Your lawn works hard year-round, coping with foot traffic, vehicle traffic, sports, pets, entertaining and games. So, it’s understandable that it may end up looking a bit sparse and ragged sometimes. If your lawn is looking thin and worn out, it’s time for an intervention. With a little bit of time and effort, you can establish a thick, healthy and lush-looking lawn that you can enjoy for years to come.
What causes a thin lawn?
A thin, sparse-looking lawn can be caused by a wide variety of factors. These include:
- Improper mowing practices
- Damage from weather extremes such as drought
- Diseased or infested grass
- Nutrient deficiency
- Too much shade
- Damage from wear and tear
The first step is to determine which factor is causing problems in your lawn. It may be one or a combination of a few factors which are making your lawn thin.
Signs of drought include grass wilting and browning off, and leaving footprints when you walk on the lawn. Nutrient deficiencies can be determined by conducting a soil test on your lawn. Compacted soil will feel hard, and the grass will have shallow, thin roots as they are unable to penetrate the hard soil. Diseases or infestations will show up in brown grass, bare patches or spots on the grass.
How to thicken up your lawn
Whatever the cause of a thin lawn, you can take steps to fix it. Follow these suggestions and you can expect to see a thicker and more lush-looking lawn over the next few months.
When establishing a new lawn
The best way to get a thick lawn is to start it out right and minimise problems right from the beginning.
Start with a good base
A thick lawn starts with great soil, so do the preparation before you even think about establishing the grass. The best place to start is with a soil test – a simple process that gives a big return in terms of thick, healthy grass. A soil test takes the guesswork out of soil preparation, and allows you to accurately address any issues in your soil. For example, if your soil pH is too low, the grass won’t be able to absorb the nutrients it needs to grow thick and strong. Correctly addressing the problem will restore pH balance and nutrient availability so that the grass can grow well.
Choose the correct grass for your property
Many grass varieties will only grow well when they receive enough sunlight. If you plant these varieties in a very shady backyard, you can expect a thin, unhappy-looking lawn. A better strategy if you have a shady garden is to do your research and choose a variety of grass that tolerates shade well. Turf varieties such as Sir Walter Buffalo will survive and thrive in shaded areas, whereas varieties such as Eureka Premium VG will not tolerate shade very well and must be grown in full sun. Choose your turf grass wisely and you’ll be a step ahead when it comes to creating a thicker lawn.
Feed it well
To give your new lawn the best start in life, give it a good application of a starter fertiliser to help promote vigorous root growth and fast establishment.
Be prepared to water, water, water while your lawn gets established. Now is not the time to go easy on the watering. Germinating grass needs a constant supply of water until the seedings start to emerge and thicken up.
With an existing lawn
Feed your lawn
The thickness of your lawn is heavily dependent on how much you feed it. If you think of it in human terms, a person who consumes a lot of food will generally become larger than a person who doesn’t. It’s the same with your grass – you can’t expect a thick, satisfying lawn if you fail to feed it.
Choose a fertiliser which is appropriate for your grass type and region, and apply it as often as directed. A general rule of thumb is to fertilise three times a year, in early spring, mid-summer and mid-autumn. This will give your grass all it needs for thick and healthy growth. If you can only manage one application of fertiliser a year, do so in early spring.
Use a slow release fertiliser that will gradually release nutrients into the soil over the course of a few months – and watch your lawn grow thick and strong.
Thicken it out with overseeding
If your lawn is sporting thin, bare patches, it’s time to overseed the lawn. This process simply involves sowing extra grass seed into the existing lawn to create a thicker and lusher look and feel. You can also lay small strips of instant turf in the bare areas to instantly improve the thickness of your lawn. Either way you do it, make sure you are using the same type of grass seed or turf that you already have in your lawn. This will help avoid areas of difference in the lawn.
Mow for thickness
While it can be tempting to mow your grass very short so you won’t have to mow as often, this can have a negative effect on the thickness of your lawn. Mowing short can leave your grass blades vulnerable to pests and insects, the weather and a lack of nutrients. This can cause your grass to become thin and weak. Leaving the grass a little longer encourages the roots to grow deeper, meaning the lawn will be able to weather drought better.
Mowing to the right height allows the grass blades to shade the soil and reduce evaporation, as well as shading out weed seeds. Don’t remove more than one third of the height of the grass when mowing. This means you’ll have to mow more regularly to maintain a height of between 2 ½ and 3 ½ inches, but your grass will reward you with thick, luxurious growth.
As well, avoid mowing your lawn when the grass is wet. Keep your mower blades sharp to avoid tearing the grass, as this will make it more susceptible to lawn diseases. Regularly vary your mowing pattern too, as this will help grass grow thick and straight.
Read the complete guide to lawnmowing here.
Following good watering practices will help keep your lawn thick and strong. Established lawns generally need around an inch of water a week. If you don’t get enough rainfall to supply this need, you’ll have to irrigate. Water deeply and thoroughly to encourage the deep root growth needed for a thicker lawn.
For an in-depth look at how to create a more drought-tolerant lawn, read this post.
Get rid of compaction
Aeration is a great way to loosen compacted soil so that more fertiliser and oxygen can get down to the grass roots. Use a lawn aerator or garden fork to remove plugs of soil and break up the compaction. This process will stimulate new root growth, helping your lawn to green and thicken up.
This practice, where you scatter your grass clippings back onto the lawn, helps promote a thicker lawn by preserving moisture in the soil.
To read more about how you can effectively use your grass clippings, click here.
Manage weather conditions appropriately
While you can’t change the weather or prevent weather extremes from affecting the grass, you can manage how your treat your lawn to help prevent it becoming thin and unattractive.
Don’t apply fertiliser in extremely hot weather, and avoid mowing in the heat of the day or early in the morning when the grass is still wet. Don’t over-water your lawn if it’s getting an adequate supply of water from rainfall, as this can cause fungal infections. And be kind to your lawn during times of drought, and try not to cause excessive wear and tear when the grass is stressed and vulnerable.
Make these steps part of your weekly lawn maintenance schedule, and you’ll be able to achieve a thick and attractive lawn – and keep it that way.