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An American lawn dilemma

Grass Clippings - Utah USA LawnWe help lawn owners in the UK and around the World.  Here is a typical genuine email received from a lawn owner in the USA seeking our advice and hopefully a solution to their lawn dilemma.
The Question - Greetings from Utah, USA!  I recently discovered your blog, and am loving all the great information and tips you offer!  
I'm having issues with my lawn that I haven't been able to fix since I bought the home 2 years ago, and was hoping you may have some input to set me in the right direction.  It was a foreclosure, and the yard had been neglected, and then abandoned for a year or more prior to me owning it.  The grass comes in green for the most part, but the turf is compact and very hard, and the grass is thin and weak.  
I aerated last year, and noticed a small difference so I will be doing it again this spring to hopefully loosen up the hard turf and get some water and nutrients into the soil.  Any suggestions on which types of nutrients to add and how much? 
The biggest problem that I'm having, is a rather unsightly area in the center of my front lawn, about 10' x 5' that is patchy, thin, and dead in spots.  Clumps of green grass grow in, but seem to die out quickly due to shallow roots.  Neighbors have told me that the gentleman that lived in the home before me often experimented with home made fertilizers and suspect the spot may be chemical burned or scorched.  I've watered regularly since I've lived there, but the change seems minimal.  
Do you have any tips on how to repair this lawn, or is it a lost cause?  I've gotten numerous tips from people that range from excavating 10 inches of soil out of the yard and moving in new soil and sod, to soaking the scorched spot heavily with water to flush it out, to burning the turf and letting it grow in fresh on it's own. 
According to neighbors, my home used to have the most beautiful yard on the block before it's previous owners.  I would love to restore it to it's prior beauty, and would appreciate any suggestions you may have.  
I am not sure which type of grass I have in my yard. It probably started out as a Kentucky Bluegrass in the late 1950's when my home was built, but has probably been reseeded numerous times since then; so I suppose I have a "Heinz57 Lawn", for lack of a better guess. 
I haven't been proud of my yard since I've lived there, so I don't have any pictures of it from the previous years when it had been green.  I took some pictures this morning and attached them, but it is still in its dormant stage, and it was starting to snow a little so there are some flakes on the ground.  Hopefully they will work for you.  You can, however, see the dead spots I spoke of in my last email.  
Let me know if you need different pictures, or if you would like to wait until it gets warmer and greens up a little.
Thanks for your wonderful blog and for your time and interest!  K in Utah, USA
Our Reply - Hello K.  In the UK, we have mostly cool season grasses and you will have the more fleshy warm season grasses.  Here is a great resource for which type of turf grass would be more ideal for your USA location and like you mention Bermuda or Zoyzia Grass are fast in establishing and more heat tolerant.  The biggest problem with some lawns in the USA is over watering and this leads to a quick depletion of nutrients.
The first clue we have on your lawn looking at the picture we have chosen from the set you sent us, is that it looks like your neighbours, in colour for the current time of the year and season and a return to warmer weather will have a dramatic effect on the grass colour and density.
Of your mention about buried debris and compaction, aeration is a great task to perform to ease compaction and to let the soil breath and make channels for the grass roots too.  If you are going to renovate your lawn, be brave and take your border spade and dig some pilot holes to as deep as you can get to see what's underneath the lawn.  If it is hard to get the spade into the ground, then revert to aeration to alleviate the compaction.  You are right to state that you noticed a natural green up of the lawn following aeration.  It has that much of an effect on the soil microbes and soil flora / fauna.
I would suggest killing the lawns surface off with a total weed killer based on the active Glyphosate, so something like Roundup.  Then you can rake the old surface and dead vegetation off, aerate like crazy, and over seed with new grass seed of your choice and fertilise, finishing with top dressing and then fertilise again every three months thereafter.
On the fertilisation, the needs of cool and warm season grasses are pretty much the same and your choice is a granular or liquid feed.  Our advice is two slow release granular feeds spring and early summer and then a liquid fertiliser as a spoon feed in the main summer months.  Allow around 35grams per square metre of follow the label is the best advice and make sure you apply sufficient for the area of turf you have each time.
Pests and Diseases - keep an eye out for these.  If your lawn is suffering and it is not the weather, it will be a pest or disease, dry patch, urine burn or a fertiliser burn for example.  Never be shy to over seed your lawn on a little and often basis, especially in the spring and autumn to keep the grasses dense.
Here is some reading material for you to get you on track -
USA Lawn Book - Grass Roots by Kimberly Bell
Good luck!


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