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Renovating a Lawn Restoring an Old or Damaged Lawn

Exactly how you renovate a lawn will depend on when you start. There is no point in spring feeding a lawn as autumn comes to a close! Assuming it’s anywhere between April and September when the grass is growing well, the first thing to do is to apply a traditional lawn sand which will boost growth of the grass, kill or at least knock back broad leaved weeds and moss.

Lawn RenovationUnlike selective herbicides, traditional lawn sand is safe to use where the mowings are composted or used on the vegetable plot as a mulch. There is not an organic version of this as it relies on the strength of the artificial fertiliser to burn the broad leaved weeds but just push growth in the narrow leaved grass.

The sulphate of iron is good against moss and the sand itself makes it controllable. Without the sand you’d be trying to apply a pinch per square metre.

Traditional Lawn Sand Recipe

  • 19 parts by weight Dry Ordinary Builders Sand (from builders merchant)
  • 7 parts by weight Sulphate of Ammonia (Garden Centre or Horticultural Supplier)
  • 3 parts by weight Sulphate of Iron (Garden Centre or Horticultural Supplier)

It doesn’t matter whether you use ounces or grams, pounds or kilos as long as you stick to the ratio 19:7:3 and mix well. It is critical that the sand is dry and the mixture is kept dry until use.

Apply to the lawn at a rate of 150 grams per square metre. Drop a pinch into the centre of any dandelions or other clumps of weeds. It can help to mark out a bit of the lawn in square metres and weigh a small handful of the sand. This gets your eye in. I find I apply about 100 grams in a handful. Wear gloves, of course, or the great health and safety man will get you!

It’s best applied the day before rain is expected or apply and the next morning give the lawn a light watering to wash the sand in a bit,

After a ten days or so the lawn will look awful, it will develop black patches and you’ll curse me for suggesting using a lawn sand. Take a spring tine lawn rake and rake as much of the now dead moss and weeds out as possible . This will leave some patches looking very thin and your arms and back feeling as if you lost a fight with a wrestling champion. For medium or large lawns you might find it worthwhile investing in a lawn scarifier. Electric ones start under £100, petrol machines for large areas cost more, of course.

Don’t worry, in a few months the grass will grow back a lot stronger than it has ever been but if it looks really threadbare, scattering some grass seed (mixed 1:5 with dry sand by volume) will help.

You’ll still have some weeds but it’s quite a therapeutic job going over the lawn using a long knife to sever roots of dandelions as deep as possible and pulling them up by hand.


The next big problem your lawn will have is compaction. All those people walking over it have squashed the air our of the soil. It’s easy to sort if a boring job. Take your garden fork and push it into the ground between 10cm an 15cm deep. Wiggle it back and forth, remove and take half a step back and repeat.

As promised, a mind numbing job but it will improve drainage no end, reducing water logging and moss growth.

Just applying lawn sand, scarifying and spiking will improve most neglected lawns beyond recognition. Because you’ve not used any nasty persistent selective herbicides, the mowings are fine to compost or use direct as a mulch on the vegetable plot or in a bean trench.

Hollows and Dips, Uneven Lawn

The best way to sort out an uneven lawn is to fill the dips with a lawn top dressing in the autumn. If the dips are quite deep you may need to fill in stages, once in the late spring and once in early autumn. If the lawn is really bad then it might be worth starting again but usually it is less work to renovate than renew.

Bare Patches

For small patches, roughen the surface of soil in the patch and then sow grass seed over, covering with a thin layer of sand or top dressing.

For larger patches, insert a replacement turf. Whether re-seeding or replacing turf ensure they don’t dry out.

Lawn Care Guides & Advice

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