Summer’s heat and dry weather take a heavy toll on turfgrasses that normally prefer lower temperatures and moist soil. A return to cooler weather offers hope for tall fescue lawns. Fortunately, the thought of a lush green lawn can become a reality provided you get started right away.

Aerification improves water penetration and readies the soil for seed.

A beautiful lawn next spring begins with aerification and overseeding this fall. Start the process by evaluating what remains of your yard grass. If less than one-half of the surviving lawn is healthy turfgrass, forget overseeding and opt for total lawn installation. Contact a professional lawn service for quotes on sod or custom seeding work, preferably one who is a member of the N.C. Turfgrass Association.

Clay soils are often compacted due to foot traffic and mowing equipment. Soil compaction is your lawn’s worst enemy! Renovating an existing lawn requires aerification equipment (pluggers/coring or slit seeders). The benefits of aerification include improved water penetration into the soil and better root development. The best aerating equipment removes cores of soil, increasing germination of seed while improving soil structure. Well-aerated soils help new seedlings establish and better survive periods of drought.

Some people prefer to hire a professional to assist with aerification as well, since it is physically challenging. Do-it-yourselfers can contact a rental company for the availability of equipment in your community. Talk to your neighbors and potentially share the cost of a daily machine rental fee.

Once the aerification step is completed, it is easy to rake away excess thatch and weeds and get down to terra firma for successful seed sowing. Many of the grass seeds fall directly into the holes left behind by the machine tines, sprouting promptly after a week of daily irrigation. Select a quality, turf-type tall fescue seed blend, or purchase a seed mixture if your grass endures the shade of trees.

Additional lawn renovation suggestions:

  • September is the best time to begin renovating lawns; finish this task by mid-October
  • If using a broadleaf herbicide, remember that these post-emergence chemicals require 4 to 6 weeks prior to overseeding time. If you use a nonselective, glyphosate herbicide, such as Roundup, apply 10 days prior to overseeding.
  • Mow existing lawn at the lowest deck setting and collect the grass clippings. If needed, use a dethatcher at this time to facilitate thatch removal. Next, core aerify for good seed-soil contact.
  • Apply a starter fertilizer, according to directions. Apply pelletized limestone per soil test.*
  • Broadcast the grass seed at the rate of 3 pounds per 1,000 square feet of area; 5 pounds for very weak grass stands.
  • Keep the ground moist with light sprinklings; irrigate twice daily. When seedlings appear reduce the frequency of watering to three times a week, then weekly as needed.
  • Mow the renovated lawn at a height of 2.5 to 3.5 inches.

*A weedy lawn is one indication of soil acidity problems (low pH corrected by liming). Take the time to test the soil if you have neglected a limestone application over the years. A soil report will recommend the proper amount of lime and fertilizer to ensure a healthy, dense lawn.

For more than 30 years, Toby Bost has been a resource to North Carolina gardeners and growers as an agricultural extension agent, a trainer for master gardeners, and an author. His books include The Successful Gardener Guide: North Carolina, North Carolina Gardener’s Guide, and The Carolina Gardener’s Guide. He can be reached through Our State magazine at gardening@ourstate.com

This story was published on

Since 1933, Our State has shared stories about North Carolina with readers both in state and around the world. We celebrate the people and places that make this state great. From the mountains to the coast, we feature North Carolina travel, history, food, and beautiful scenic photography.