How to Fix a Dead Lawn (The Frugal Way)

We have had our new lawn (new sod) for the past two years or so but in the past few months the lawn has looked terrible. We were told to make sure to water it regularly when we first got our new lawn. We were pretty diligent about it until year 2 and then the lawn… pretty much died. We are trying to turn the ship around. Here’s how to fix a dead lawn the frugal way.

The Grass is Always Greener… Literally

As I alluded, our lawn is probably the worst looking lawn on the block. The front yard was green, only because of the crab grass and dandelions… and the rest of the lawn was dead and brown. My husband thinks there’s another house that takes the prize for the worst lawn but I think he’s wrong about that. Anyway, I thought I would share the steps to take when you have a lawn full of weeds and you want a to get a lawn back.

How to Fix a Dead Lawn (the Frugal Way)
Crabgrass and Dandelions in all their glory

No one wants to have dead grass and a dead lawn, people don’t necessarily want the best curb appeal and the greenest grass on the block, but you don’t want to have the worst lawn, either.

Will Watering a Dead Lawn Bring it Back?

At first, we thought watering the lawn regularly would help, so we did that.

Unfortunately, we found out that watering a dead lawn will not bring it back. We were diligent with the watering throughout the summer but it did not work.

We had to start from scratch and reseed (or put in sod again).

Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to fix a dead lawn (and to keep it from dying a slow death again).

First though, here is some essential equipment you need

  • A lawnmower
  • A drop spreader (we picked up one on Craigslist for $35, they are usually around $50-75)
  • Some small gardening tools (I just used a trowel, hence the blister you will read about, I suppose)
  • A rake

Step-By-Step On How to Fix a Dead Lawn

First of all, fixing a dead lawn is best done in early fall or spring. This is because you don’t have to deal with the lack of rain or the seeds drying up in the summertime heat.

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Apply a Post-Emergent Weed Killer

To get rid of the broadleaf weeds (dandelions, chickweed, plantain weeds) you can get a Post emergent weed killer.

The one we chose was behind the glass at Canadian Tire (apparently the City of Vancouver required a permit before but now you just need to hear the safety instructions from staff).

The post-emergent weed killer that we bought is called Ortho Killex and was around $35. We used up the whole 5L container for one application.

Crab grass (it looks like grass but it’s in this huge star shaped pattern that looks alien-like) technically dies off at the end of summer anyway… but it comes back with a vengeance during the warm weather the following year because of the roots.

After the Killex application, kept our kids away from the lawn for a few days, it is supposed to be okay for kids and pets 2 hours after application. I believe in some provinces in Canada like Ontario and Quebec, Killex pesticide is banned for lawn care.

For weeds found in crevasses like pavement or gravel areas, we used Round Up (about 1/2 of the 5L bottle) which killed off the dandelions in the rocky areas so it was easier to pull them up.

  • Time spent: 2 hours
  • Cost: $55 for Killex and 1/2 Round Up

Spend Hours Pulling Up the Weeds

Although most of the weeds looked like they were dead or dying (or less vibrant), I wanted to be sure they were gone, so I spent some time pulling up the weeds. I must say it was somewhat therapeutic but the amount I had to pull up was a bit excessive.

  • Time spent: 2 hours
  • Cost: Low back pain and a blister on the palm

Now the next few steps is something called “overseeding” (I thought it sounded fancy) but it’s basically applying seed on top of your existing lawn.

To overseed the lawn you wait about 1 week after you apply the Post-emergent weed killer.

Mow the Lawn

The first step when you over seed a lawn is to mow the lawn and mow it short so that the grass seed have better chance to grow. You should bag the excess grass clippings. My husband did this one, yay!

  • Time spent: 0.5 hours
  • Cost: Your labour

Rake the Soil (or Use a Dethatcher)

If your lawn is relatively decent and not completely dead, you could just rake the grass or soil at this point. Raking the soil helps the grass seed to settle in more or germinate.

If it is completely dead like our lawn was, you could use a de-thatcher (it basically looks like a big sharp metal rake) to take off the organic dead material. De-thatching is hard physical labour (my husband did this and he was surprised how difficult it is to de-thatch a lawn).

After Post Emergent Lawn
This is after we used the dethatcher

There are Power Rakes you can rent from Home Depot but this adds to the cost of your DIY lawn care. It is around $60 to rent a Power Rake for 4 hours at Home Depot.

You can also aerate too but you don’t have to aerate every year.

  • Time spent: 2 hours
  • Cost: Free cardio workout

Overseed the Lawn

Apply a 1/4 to 1/2″ layer of turf soil or lawn soil to your existing lawn.

Then you use your spreader to evenly distribute the grass seed. We chose to use Scott’s Quick and Thick Grass Seed, Sun and Shade Mix (12-0-0) which includes a time released fertilizer. The instructions of what setting to set your drop spreader are on the grass seed bag (it was 18).

