Overseeding the lawn

by Caroline Brown

I overseeded our lawn this morning and I thought I'd describe the process for anyone who hasn't done it before. First, some background– We planted our lawn from seed last July. Before, it was just a patch of dirt and weeds.

Here's the before picture at left…the lawn before the overseeding. The trees haven't come in yet, so it looks sunny right now, but by the end of May it'll be almost in full shade.

While the growth of the grass last summer actually exceeded our expectations and looked quite nice, the winter has left it looking patchy and weak. My husband and I aren't trying for the perfect green golf course lawn but we do want it to be a little thicker. We decided to overseed it to have a fuller lawn, which will help keep the weeds at bay.

You can see how patchy it is, especially closer to the camera. And to the right is a close up shot of a patchy part with almost no grass. (I've already put the seed down so you can see the seed on the patch).

Here's the process that I followed for overseeding the lawn–it was pretty easy.

First, if the grass is more than 1 or 2 inches you're supposed to mow it down to 1/2 inch or so and remove the clippings. This was obviously not a problem for us, so we skipped this step.

Next, give the yard a hard raking to loosen the soil and remove leaves, thatch (dead grass that has built up on the lawn), and anything else that has accumulated on the lawn over winter. Clear all the debris from the lawn.

The third step is to fertilizer the lawn. Many will recommend a "starter" fertilizer which is high in nitrogen and phosphorus. For example, Scott's Starter Fertilizer has an NPK ratio of 27-20-5. That's an awful lot of nitrogen and phosphorus to be dumping on your yard, in my very humble opinion, during two of the rainiest months of the year. What happens when you do that is that usually the grass can't use all those nutrients all at once. The excess will hang out in the soil until the next big rain, when it will wash out of the yard, into the street, down the nearest storm drain, and in my case, straight into the Woonasquatucket River and into the Narragansett Bay. This is NOT A GOOD THING.

So instead I chose a slow-release organic fertilizer from North Country Organics that has a more balanced NPK ratio of 5-3-4. That's a much lower nitrogen level so I'm not going to have that fast green lawn, but that's a tradeoff I'm willing to make.

Back to the overseeding….I fertilized the lawn using a hand-held broadcast spreader. You're supposed to actually us a drop spreader which is pushed like a lawn mower, but I don't have one and I really can't afford to buy an extra tool, so I went with what I had and was careful to keeep the fertilizer on the lawn itself.

Then, I seeded the lawn. Since I have a limited budget, I decided to spend extra money on organic fertilizer (organics cost more than non-organics) instead of buying organic seed. It's more important to me not to pollute my watershed than to have organic seed. To me, that's more of a luxury than a necessity.

I bought an inexpensive (job lot brand) of shade seed composed primarily of ryegrass and fescues. I spread it using the broadcast spreader and, when it got too windy, by hand-scattering. To make sure that the seed was spread as evenly as possible, I raked over areas where the seed looked a little too heavy.

Last but not least, I gave the lawn a good soaking. This is important–the lawn must be kept moist for the next month until the seed germinates and starts to grow.

That's it. In 4-6 weeks, I'll post an update and a photo of the renovated lawn. Hopefully it'll be a lot thicker!


7 Responses to “Overseeding the lawn”

  1. Organic grass seed may seem like a luxury, but going with non-organic grass seed is just pushing the pollution issues off your plate (or out of your watershed) and into that of others; particularly folks in grass-producing states like Oregon (my locale). Grass seed and sod farms are extremely resource and fertilizer intensive, as you might imagine.

  2. Hi Raerae, thanks for the feedback. I can’t deny it, it’s true what you say about organic grass. I have a limited income though…so I have to pick my battles, unfortunately. I wish I could afford to buy only organic products but I just can’t. It’s one of my biggest peeves about buying sustainably (whether food, clothing, gardening products, etc.) is that sometimes it seems like only the rich are allowed to play.

  3. Hello Caroline,

    Well, it’s one month later. I’m about to reseed my lawn. How is yours doing? I’m writing from Somerville, MA, where we’ve just had record rains this past week, but I’m thinking with the soil being so moist, and warm weather coming in, it might be just the time to reseed.


  4. Hi Chris, with all the rain, this is a GREAT time to reseed. I had reservations about doing it initially b/c it’s better to do it in the fall because weeds are not germinating then and the grass has an easier time if it doesn’t have to compete with them. But, my re-seeded lawn is doing pretty well, not too many weeds at all.

    I’m outside of Providence, RI–we were a little luckier than you guys in terms of flooding–hope nothing of yours floated away.

  5. I’m pretty sure I read it is good to soak grass seed over night before planting. This sounds good but am wondering how hard it might be to spread the wet seed? Anybody?

    I would like to overseed but am afraid it may be a little too late right now, plus am battling the dandelions right now. Ortho Weed B Gon Max seems to be helping, at least for the short haul.

  6. I’m glad i’m not alone in this battle of the dust bowl yards!!I redo my front yard every year and are about ready to mulch the whole thing!!!I live in southern Mass near the RI border.I cant seem to get rid of my clovers,crab grass and some other grass like substance!?It is green though 🙂


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