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Getting the grass to grow

There is a shed full of tools you can use on your lawn. An overview:

*Rakes: Rakes are an essential hand tool for lawn seeding. In small lawns of a few hundred square feet, a rake may be the only tool you need for lawn repair, along with a lawn mower and spreader for maintenance. A standard metal garden rake, sometimes called a bow rake, is used to remove weeds, cultivate the soil and level soil amendments before seeding. A dethatching or thatch rake is designed to remove thatch, but it is also excellent for cultivating the soil and slicing through tenacious running weeds such as clover, wild strawberry and Bermuda grass. Use a leaf rake to gather raked thatch, but not for opening the lawn surface for seed.

*Aerators: Aerators perform two key duties -- they return porosity to compacted soils and they cultivate the lawn for overseeding. If you are using a long-handled manual aerator or a mechanical aerator, select one with tubular tines that remove plugs of soil. Spikes will only make the compaction worse. Soak the lawn a day or two before you aerate to ensure good core penetration. You can rent mechanical core aerators, but they are heavy and require two people to lift in and out of a vehicle.

*Dethatchers: Tall fescue lawns don't have the thatch buildup afflicting bluegrass or zoysia lawns. However, mechanical dethatchers, also called power rakes, have vertical blades that can be used to open the soil surface for overseeding in early fall. As with aerators, they are available at equipment rental stores. You can buy dethatching blades that attach to a rotary lawn mower, but they tend to scalp the lawn.

*Spreaders: Spreaders are used to lay seed, lime, fertilizer and pesticides and come in two basic forms. With the drop spreader, the content falls the width of the spreader as you walk behind it. In a broadcast spreader, a revolving plate scatters the product in a broader swath. Some professionals say that a broadcast spreader will minimize the risk of missing areas when seeding and feeding -- errors that will later show up as stripes.

*Rototillers: Rototillers are useful for complete lawn renovation, for removing old grass and weeds and incorporating soil amendments before seeding. Rental stores tend to offer front-tine tillers, which use the tines to propel as well as dig and are harder to use than wheel-driven rear-tine tillers. The knack for successfully using any tiller is to start at the shallowest setting and then go over the same ground a bit more deeply.