Scott’s Quick and Thick is not as cheap as buying just grass seed but it works better for novices and lawn newbies like us because it includes the grass seed and the nutrients. It was about $50 worth for one application (because some areas of our lawn basically needed to be completely reseeded which requires four passes with the drop spreader rather than one for an existing lawn).

You can calculate how much seed you would need for your lawn, you can use a grass seed calculator.

It takes about 14 days to start seeing the grass seed coming in. You’ll have to make sure the soil is soft, moist at all times, so this may mean watering the grass seed around 2-3 times per day until the seeds start to germinate.

Another thing to keep in mind is to try and have people or animals stay off the lawn and grass seed.

  • Time Spent: 1 hour
  • Cost: $50 for Quick and Thick grass seed, $35 for a Drop Spreader which is needed to distribute the grass seed, Turf or Grass soil $36

Here is what it looks like two weeks after we implemented the above steps of reseeding.

I took a picture at the same angle every week over a number of weeks to see the progress.

Seriously who said watching grass grow is not exciting?!

This is one week after reseeding with Quick and Thick:

This is two weeks after reseeding with Quick and Thick:

This is 3.5 weeks after reseeding with Quick and Thick:

This is 5 weeks after reseeding with Quick and Thick:

There are still a few bare spots which we will do the rake + lawn soil + reseed routine but all in all I am very impressed with how nicely the grass has grown from what it looked like before.

Fertilize the Lawn/ Pre-Emergent Weed Killer

Finally you can fertilize the lawn (some more). The Quick and Thick has some fertilizer in it (timed release) but if you want to make sure your grass is super green and vibrant, you can add some more fertilizer using the drop spreader (usually the setting is at 7).

We bought Scott’s Turf Builder Pro and it is recommended to fertilize in fall and again in early spring and late spring. In fall you can fertilize once and do it again 8 weeks later (so in total about 4 times a year).

Without the fertilizer, the grass doesn’t have nutrients, it starts to die off, and the opportunistic weeds start to take over.

Some people consider adding corn gluten (Scott’s Turf Builder Weed Prevent) as a post-emergent fertilizer. It also prevents weeds from growing.

  • Time spent: 30 minutes to use the drop spreader
  • Cost: 1.5 bag of Scott’s Turf Builder Pro Fertilizer which cost $20 in total

You can do one final mow before the winter about 6 week after you overseed.

Cost to Fix a Dead Lawn

So what’s the total cost of fixing a dead lawn the frugal way?

In total we spent about $196 on materials to fix the dead lawn, and this doesn’t include the countless hours of labour (it was about 8-12 hours).

You could get more of this covered if you use your Canadian Tire money from Triangle Mastercard (if you use that specific credit card).

Fertilizing really works, this is a picture of fertilized grass in our backyard. The middle section is where I missed with the drop spreader. The difference is astounding.

I call grass fertilizer, Rogaine for grass.

In the below picture you’ll see clearly the part that I missed with the drop spreader, in the middle.

How to Fix Dead grass Patches

Now that we know how to fix a lawn, what about fixing dead grass patches?

Lawn patches are the ugly bare spots that are brown when everything else is green.

Fixing dead grass patches is a similar process to reviving a dead lawn except it is more straight forward and obviously on a smaller scale.

Here are the steps to take to fix dead grass patches:

  • Rake the lawn to loosen the soil up
  • Add a 1/4″ thick lawn soil
  • Apply the grass seed with fertilizer or instead of finding your own grass seed, you can try another product called EZ Seed which has grass seed, fertilizer, and mulch (a 3 in 1). It is not cheap but an easy to use container of the stuff is around $15.
  • EZ seed is to be used on small areas of your lawn.
  • You can also use Quick and Thick too!

Green Lawn Maintenance Schedule

Here’s the general schedule to maintain a green lawn:

Spring (March):

  • Power raking
  • Aeration
  • Moss control
  • Mowing
  • Add fertilizer

From April to October:

  • Mow every 2 weeks
  • Fertilize every 5 weeks (April to November)

Also most important is to make sure you have a sprinkler system to water your lawn. We had thought that we would make a good effort to take the sprinklers out and get up at 5:00am to water the lawn, but sprinkler timers and a DIY irrigation system worked instead (instead of spending another $2000 for a custom sprinkler system).

We ended up using the Quick Snap sprinkler system for our yard to keep our lawn watered and we bought an Orbit sprinkler timer. Once you dig your holes and map out how you want your sprinkler to spray, it’s low maintenance.

We ended up buying about two Quick Snap systems to ensure good coverage for our front and back yard, it still works out to be much more economical than an in ground sprinkler system. Of course it’s not as aesthetic since we have hoses visible but hoses sure look better than crab grass or dug up soil from chafer beetle harvesting.

Evaluating When It’s Time to Outsource Lawn Care

If you’ve tried all of the above and are still stumped on how to fix a dead lawn, then it might be time to consider outsourcing your lawn care to professionals.

