Lots of things can do a number on your lawn. Removing a shrub or tree, pulling up an old walkway, a sinkhole or the old playset the kids have outgrown. All of it can leave your lawn with divots, depressions and dead spots.
But pretty easy to fix.
The key is a technique called top-dressing. Top-dressing levels out the low spots - those tiny valleys and calderas where the kids' feet scuffed for all those years on the swings - and gives you the right conditions for getting new grass to grow.
Here's how to do it.
Step 1. Clean up the area. A lot of times, lawns damaged by plant removal have all kinds of stuff in the soil, notably roots, rocks and other debris. Take a steel tine rake and remove those items - a process some landscapers call "stone and bone." In the process, this"ll help level the area a bit, too.
Step 2. Compact the soil. It's not enough to rake an area flat if the soil has been disrupted more than a few inches deep. The reason for this is that as the soil gets disturbed it combines with the air. (It's called air-entrained dirt.) This is why when you dig a hole, say for a mailbox or fence post, it seems like much more dirt came out than you can get back in. Solution: tamp the dirt vigorously with a heavy tamper (or, if you have a lawn tractor, drive it over the area a few times).
Step 3. Bring in new topsoil and use it to level out the area to be repaired. (Now I want a tractor with a trailer . . . easy, Mark.) Topsoil can come from many places: your compost bin, home improvement center, another place in your yard or a garden center.
Spread the topsoil out with your shovel or steel tine rake (depending on the size of the area). Assuming that you're filling in a depression, "feather" the topsoil in with the adjacent parts of the yard that are intact. To make sure you are filling the depression evenly with the yard surrounding it, use your steel tine rake as a guide: Lay the rake on the area with the teeth up. The handle is straight and will show you if you've over- or underfilled. If the area is really big and you want to check it, try a long board or a string pulled taut from edge to edge.
If you've filled more than just a few inches, run across the surface with the tamper or tractor again and refill it to get it back to flat if necessary.
Step 4. Spread a thin layer of loose topsoil over the compacted topsoil.
Step 5. Water. Give the soil a nice soaking. You basically want it to be almost mud at this point. This is more important to do if you're using loose seed. If you're using a pre-mixed seed/mulch blend ' and that stuff is pretty awesome ' it's not as important but still helpful.
Step 6. Cast or spread the seed.
Step 7. Add starter fertilizer like Milorganite®.
Step 8. Sprinkle lightly. If the seeds start to float around, that's it for the water.
Step 9. Some people like to cover the area with straw or leaf mulch to help hold the soil and keep the seed from running. It also helps prevent birds from pecking away at the seed.
Step 10. Water gently but thoroughly (I like to use a hose) twice daily until seed germinates.
Step 11. Now all that's left is waiting for the grass to grow!