There's so much more to a great yard than just mowing the lawn.

Revive, Renovate or Rethink Your Lawn?

Do you ever look at your lawn and feel a sense of disappointment? I know I have from time to time. Even though you’ve watered it and worked on it, it still falls short of your expectations. What’s to be done?

Colorado’s weather conditions can be tough on lawns. Winterkill, brown spots, drought sensitivity and high water bills can cause people to wonder what course of action is best. If your lawn isn’t as vigorous as you’d like, read on. I’ll cover what the options are and how to decide what to do.


If your lawn is in fairly good shape, it may be possible to bring it back through consistent lawn care practices. Some lawns just need a little extra attention.

In Colorado, Kentucky bluegrass needs consistent care to be green, thick and healthy. If its maintenance program lapses for a while, the grass will green up poorly in spring and thin over time. Brown spots will eventually turn into bare spots. If it’s ignored for longer, the Kentucky bluegrass will eventually decline and the weeds will take begin to take over.

Reviveable Lawn

This lawn is in pretty good shape. It’s free of weeds and the grass is dense. The poor spring greenup is due to lack of water during the fall and winter. This lawn can be revived.

But, if the grass hasn’t declined too much, you might be able to revive it. If 60% or more of the ground is still covered with live green grass, then reviving it is a reasonable option.

With this option you don’t do anything drastic, you just simply get back on the lawn care wagon and try to be as consistent as possible. In other words, you simply start with whatever lawn care tasks are normal for that time of year and continue with the rest throughout the year. You can start to revive a lawn at any time of year.

Revive Lawn 2

This lawn can be revived. The dandelions could be removed through hand weeding or spot spraying. With year-round care, the grass will come back to health.

By consistent care, I mean a monthly program that employs the four pillars of good lawn care, including watering, core aerating, fertilizing and mowing. You don’t have to do all four things each month, but knowing when to apply the right lawn care practice (and which practices to avoid) can go a long way towards growing a healthy lawn.

Over time, because the grass now has the conditions it needs to grow well, it will start to recover. It can take a few months or even up to a year to bring a lawn back, but it can be done. Check out my article Easy Steps to a Great Lawn to learn more.


If your lawn has less than 60% coverage, and you want grass in that area, you’ll need to do a renovation. In these cases, there is not enough existing grass for the lawn to fill in in a reasonable amount of time. Or, there is an underlying problem that needs to be resolved before the grass will grow successfully.

Renovating involves removing the existing grass and weeds, rototilling the soil, adding compost to the area, and replanting.

Degraded Lawn

Although there’s a little grass towards the lower right corner, most of this ground is covered by tough weeds and bare ground. Time for a renovation.

Before you renovate, try to determine what caused the lawn to fail in the first place. The last thing you want to do is go through the effort of a renovation and still end up with a lackluster lawn.

Make sure you address any underlying problems, such as grassy weeds taking over, compacted soil, poor sprinkler coverage, or soil with low organic matter. By low organic matter, what I’m describing is soil that never had any compost added before sod was installed. This is extremely common in new developments.

During your renovation process, make sure you effectively remove any tough weeds before planting. Rototill as deep as you can to break up compacted soil. Upgrade your sprinkler system with good quality equipment that will water evenly. Be sure to spread 1-3 inches of good quality compost over the lawn area. Rototill the compost into the existing soil to improve its organic matter level.

A lawn renovation is best done in spring or fall. It can also be done in mid-summer, but it requires more water to get the seed or sod to establish a new root system. Good windows of opportunity are April 15-June 15 and August 1-September 15. Renovations are not done in winter when the grass is dormant.

After you renovate, make sure you employ good lawn care practices throughout the year to maintain your investment


Sometimes turfgrass is not a good option. This can be true in two situations. The first is if, no matter how much time, money or water you put into it, the grass is never going to grow well. The second is where you simply just don’t want to maintain a lawn.

Here are some examples of places where turfgrass will never grow well:

  • On steep slopes, because it’s hard to get the water to soak in before it runs off.
  • In very shady areas, like under pines, spruces and large shade trees.
  • Narrow strips, like between the street and the sidewalk, which are tough to irrigate efficiently.
  • Hot, dry areas with reflected heat from buildings, parking lots and sidewalks, since Kentucky bluegrass grows best in cool, moist conditions.
  • In outlying areas of a property, where it won’t get the water or maintenance it needs.
Grass on a Slope

Grass will never grow well on a steep slope, especially under pine trees. It’s better to find a different landscaping option.

There are many cases where grass can be grown, but it is not a good fit for the property owner. Some people don’t want to be tied down to the weekly mowing, while others don’t want to invest time, energy and money into a lawn that is not providing benefit to them. They’d rather have something different.

There’s no law that says you are required to have grass in your yard. I mean that literally. There are HOA’s that specify minimum amounts of grass, but those guidelines are not defensible in court due to Senate Bill 183. Check out a good summary of the law passed in 2013 here. Scroll down to the header “Xeriscaping Bill.”

Here are some other landscaping options to consider:

  • Planting bed (perennial flowers, shrubs, ornamental grasses) with mulch
  • Larger hardscape areas, like retaining walls, patios or decks
  • Alternative grass areas, like buffalograss or blue grama grass lawns
  • Vegetable gardens
  • Specialty gardens, like rock gardens
  • Low maintenance native grass, possibly planted with native trees and shrubs

In summary, when faced with a less-than-perfect lawn, the choices are to revive, renovate or rethink it.

Keep in mind you don’t have to choose only one option. It’s perfectly fine to revive one part of your lawn, renovate another area, and install a different type of landscaping in another area. Through using a smart mix of these three approaches, you’ll end with a landscape that you love.

Learn more about:

How to Water Your Lawn

Which Lawn Fertilizer Should You Choose? 


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