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Question DetailsAsked on 3/30/2017

lawn seeding

I have available a rental aerator, spreader, seeder and roller, all pull behind. I think I could go over my yard, short mowed, with the aerator, spreader, seeder, then roll it. Is this the proper way to go about it? Some of our lawn is great, some ok, and just needs some basic care, not an entire redo. Thanks for any advice

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5 Answers

Voted Best Answer

Answers to your followup one by one more detail in Cooperative Extension Service brochures and A&M college websites and fertilizer and grass seed manufacturer sites, as I said:

1) rolling does promote germination and also helps keep the seed from blowing away or being eaten by birds but its main purpose is to give the seed good contact with the soil for rooting and so it does not dry out so fast. Also it reduces erosion of the loose topsoil and give it a bit of firmness so it does not rut too badly when you mow it the first few times. I have never done it on my lawns (new or repair) and all came up even and good, though in thick topsoil does look a bit dimpled the first year until you have mowed it enough times that the mower wheels and your feet have evenly compacted the topsoil all over.

For repair (rather than with a new lawn) even with topdressing you would not want to roll it, because that packs the dirt down on the existing blades of grass and makes it harder for them to resurface. (They will tolerate a few weeks under dirt without sunshine before they die, so as long as they pop back up in that time (and it is still lawn growing conditions) will do fine.) Also, on existing grass (assuming it is thin or patchy) the existing grass gives protection to the seed so it really does not need rolling in in most cases.

2) Even though rolling does make the seed germinate better (makes for a firmer contact with the soil, which means it stays moist and the initial tap rootlet is better protected), but I just overseed at about twice the recommended application rate and all is good - overseeding also helps avoid bare spots due to wind blowoff or birds chowing down on it. I put it on heavy enough that it gives a uniform coverage about like a light sprinkles covering on cake frosting - about 1/8" or so between seeds on the average, applied just by hand broadcasting - grab a small in your closed hand, then slighly open the hand as you sweep it in a horizontal arc alongside your body as you walk - flinging the seed out to the side in an arc covering maybe 5-6 feet front to back and to the side with each handfull. For more even coverage if you want a nice even lawn the first year (will fill in by itself by end of second year), do two passes with a light coverage - second pass perpendicular to first one.

3) If you have clover or crabgrass or similar invasives, that will choke out essentially all grasses - so that needs to be killed off - with a lawn-safe spray like Roundup For Lawns (be careful which one you buy - some of their products kill grass too, some kills every type of plant) is easiest. Typically takes two applications a month or two apart to totally kill clover and crabgrass and dandelions, plus sometimes a spot-spray with a spray bottle of it in the next spring to get any that pops back up - maybe in fall too if year-around growing season in your area.

4) Bare spot die-off due to leaf cover - you need to be blowing/raking the leaves off or mowing them in before they cover more than about 10-20% of the surface area, and they should not sit more than a week or so at the most before being removed even if the lawnn does not need mowing (which of course serves as a removal event). Under conifers - quite difficult to get grass to grow, though except right under the center in the heavy shade established grass will survive in many cases. When I wanted to put grass under conifers I started with sod torn up from a very well-performing section of my lawn, putting new topsoil and seed where I scavenged the sod from. have done several backyards of about 2000-4000SF that way over the course of several years - gives you established growth instantly, works even better if you put an inch or so of topsoil down first under the sod.

5) One of the most common mistakes, especially with new lawns or ones undergoing regrowth after repair, is cutting too short - Zyosia and St Augustine and similar exotic grasses have special cutting requirements depending on species - but generally in most parts of the country you should set the mower (except for a 1" or so short mowing right before snow cover in areas with long-duration winter snow cover, to prevent snow mold) so the grass blades are about 2-3 inches high - and let new grass grow to 4-5 inches tall before you shock it by mowing it. And you should not cut more than 1/2 the blade length in a given mowing (most experts say 1/3, 1/2 works for me but that is with healthy established grass in an area where fescue thrives in the spring/summer).

