How to Grow an Unsightly Lawn

How to Grow an Unsightly Lawn

Having an unsightly lawn can be embarrassing and frustrating. But with some time and effort, you can turn that sad grass into a lush, green carpet. Here’s a comprehensive guide on how to grow an unsightly lawn into something beautiful.

Assess the Current State of Your Lawn

Before making any changes, take some time to assess what is currently going on with your lawn. Here are some key things to look for:

  • Bald spots or dead grass: Make note of any areas where grass is sparse or nonexistent. This indicates your lawn needs help growing thick grass.

  • Weeds: An unsightly lawn often has weeds like dandelions and crabgrass. Identifying the types of weeds will help you select the right herbicide.

  • Compacted soil: Use a screwdriver to test whether the soil is too compacted for grass roots to grow well. Healthy lawns have loamy, aerated soil.

  • Patchy color: Determine if there are patches of light green, yellow, or brown grass instead of a uniform dark green color. This signifies nutrient deficiencies or problems like dog urine spots.

  • Mushrooms or algae: A damp, shady lawn may have fungal growths or algae indicating improper drainage.

Making detailed notes and even taking pictures will give you a baseline to compare your progress to later.

Improve Soil Quality

The foundation of a lush lawn is rich, fertile soil. Improving the soil should be your first priority. Here are some tips:

  • Aerate: Use an aerator to punch holes in the soil so air, water and nutrients can better reach grass roots. Aim to aerate at least once per year.

  • Reduce compaction: Rake vigorously with a garden rake to break up heavily compacted soil and allow grass roots to spread.

  • pH test: Test your soil’s pH and add amendments like lime if needed to reach the ideal range of 6.0-7.0.

  • Fertilize: Spread an all-purpose fertilizer over the lawn in early fall and spring to provide nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. Organic fertilizers like milorganite work well.

  • Top dress: Add a thin layer of compost or quality topsoil to introduce nutrients and beneficial microbes.

Improving the foundation of your soil gives grass what it needs to thrive.

Overseed Bare Patches

If you have significant bare patches, overseeding is crucial. This involves planting new grass seed in the bare areas so they fill in with lush new growth.

Follow these steps:

  • Loosen bare areas with a rake to prep the soil.

  • Select a grass seed blend suitable for sun/shade and climate.

  • Spread seed according to package directions.

  • Cover seeded areas lightly with straw to maintain moisture.

  • Water daily until new grass is 2-3 inches tall.

Overseeding in early fall when temperatures cool is ideal, but you can also overseed in spring. Be diligent about watering newly seeded areas 1-2 times per day so the tender grass survives.

Eliminate Weeds

Weeds like dandelions and crabgrass steal water, nutrients and sunlight from your lawn grass. Killing weeds is an important step toward improving lawn lushness. Here are organic and chemical options:


  • Manually dig out weeds, getting all the roots.

  • Spot treat with natural herbicides containing citric acid or clove oil.

  • Spread corn gluten meal to prevent new weeds from germinating.


  • Spray weeds with selective liquid herbicides containing 2,4-D, MCPP, dicamba or similar.

  • Granular weed control products like Scott’s Turf can prevent new weeds.

No matter the method, removing weeds is key for improving an unsightly lawn prone to weed invasions.

Fix Bare Spots

If you have random bare spots from dog urine damage, fungal issues or other causes, fixing bare spots is important for aesthetics. Consider these solutions:

  • Rake bare areas thoroughly to loosen the soil, then overseed.

  • For pet urine spots, spray the area thoroughly with water to dilute urine, then re-seed.

  • If fungal disease is the cause, apply a fungicide before re-seeding.

  • Use a sod plugger to transplant grass plugs from a healthy part of your lawn into the bare spots.

With some TLC, targeted seeding and proper disease treatment, bare patches in your lawn can disappear.

Mow Properly

Following proper mowing practices keeps your grass healthy and visually appealing:

  • Mow often, cutting no more than 1/3 of the grass blade height at once.

  • Use sharp mower blades for clean cuts; dull blades rip and fray grass.

  • Leave grass clippings to decompose and add nutrients back to the soil.

  • Alternate mowing direction each time to prevent ruts from forming.

  • Set mower height at the highest recommended setting for your grass type (usually 3-4 inches).

Proper mowing techniques prevent weed and disease problems while giving your lawn a lush, uniform look.

Water Deeply and Infrequently

Watering correctly encourages deep, strong grass roots:

  • Water early in the morning before heat evaporates moisture.

  • Avoid frequent shallow watering, which weakens roots.

  • Instead, give your lawn 1-1.5 inches of water once or twice a week, soaking the soil deeply.

  • Let soil dry between waterings; excessive moisture breeds fungal issues.

Water deeply and infrequently, allowing the soil to dry out between waterings for healthy grass.

Be Patient

Finally, be patient. It can take time for an unsightly lawn to look revitalized, especially if you’re starting from scratch. Stick to the regimen of proper mowing, fertilization, aeration and weed/pest control, and you should see major improvements within one to two growing seasons. Enjoy the journey!