Renovating a Neglected Lawn

Keeping a lawn in top condition calls for a lot of time and effort, and it’s very common for them to start to show the signs of neglect quite quickly when they don’t receive the necessary care. If you do inherit a lawn that’s not had much attention for a while, the good news is that it’s seldom impossible to get it back in shape – however unlikely that may seem on first sight.

It’s certainly not a quick job to renovate a neglected lawn, but it can often be possible to avoid the effort and expense of re-laying or re-seeding, if things haven’t been allowed to go too far.

Getting Started

The first step is to make a thorough examination of the lawn, looking to see how much of the original quality grasses remain and completely coarse grass and weeds have invaded. Assuming that proper lawn grasses still cover most of the area – even if they’re in serious need of attention and swamped in places by weeds – then attempts at renovation should be successful. However, if there’s almost nothing left of them and the “lawn” consists of mosses, invasive weeds and tufts of tough field grass, then there really is little point in even thinking about trying to do a rescue; you’ll just have to bite the bullet, and start again!

Cut and Clear

Once you’re happy that renovation is the right course of action for your lawn, in the spring you need to begin by cutting back the growth to a length of an inch or two. Traditionally a billhook – or a scythe in the hands of an expert – would have been the implement of choice for this job, but these days a good strimmer is most people’s choice, although if the area is very large, you might want to think about hiring a sturdy petrol rotary mower to get the job done.

Rake up and remove as much of the cut greenery as you can, before giving the surface a thorough brushing with a besom broom to shift any old dead material from the base of the grass stems. It’s well worth taking the opportunity to have another closer look at the surface of your lawn at this stage, now that it should be easier to see what’s there a little more clearly.


With the lawn now ready for its first proper mowing in a long time, it’s vital to resist the temptation to rush at this stage. Set your mower blades as high as they’ll go to start with, and after a couple of cuts at this height, you can safely begin to gradually lower the blades until you get the grass down to the appropriate length for your lawn.

Simply remembering not to try to cut too close, too soon, is one of the key factors in achieving a successful renovation.

Weed, Feed and Water

With your renovation programme now well underway, it’s important to begin to deal with the weeds that colonised the lawn during its period of neglect, and probably the best way to go about this is to use one of the many proprietary brands of lawn weed-and-feed. This will not only help to combat the weeds directly, but also give the existing good quality grasses what they need to really start to re-establish themselves. However, it’s not always a complete solution and any mossy patches or other persistent weeds may demand more individual attention before they are eradicated.

All lawns are prone to suffer in droughts, but the effect is doubly noticeable in one that is in the process of being rescued. In a prolonged spell of dry weather, watering the lawn properly is essential if you’re not going to see a lot of your hard work swiftly undone – and if the summer has been a dry one and your grass looks a little thin, it’s also worth using a good quality autumn fertiliser to give the turf a boost before winter.


Ensuring good aeration is important for every lawn, but it’s even more essential for one being renovated – especially if previous evidence of mosses or algae indicate that it’s naturally prone to becoming waterlogged in the autumn and winter. Use a specialist rotary aerator – or a simple garden fork – to make a series of regular holes across the surface, but don’t overdo things as fragile turf is easily damaged.

This is also a good time to add a little sand or top dressing as necessary.

If everything goes to plan, by the end of the first growing season, your neglected patch of grass should be showing all the signs of becoming a proper lawn again. Come the spring, it should be ready for the normal routine of mowing and maintenance, just like any other – and you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that you did it all yourself!

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