If you want grass that looks like a green carpet, or a ‘golf course style lawn’, it might be time to consider outsourcing it to landscaping and lawn care professionals.

Even the most frugal of people that I know outsource their lawn care.

In fact, we decided in 2023 to outsource our lawn care after our lawn got completely dug up by racoons or birds searching for chafer beetles to feast on. It’s been a good decision so far and low stress.

How much does lawncare cost in Vancouver?

Lawncare costs in Vancouver vary, it can be about $35-50 for a standard lot in Vancouver (33 by 122 feet) per grass cutting. Your expert lawn care person will know how often fertilizer needs to be applied and other things that need to be done (like lime) to maintain a green lawn.

For ‘all in one’ lawn care and landscaping that includes removal of leaves in the fall, this can be paid for as a package and we have gotten quotes of around $2000 a year for a lot a little larger than standard.

One of our neighbours uses Nutrilawn (I believe it is a franchise lawn care company) and her lawn looks absolutely amazing- like you could sleep on the lawn amazing. Like the grass would envelope you in a pillowy softness and your kids could play on your grass all day and develop wonderful childhood memories from it.

Nutrilawn is not cheap though, about $430 for 1000 square feet of weed control including weed control applications and a controlled release fertilizer application.

How to Fix A Dead Lawn Summary

In summary, the easiest way to fix a dead lawn is to prevent it in the first place (by overseeding and fertilizing regularly). If that’s not possible, then you can follow these steps:

  • Apply post emergent weed killer
  • Mow the lawn
  • Rake the soil
  • Overseed the lawn
  • Fertilize the lawn/ Apply a pre-emergent weed killer

There are other more advanced things to keep your lawn from dying like applying lime or using core aeration. It’s is a learning process and I must admit fun to watch as you make small adjustments to see results over time.

Now that we know what we’re supposed to do, I hope that lawn maintenance will be easier in the future and we won’t let it get to ‘that’ point again.

What do you do for your lawn care?

Have you ever had to learn how to fix a dead lawn?

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10 thoughts on “How to Fix a Dead Lawn (The Frugal Way)”

  1. Wow, you did such a great job with your lawn. This post makes it sound so easy but in reality, it’s hard work to renovate a lawn! I overseeded in the spring and again this recent fall and it’s a challenge to keep the soil wet enough if you get a series of sunny days. Glad to see it worked out for you thus far.

    • @AnotherLoonie- Haha really? It wasn’t easy I got a blister on my hand! Yes it is a challenge especially with remember to water. I think the Quick and Thick really helped though we still have bare patches that I think aren’t going to do anything because it’s too cold for the grass seed to germinate and we see birds eating up the seeds now, lol!

  2. Looking good!

    I found that the Killex Liquid Herbicide Concentrate, 1 L is actually cheaper for the $/area it can treat. The key is to mix it in a 1+ gallon pump sprayer and spot treat. At around $20 – $25, one bottle can last “forever”! I’ve barely used a capful and already treated my lawn (4000 sqft) for the last 2 years! Remember to add some dish soap as surfactant so the spray sticks to the weed leaves.

    I also have an automatic irrigation system that is set to turn on 4 times a morning for 10 mins, 2 days a week (during the summer water restrictions). Best if really early in the morning so the sun doesn’t evaporate the water before it gets to the roots. Combine this with fertilizing every 6-8 weeks, the grass thickens and greens up nicely!

    For dethatching the grass, we got the Sun Joe from Amazon for under $150. It goes to town on the lawn so easily, and you’re right, dethatching by hand is tiring on the back and arms!

    • @CT- Thank you! That means a lot since we are lawn care newbies. Thanks for the tip to use the concentrate and to add dish soap, that’s a great idea. How often are you using the Killex do you find?

      Smart to have an automatic irrigation system- we didn’t add one to ours, our contractor said they often break so we naively thought we would be disciplined at watering the lawn.

      Thanks for the tip for the Sun Joe dethatcher, it looks great. Do you dethatch annually?

  3. I use a wider treatment of killex once in spring and once in fall and the occasional spot treatment as required. My irrigation system has been running for almost 5 years without issues and I highly recommend it!

    When it comes to dethatching, I do it once a year. Also, apparently it’s best to dethatch when the grass is growing strong and not stressed so fall is likely the best. I’ve also dethatched in spring in the past and it seemed ok as well.

    Hope you have great luck!

  4. You guys did a great job following the process and being patient, and the results show that! The nice part is, now that you have the know-how, it’s a much more manageable project doing it once or twice a year in the fall/spring to get those bad patches and your lawn will only get thicker. And the best part about a thick lawn is that it does a much better job of keeping the weeds out on its own. Oh, and also the fact you don’t have the worst lawn on the block anymore 🙂

    • @Family Money Saver- Thank you for your tips! Yeah, we did most of the hard part and I think it should be much easier now (thank goodness). It is seriously worth the money/ labour looking at a nice dark green lawn even in the fall!


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