I would like to give my front lawn a little TLC this year.

I don’t really know a lot about lawn care, (other than mowing it) so I am looking for some general advice. Does this look like a seeding issue, a fertilizer issue or both? I've recently ordered a book on the subject, but I thought I would try the interwebs as well.

I've heard of de-thatching and aerating… what is that all about?

Lawn is located in Boston, MA.

The photos were taken May 1st.

I'm not sure what type of grass it is.

I'm sure it was planted from seed as the property is over 100 years old.

Click any photo for full size

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4 Answers 4


There's not much new in lawn care. A rake and a sharp spade are your detective tools.

  • rake out the brown areas and remove the dead grass which is called thatch
  • use your spade to investigate what's underneath the grass. Look for:
    • what kind of soil clay, sand, good earth
    • is is heavily compacted? Think about hiring someone to aerate the soil by removing plugs of soil with a machine. This works better than a garden fork or lightweight aerators because it's harder with compacted soil and removing a plug allows better air and water exchange than a slit in the lawn -as Bamboo says look for signs of grubs or fungus in the lawn
  • over seed with grass seed appropriate to your light levels spring and fall
  • top dress with one quarter to one half inch of compost, peat moss or soil spring and fall
  • as violadaprile mentions keep the lawn watered during dry spells. If turf goes dormant weeds can germinate in the gaps in the turf

In my opinion, if your lawn has been seeded for 100 years it is likely that it is "Perennial rye-grass" (Lolium perenne L., fam Graminaceae), traditionally used for lawns. Your lawn has not been treated for some time, so of course it may grow many kinds of grass, some naturally led by the wind, and more.

To keep a good lawn in shape you should do the following:

  • Clean the weeds
  • Aerate the soil
  • Fertilize
  • Periodically re-seed
  • Water properly (few, deep waterings are better than many light waterings)
  • Mow weekly

To repair worn areas, you have two choices:

  1. The first, quick but quite challenging, is plowing or digging in the damaged areas and proceed as if it were a new lawn. There are commercially meadows ready, sold per square meter, that can be easily placed, after treatment of the soil.

  2. The second, simpler but much longer, is a simple clean from weeds, good aeration and fertilization and re-seeding.

In a field so worn out, it's definitely happened that the causes indicated in other responses (trampling, insufficient watering) were added to a low shearing of the lawn. In this way some plants, the strongest, have survived and grew at the expense of the weaker. Their root system has occupied vast areas of land, preventing the weaker grow. This explains the empty areas.

First of all it is necessary to aerate the soil. Then you can proceed with a pitchfork, but being the ground is rather large I would recommend at least one pass with a harrow cut, which cuts the root system of the turf and allows you to move the ground to reseed. Multiple passes with a harrow cut are even better. Weeding with the whole root also helps to moves the earth. erpice a taglio

Maybe you can rent a harrow of this kind above. Next, you will a tool like this below, to pierce the ground and keep it ventilated. Used periodically, this improves both the aeration and the drainage.


Once your lawn has been treated with a good lawn fertilizer you can proceed to re-seeding or simply wait for the old grass rhizomes, left in the soil, to germinate into new plants.

In the meantime, you have to water a lot, even throughout the night and during the hottest hours. And proceed to shear weekly, that prevent the plants from growing too much, taking away space and nutrients from other weaker plants.

Keeping the grass short and wet is the best way to grow a great lawn.


I think you mean dethatching - also known as scarifying, usually done in autumn, then often a top dressing is applied (after aeration) and its left over winter to recover. Aerating is just spiking the lawn all over - this can be easily done with a full sized garden fork, inserted about every nine inches to the top of the tines, then pulled out at the same angle it went in at. This is particularly essential on heavy soils and in wetter regions, and in such areas, may be done twice a year.

It's hard to say what's wrong with your grass - was it turf/sods? Grown from seed? Comprised of other grasses? How long's it been down? Did you have drought last year, or was it covered in snow in winter and walked on regularly, in which case it could have a fungal infection? When did this first appear? Do you have a dog, particularly a bitch, or do other dogs use the lawn as a toilet? Are birds or other creatures scratching at it? This might indicate infestation by something such as chafer grubs or leatherjackets or whatever your local lawn pests might be. The answers to these questions should help in deciding what's wrong with your lawn.

I don't know what book you've ordered, but one I would recommend for turf/sod lawns is The Lawn Expert by D. G Hessayon, available at a very reasonable price. Tells you almost everything you ever wanted to know (and some stuff you didn't want to know) about lawns, though its really aimed at the UK/Europe market in terms of the problems it covers.


This could be from anything. Maybe kids were setting up home plate for whiffle ball. Maybe not enough water. It is usually from friction (people, animals, birds) or lack of water or a mixture. You need to clean up the area, lay down new sod or seed it, and keep it properly watered.

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