Too frequent a watering with shallow penetration is also very hard on lawns - depending on your climate (sun exposure, heat, humidity, normal rainfall) a lawn typically needs about 1-2 inches of water a week. Can run from about 10 gallons per 1000SF on humid cloudy days, to as much as about 150-200 gallons/1000SF in very dry sunny climes - typically about weekly is now often your lawn needs watering, but with shallow sod or very hot climes sometimes every other day or so. You will need to figure out (using a bucket of known volume capacity with sprinkler held upside down over it) what your sprinkler turns out in gallons per minute - or less math, put a couple of near vertical-sided flat-bottom trays or cake pans out on the lawn when watering and measure how deep the water gets in an hour to figure inches of water per hour. Then figure from there (lots of sources on the web or local plant centers for how much you need in your area) to figure out how long your sprinkler needs to sit in one area to water adequately.

Most people are shocked to see how long it takes to do a proper "deep" watering - they think 1/2-1 hour, but commonly with about a typical 1200-1500 SF oscillating sprinkler coverage area, flowing at maybe 4-12 gallons per minute, to get 2 inches of watering takes about -2-8 hours of watering at each setting. Of course, with tight soils you may need to go with shorter intervals if you start getting runoff, but generally deep watering is better because it promotes deeper root growth, which makes the grass more resistant to disease and drought and winter conditions.

[Sample calc if interested - if you have say 8 gallons per minute flow rate as measured with calibrated bucket, that is 8 gpm / 7.48 gallons per cubic foot = 1.07 cubic feet of water. Divide by your sprinkler coverage area - lets say 1360SF as an example - this gives 1.07 cubic feet/1360SF= 0.000786 cubic feet/SF/minute. Multiple by 60 minutes in an hour = 0.047 cubic feet per SF per hour, multiply by 12 inches/foot = 0.55 inches of water per hour - about 1/2 inch, so in this case to get 2 inches of watering would take 4 hours per setting.]

6) Mowing over again and again to mulch in - check your lawn for deep thatch - the layer of dead but still partly intact grass cuttings (the top layer of the sod itself) should not be over about 1/4-1/2" thick in most areas - if getting quite thick (certainly if more than an inch) it should be removed. Article here describing and showing thatch -

the thatch is the grass cuttings matted in the upper portion of the sod, which you can tear out or rake out by hand in a sample - lies above and transitions into what you would call the "soil". If you are getting such thick cuttings after mowing that it can smother the grass - matting or forming windrows rather than just loose stray cuttings on the surface, you should probably be collecting the cuttings - raking them up by hand (MUCH easier if you wait a day or too till they dry to a very light condition - when they start changing color from bright green), or getting a bagger or cuttings collection bin for your mower. (Almost all brands and many models of power mowers have kits to add on collection capability) - or if you are adverse to raking (or if you have a garden tractor, towing a rake) then maybe a $175-250 investment in a bagging mower would be in order if you have heavy thatch unless you are willing to dethatch periodically. Generally, if in the parts of the midwest or east or of course the deep south where it gets hot and muggy in the summer, you should probably not be letting the cuttings fall into the grass. Higher elevations areas (above about 3000-4000 feet), northern tier/great lakes and rocky mountain and southwest states commonly you can get away with letting them drop unless you fertilize and water a lot. Pacific Northwest depends on your locale - if your lawn thrives and needs weekly or more often mowing you probably need to collect cuttings.

