February 1, 2016

6 weeks to a better lawn

By Erin Hynes
6 weeks to a better lawn.

If your lawn's spring rebirth is less than glorious thanks to weeds, dead spots and lackluster color, now is the time to shape it up. During your lawn's spring growth spurt, it responds quickly to your improvement efforts. But don't wait: You have about six weeks until grass growth slows way down when summer turns hot and dry. That's true whether you live in the northern US and have a cool-season grass like Kentucky blue or fescue, or live in the Deep South and grow a warm-season grass like Bermuda or St. Augustine. 

Feed your grass

Applying half the yearly fertilizer amount now gives your lawn a quick boost at a critical time (apply the other half in early autumn). Use an organic lawn fertilizer—organics are so widely sold now that there's no excuse to use a synthetic one.

To take feeding to the next level, apply a micronutrient treatment. Liquid seaweed contains a host of trace minerals (warning: it's stinky). Or for a deep green lawn that will make your neighbors green with envy, try an iron supplement.

Control the weeds organically

The safest option is to dig or pull up weeds. Even if you don't get the whole root, you've weakened the weed and kept it from producing seeds.

If pulling isn't enough firepower for your weed problem, spot treat existing weeds with a weed killer spray, which is safer than dousing the whole lawn. Look for an organic week killer that contains concentrated iron—the ingredients will list either iron HEDTA or FeHEDTA. The iron controls or suppresses broadleaved weeds such as dandelion, white clover and plantain, but doesn’t kill the grass. Brand names as of this writing include Ortho Elementals Lawn Weed Killer, Whitney Farms Lawn Weed Killer, Natria Lawn Weed Control and Fiesta Turf Weed Killer.

To control broadleaf weeds before the seeds sprout—and to feed your lawn—apply corn gluten meal. Garden centers carry corn gluten meal labeled for weed control, in both dry and liquid forms. Corn gluten meal keeps the seeds of crabgrass, dandelions and some other weeds from growing. The trick is to apply it before seeds start to sprout. In spring, that’s usually around the time the crocus and forsythia start blooming.  

Repair dead spots in the lawn

All sorts of mishaps can kill spots in the lawn—spilled fertilizer, dog urine, insect damage. Patch small areas with sod cut from an inconspicuous part of the yard.

Reseed larger areas and keep the soil surface moist until the grass fills in—deep watering isn’t needed, you just need to keep the grass seeds from drying out.  Depending on the temperature and wind, you might have to spray water on the area twice a day at first.  

Remedy trampled areas

Grass grows poorly in compacted soils, giving less finicky weeds the chance to move in. Hot spots are the well-used shortcuts across the lawn or the strip next to the driveway that you drive on when backing out. You have two options:

Fight it. Loosen compacted soil to about 6 inches and reseed. Then train people to take the sidewalk and learn how to use your car's side mirrors.

Don't fight it. Make a path of bark chips or stepping stones where everyone walks. Replace the grass strip adjacent the driveway with a wide band of bricks or pavers, or cover it with bark mulch.

Mow more often

Grass grows fast in spring; even faster if you fertilize it. Don't try to get away with a once-a-week scalping. Cutting off more than about 1/3 of the lawn's height forces the grass to deplete the food stored in its roots to replace its lopped top. And depleted roots lead to a weaker lawn that's ill-equipped to cope with heat and dryness. If you're truly committed to a better lawn, be prepared to mow twice a week in spring.

(Of course, it's hard to mow if your mower is on the fritz. If that's the case, check out our DIY lawn tractor repair and lawn mower repair info.)

Be realistic

You do not live in a fertilizer ad. You do not have servants. No one has found a way to add hours to the day. Until you remedy any of these situations, you're never going to have a lawn that is utterly and eternally perfect. But with this six-week program, you’ll have a greener, healthier lawn.

Symptoms common to all riding mowers & tractors

Choose a symptom to see related riding mower and lawn tractor repairs.

Main causes: dead battery, stale fuel, bad starter solenoid, ignition system problem, bad ignition interlock switch, clogged carburetor
Main causes: punctured tire or inner tube, leaky valve stem, damaged wheel rim
Main causes: damaged tie rods, bent or worn wheel spindle, worn front axle, damaged sector gear assembly
Main causes: faulty battery, bad alternator
Main causes: engine overfilled with oil, leaky head gasket or sump gasket, damaged carburetor seals, cracked fuel pump, broken fuel line
Main causes: damaged cutting blade, worn deck pulley, damaged mandrel pulley, loose fasteners on mower deck components
Main causes: worn or broken ground drive belt, bad seat switch, transaxle freewheel control engaged, transaxle failure, dirty carburetor
Main causes: shift lever needs adjustment, neutral control needs adjustment
Main causes: unlevel mower deck, dull or damaged cutting blades, worn mandrel pulleys, bent mower deck, engine needs tune up
Repair guides common to all riding mowers & tractors

These step-by-step repair guides will help you safely fix what’s broken on your riding mower or lawn tractor.

How to replace a mandrel assembly on a riding lawn mower

Replace the mandrel assembly if the blade shaft vibrates or doesn't spin.

Repair difficulty
Time required
 30 minutes or less
How to replace the air filter on a riding lawn mower

Get your mower running smoothly again by replacing the air filter—it's a quick job you can do yourself, following these steps.

Repair difficulty
Time required
 15 minutes or less
February 1, 2015
By Lyle Weischwill
How to replace a riding lawn mower ignition switch

Get your mower started again by replacing the ignition switch—it's a quick job you can do by following these steps.

Repair difficulty
Time required
 15 minutes or less
Articles and videos common to all riding mowers & tractors

Use the advice and tips in these articles and videos to get the most out of your riding mower or lawn tractor.

May 1, 2017
Troubleshooting a riding lawn mower blown fuse video
By Sears PartsDirect staff

Test the ignition switch and wire harnesses to find the short.

June 1, 2016
How to mow a lawn for healthier grass
By Erin Hynes

How often and tall you mow your lawn has a big impact on its health. Check out these 3 rules.

March 1, 2016
How to level a riding lawn mower deck for an even cut video
By Sears PartsDirect staff

Mower not cutting the grass evenly? Your mower deck might be the problem.