Maintaining a beautiful yard takes lots of work, especially for the 78% of adults who have a home with a finicky grass lawn. As America’s largest irrigated crop, grass is like the sensitive child of the family who needs lots of affirmations and help to grow and thrive. Give it too much sun, too much shade, or even too much water (nearly half of all homeowners likely water the lawn too often) and all of a sudden you have a problem.
As for how to sell a house with a bad yard, top real estate agents agree: tackle basic yard care before you list. Any money spent will be well worth it. One HomeLight report estimates that spending under $300 in lawn care services can yield a 352% ROI.
Not all lawn issues are one and the same, however. It’s no wonder that 40% of Americans with a lawn call in a pro for help (sometimes you need an expert opinion). Nevertheless you can address many common lawn problems on your own with a little know-how and some adjustments to your yard care routine.
Start with these 10 tips we learned from our deep research of the best lawn blogs out there and our conversations with a few pros about best practices for watering, mowing, and overall yard presentation.
1. Keep your grass between 2 1/2 to 3 inches long
A uniformly trimmed lawn keeps the yard looking tidy, but cutting the grass too short (a common mistake among homeowners!) can leave your lawn looking bald or patchy and make it vulnerable to weeds.
So, each time you mow the lawn, resist the urge to make it look like a putting green and cut only the top one-third inch of growth. When the grass reaches around three and one-third inches high, it’s time for a trim.
Depending on seasonality, your optimum grass height will vary:
- In the spring and summer, or warm season, keep your lawn closer to 3 inches tall. A well-shaded grass root can keep crabgrass at bay.
- In the fall or cool season, keep your grass at a length of two and a half inches. With cool mornings and the possibility of frost, crabgrass is no longer a concern and you can keep your lawn shorter.
When it comes to showing your house for sale: “As long as the grass is green and all one level, then you should be in good shape,” says top-selling Harvest, Alabama, real estate agent Corey Gilmore who’s sold well over 100 homes with traditional green lawns.
2. Fertilize, the right way, on a schedule
Throwing down fertilizer at the wrong time or for the wrong reasons is like throwing money down the drain. Hiring a professional to fertilize your lawn will cost you on average $50-80 per visit, but a bag of high-quality lawn fertilizer starts at $20. If you have the time to spare, or a tight budget and decide to go the DIY route, pay attention to these factors:
- The right day.
Applying fertilizer right before a downpour will wash the nutrients you just spread right out of the ground. Look at your weather forecast and try to fertilize the lawn during a stretch of rainless days. Using a slow-release fertilizer, you can gently water the lawn a few days after application.
- Time of year and type of grass.
If your lawn is comprised of cool-season grasses, you’ll want to fertilize it at least once in the early fall or late summer, since these varieties are grown in the winter. Cool-season grasses include Kentucky bluegrass, perennial ryegrass, bentgrass, tall fescue, and fine fescue.
Warm-season grasses are less active in the winter, so you’ll want to fertilize them at least once in the early summer. Warm-season grasses include Bermuda grass, St. Augustine, zoysia, centipede and buffalo grass.
If you’ve got a pristine lawn, you can get away with fertilizing the grass annually. Most lawns should be fertilized at least twice a year, once around Memorial Day, and again near Labor Day.
If your lawn is in dire need of help, you might consider fertilizing it more frequently. If you plan to put your home on the market in the spring, you can start fertilizing the lawn as early as mid-April. With the soil warm enough, you should see results within a few weeks, and can even do a second feeding in mid-May if you’re looking for an even lusher lawn.
Fertilizing your lawn will go a long way toward improving the grass, but it’s not as simple as just dumping a bag of powder on patchy grass. Keep these best practices in mind:
- Don’t over-apply.
Putting more of the recommended amount of fertilizer down won’t make your grass grow faster. In fact, it can burn and kill your lawn. Stick to the suggested amount on the bag and don’t overdo it.
- Start by applying fertilizer around the edges, then work your way in.
Overlap each strip a little to make sure the lawn is completely covered, spreading fertilizer up and down the length of the yard.
- Use a spreader.
Instead of scattering by hand, a spreader ensures you’re distributing the fertilizer evenly over your lawn.
