on a great and informative site!

Our lawns have taken a bit of a beating over the winter – very wet weather and probably too much use by the kids has turned what used to be a nice grassy lawn into a bit of a mud patch with quite a few bare, muddy spots.

Any hints as to how to recover it? Will simply overseeding in the spring work?

We have a clay soil and I fear the heavy use in soft conditions has damaged its ability to drain.

Thanks Kris!

Tim, via Ask a Question

Hi Tim,

Thank you for the nice words about my site and thanks for your question.

It is a common one, especially at this time of year (early winter). In your situation, sorting out the soil is the key. You really need to open it out again to allow the roots of the existing and new grass plants to stand a chance.

Using the lawn in the winter when it is cold and wet, squeezes the air out of the soil. This closes the passages leaving no way for the roots to transpire (breathe). The roots shrink and the grass has a real tough time growing in this compacted soil. It then dries solid in the summer leaving no room for anything to grow again.

So, how do you fix a well trodden lawn?

Once the lawn has dried out a bit (it stops being “squelchy”) you really need to get some holes and air back into it. This is called aerating. You can either do this by hand or with a machine. If tackling it by hand, use a garden fork to drive holes in and lift and break up the soil. Do this quite aggressively, even pulling it out and breaking it up if you need to. Till the soil until it is all broken and then rake it flat. Don’t step on it again. Then sow some nice fresh grass seed, cover with a bit of topsoil and leave it until it is long enough to start mowing. It will grow well, thicken and look great for the summer.

If you have an area too large to dig over by hand then you need to bring in an aeration machine. You can hire these from a tool hire centre. An even easier (and probably cheaper) way is to hire the services of a local independent lawn care company. They will be able to help you out. Run hollow-tines over the area several times to lift and break up the soil. Then changing to spikes and going over it again would further help put cracks in the soil. Then sow some grass seed and rake it in. the lawn should do really well.

I am always amazed at how well grass recovers after such damage. Grass is an amazing plant and it just needs a bit of space and it will grow. With all lawn care, sort out the soil and the grass will look after itself.

Hope this helps and thanks for reading.

Good luck!

Kris Lord
The Lawn Man

Main photo is not from the question asker, but from my stock of photos.

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