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Lawns – Renovate or Replace?

The question of whether to renovate or replace a lawn isn’t always a simple decision, but after years of doing both, ReadyLawn shares the decision-making process it now applies to lawns across the country

Our lawn maintenance teams spend a lot of time with awesome clients making sure their lawns remain in top shape and, over the years, we’ve learnt a few tricks to help us determine when to maintain, fix or replace a dodgy lawn.

As contractors, the deciding factor is a time and cost calculation. Is renovating the lawn – taking into account the hours and materials required and the inevitable return visits – going to be cheaper than starting fresh? This call is made on the first visit and, once the lawn is redone or fixed, an ongoing maintenance programme will prevent it from failing.

What to look for

So you’re a contractor called in to look at a landscaping job. The client asks what to do about their lawn. Below are some factors to help you determine your answer:

1. Levels and Compaction

Is the lawn level, or a dogs breakfast? If the levels are all wrong, humps and hollows, or sloping toward the patio, there’s no point in thinking about a renovation. The same applies to compaction. If the lawn is used as a car park, and you can’t poke a screwdriver into the soil, a start over is required.

2. Grass cover

Is the lawn more moss and weeds than grass? If the grass content is less than 50% of the lawn, then rip it up and start

again. Trying to fix a lawn this bad will invariably end with

dissatisfaction from both parties.

3. Environment

Is the lawn south facing, under a giant tree and not getting any sun? Sometimes our clients are trying to grow lawns in impossible locations. Grass doesn’t grow in the dark and, if this is the case, a new lawn isn’t going to solve the problem. It will instead create a new one, and a new best friend on the end of the phone every week! In this instance, it might be best to recommend an artificial option, as discussed in Issue 7 of NZ Landscaper.

4. Thatch

This is particularly relevant if the lawn is a fine turf, browntop and/or fescue. Thatch by definition is a build-up of organic matter. From experience, more than 20mm of pure organic material is a struggle to renovate out by dethatching and it’s often better to strip the lawn with a turf cutter, lightly cultivate and start again with seed, hydroseed or turf. Thatch is caused by a number of factor, including age, over-fertilisation and poor mowing practice.

In a nutshell

The cost of stripping the lawn, dumping, cultivating, re-grading and replacing with seed, hydroseed or turf often works out cheaper than trying to fix an existing lawn.

From a contractor’s perspective, a one-off fix is often more beneficial than a series of visits and treatments to get a lawn right.

Other factors

There are a number of factors that make renovating a lawn more problematic. Renovations rely on time for the lawn to recover and clients often get impatient with how long things take. Then there can also be issues where a treatment hasn’t worked 100% and the client expects a contractor to fix it for free. For example, if you’ve carried out weed spraying but the one weed that isn’t controlled by the spray persists and becomes an issue, or you undertake topdressing where there’s a few bare spots left.

If you recommend that a client renovate a lawn, ensure you price in several follow up visits. With our own lawn clients, we try to set up a 12-month visit programme rather than a one off. This is because we believe a quality lawn isn’t created with a one-off treatment, but a long-term, ongoing programme of treatments and quality products.

There’s a great deal of satisfaction in producing a quality lawn but it requires time and effort.

A good lawn maintenance programme is available for free on

Roger Morgan is managing director of Readylawn Industries in Christchurch, which provides turf, landscape contracting services, synthetic and sportsfield construction, and maintenance services. The Readylawn system is franchised with farms around New Zealand.

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