3. Free the grass clippings
Save time and nourish your lawn with this simple tip: Don’t bag your grass clippings as you mow. Just leave them right where they are on the lawn, recommends industry leaders at Scott, who’ve been in the lawn care game for over 150 years.
The clippings are small, and mostly comprised of water, so they won’t take long to break down and fertilize your lawn. You’ll need to clean up the clippings from your driveway, the neighbor’s driveway, the sidewalk, and any other surrounding hard surfaces—but overall mulching, rather than bagging the clippings, is usually less work.
The only time you’ll want to bag up those clippings is if your lawn is diseased. Bagging and disposing of the clippings will keep the problem from spreading across your lawn.
4. Use lawn repair mix for smaller bare patches
You can remedy small patches of grass using a lawn repair mix. Lawn repair mixes are comprised of compost, grass seedlings, and fertilizer.
For best results:
- Remove the dead grass and till or loosen the soil three inches below the ground so the seeds have space to grow.
- Use a lawn spreader to scatter the mix on the patch. If the patch is small, you can use gloves to spread the mix by hand. The mix should be no more than half an inch thick to prevent overgrowth.
- Water the patch regularly with low pressure until the seeds start to sprout. Take care not to overwater the spot, which could cause the seeds to scatter. Keep it damp, but not flooded.
5. Fix bigger bald spots with turfgrass
If your lawn has large, gaping bald spots, laying sod might be the solution. This goes double if you’re in a time crunch. You can sow seeds in large spots, but it takes time and energy—both of which you don’t have if you’re hoping to sell your home soon.
The time saved in purchasing pre-grown grass does come at a cost. The average cost to install sod is between $500-$800 per 1,000 square feet. While installation can come at a high price, it only takes about two to three weeks for the sod to root. It’s a fast solution for patchy lawns.
For many, this is a project worth paying for professional installation. If sod is improperly installed, it won’t take long for it to turn brown and die.
6. Get to the bottom of any grub problems, then treat accordingly
If your lawn is scattered with dead patches, grubs might be to blame. Chafers and beetles largely referred to as lawn grubs, eat grass roots, causing large sections of the lawn to turn brown and die.
But that’s only half the problem. Birds and small animals tearing at your lawn to get to grubs causes further damage. If you pull up your roots to find more than 10 grubs per foot, you likely have an infestation.
To get your grubs under control, you can use a killer and prevention spray on the lawn.
Use the spray, then water the lawn so the product penetrates the soil. Insecticide sprays can be very powerful and dangerous to humans, pets, and children—wear protective clothing while spraying, and don’t let children or pets on the affected areas of the lawn until the grass has been properly treated. It can take up to 10 days for the grubs to die.
Once the grubs have been eradicated, treat the patches on the lawn the way you would any other bald spot.
7. Don’t let weeds run the show
All weeds are unseemly, however, not all weeds can be eliminated the same way. Here’s how to take out three of the most common weeds.
Crabgrass is distinct for its stems that spread and branch out. Its blades can be blue-green or purple, and varieties are both smooth or hairy to the touch.
Crabgrass thrives in lawns cut under two inches and is more likely to crop up on lawns that are frequently overwatered. You can use a weed spray to kill existing crabgrass, but to keep it at bay, you’ll need to remove the weeds from the root, bag them, and keep your grass higher to prevent existing seeds from germination.
Dandelion is most recognizable for its bright yellow flower and fleshy roots. A dandelion’s fluffy heads blow seeds across the lawn, meaning a few dandelions untreated in the yard can quickly lead to a full-blown infestation. These pesky weeds are more likely to thrive on thin lawns.
Dandelion roots can be up to 10-inches deep and will continue to thrive year after year if not treated. Many elect to stay natural, digging up the plant and its root. However, a dandelion-specific spray can also be effective. Spray the plant, wait for it to die, then pull the root system easily from your lawn.
White clover is commonly found on lawns and even used to be included in grass seed mixes. The weed has three leaves and often a small white flower. You’ll find white clover on lawns that are overwatered, but low on nutrients.
You can keep white clover from spreading by keeping your soil and lawn healthy. Fertilizing the lawn will help other grasses thrive and keep clover from spreading. To get rid of white clover in your yard, you can pull the plants by hand, or use a white clover herbicide.
8. Select the right type of grass variety based on sun, shade, and foot traffic
If you don’t have the right grass for your yard based on region and sun exposure, you could be set up to fail.
You can find the right grass for your yard based on region, as well as your plant hardiness zone.
As a rule of thumb:
- Warm-season grasses grow better in warm areas, like the South.
- Cool-season grass thrives in climates with temperature changes, like the North, Northeast, and Pacific Northwest of the US.
Top national lawn care specialist, Pennington, offers a comprehensive guide to the grass that thrives in your region.
You’ll also want to take sun exposure into account. Is your yard eclipsed by shadows most of the day, or is it in the sun? You may need a grass that grows in low sun, like ryegrass, or one that doesn’t bleach under direct sunlight such as zoysia or St. Augustine grass.
If you have children or pets that frequently traffic the yard, you’ll also want to select a more robust grass seed that doesn’t require too much watering to keep muddy paws and shoes from dirtying the house.
9. Avoid these common watering mistakes
It’s not enough to turn on the hose and let it run—avoid simple watering mishaps to keep your lawn in good health:
- Watering at the wrong time.
Water your lawn before 10 am for maximum impact and absorption.
- Using an automatic sprinkler every day.
The average homeowner only needs to water the lawn two to three times a week. Any more than that, and you’ll not only run the water bill up with a daily sprinkle, but also could waterlog the lawn. Pay attention to the weather to avoid watering on rainy days.
- Installing an in-ground sprinkler system.
If you’re looking to sell your home soon, an in-ground sprinkler system can run up a big bill, and might be higher-maintenance than your buyer is looking for.
- Neglecting the roots.
When you water your lawn, do so deeply, making sure that the moisture hits the roots, not the leaves of the grass. These long waterings will encourage healthier and deeper root systems.
10. Beyond the lawn: boosting curb appeal
A lush green lawn can mean the world to potential buyers, but curb appeal doesn’t stop there. The more welcoming you can make your yard, the more enticing your listing. Boost curb appeal with the following pro tips:
- Keep the lawn clear of clutter.
The interior of your home should be ready for a showing at any time, and so should the outside. Keep toys and sports equipment tucked away when not in use, and spruce up the swing set with a new coat of paint or varnish if it’s still in use.
- Go for low maintenance landscaping.
Elaborately tended topiaries flanking the front door means one thing to buyers: more work. The yard should be landscaped, but use low maintenance plants, or no plants at all, suggests Zach Hendrix, co-founder of the “Uber of landscaping services” GreenPal with over 20 years of experience in the lawn care industry and presence in over two dozen US cities.
Hendrix recommends river rock in gardens and landscaped beds for a low-maintenance but affordable project. “The cool thing is is that it never has to be re-dressed or redone next season as it’s a one time cost; it literally has a return on investment.”
- Mulch flower beds frequently.
“A house or yard can go a long way with fresh mulching,” explains Gilmore. Keeping the flower beds freshly mulched will not only look professional, but it’ll also keep weeds and unwanted growth at bay. In fact, 84% of top agents surveyed by HomeLight recommend fresh mulch in the garden before selling the home for a 126% ROI.
- Power wash stones and patios.
“Pressure washing is the cheapest and one of the most effective driveway and patio cleaning methods,” says Gena Lorainne, a gardening specialist at Fantastic Services.
“It’s great for removing dirt, mildew, and moss.” Before power washing your features, make sure to set the stream to the right pressure to avoid causing any damage.
How to sell a house with a bad yard: You’ve gotta fix it first
The idea of spending a few weekends on yard work, or shelling out a few hundred bucks for professional lawn care might not be fun, but that perfectly manicured lawn is worth it in the long run. Landscaping can add between 5% to 15% to your home’s overall value.
If your lawn doesn’t look like an expensive golf course, that’s OK—it doesn’t mean you’re a neglectful homeowner. But when the time comes to put your house on the market, over 90% of top real estate pros recommend tackling basic yard care.
“If your yard, whether it be front or backyard, is bad, people equate that to the house not having the proper upkeep it needs,” says Gilmore. “An unkempt yard translates to an undesirable home for most buyers, no matter how appealing the interior is.”
So bust out those garden gloves and dust off the mower, it’s time to get to work.
Header Image Source: (Zurijeta/ Shutterstock)