7) Thatching - there are tow-behind thatchers for lawn tractors, and hand-pulled ones and thatching racks (the latter two area LOT of work) - I use a thatching spring device on the mower - this one,

that scratches up the thatch and leaves it on the surface to be raked up (in windrows if done with a side-discharge mower) - with this type you have to keep moving at a steady page to avoid scratching the grass totally away sitting in one place. Thatching (aka dethatching) is best done early in the growing season because it does tear up the grass a fair amount, so done just before or as the new spring growth is just starting to come up reduces damage and makes for a quicker appearance recovery - about 2 weeks in our case. I go through a set of the springs (pretty easily replaceable) every one-two thatchings because of our gravelly/rocky soil - every one if I really go along the lawn slowly to get deep thatching, every other time if just doing a reduction of thatch thickness. (I do this every 5 years roughly in a cooler northern climate, letting the cuttings drop into the lawn).

8) If you collect cuttings, you might look into starting a compost pile with those and your leaves (not conifer needles), using about a 3-4' diameter fenced circle, turning it over a time or two a year, and screening out the resulting black dirt (the compost) and using it to topdress your iffy areas in the spring or first half of summer. It is possible to get carried away - we put all our leaves through the mulch pile (mostly after mower chopping them in the fall for winter mulch cover on planter beds and permanent pots first)- from about 8000 SF of lawn and adding in clippings and leaves from neighbors (so maybe 10,000 SF of contribution area). We get about 6-10CY of compost a year out of three 3-4 foot diameter by 4 feet high compost piles (2 in use at any time, third being the one new materials is dumped in for mixing with grass cuttings when the next spring/summer). [We let our grass clippings drop into the sod, so we use clippings from neighbors who collect their cuttings, and give them a bit of garden compost the next spring]. LOTS of instructions on the web on how to do this - minimal effort once the bins are set up (and they need tarping around them in cooler climates for themm to get warm enough - about 150-160 degrees) except for a few hours of intensive labor per pile a couple of times a year to turn them and screen out the black compost. (We turn once a year and mix in grass cuttings when available in quantity, screen it the second time and add the uncomposted residual material into a second pile we are turning for the first time, so we have one in final processing (turned once already) and to be screened for compost the next time, one in initial decomposition stage to be turned and mixed with residual from the first pile the next time, and one bin for accumulating brown material preparatory to mixing with lawn cuttings when they are available). The cheap 42/45 gallon wheeled rectangular garbage cans from WalMart make good storage for the compost till needed - scrap 5 gallon buckets (washed out) from driveway sealing or drywall compound and such make easy to transport comnpost buckets - also good for giving to the neighbors the raw materials came from or to friends who need some for a garden or flower bed.

9) Fertilizing - obviously different for different types of grass, but in a slow-growing northern climate with almost totally nutrient-deficient soil (glacial outwash sandy gravel and cobbles which supports basically zero growth - tree roots only go down a foot or less even for 150 foot trees) we put down Weed-n-Feed (granular fertilizer with weed killer, using a drop spreader) in the fall right after first sticking snow (so is already cold enough the grass has stopped growing and won't be kick-started into growing again by the fertilizer) but before the "permanent" snow starts falling - so during a few week period in the early winter - that way the pre-emergent weed killer in it is in the ground and kills the weeds as soon as they start to grow in the spring, which can happen before the snow if fully off so spring weed killing is too late to stop the growth as it starts, which the most effective time to do so. You can find a lot of websites on the web with images of lawn diseases and what they look like if too wet or dry, or over or under fertilized.

In areas with lush growth - especially areas with hot summers or year-around growth, a mid-year fertilizing is also called for unless your natural soil is pretty good. And of course, if you remove the clipping you will need to fertilize more, because you are taking away the nutrients that were taken up from the soil in forming those clippings.

10) Topsoil - other than homemade compost (which takes 1-1/2 to 2 years roughly before you get your first full batch), pretty much any area other than true desert has topsoil available for sale - just maybe expensive if naturally rare in your area. Even places like Tucson and Mojave and West Texas have it available at a price. A good topsoil will be a shredded organic brown soil from an existing growing layer - and if clayey, should be mixed with up to about 50-75% (in the worst cases) with sand to make it pack down less and breathe/drain and let roots spread better.

Typically about $100-150 for a cubic yard or two from a topsoil delivery guy or greenhouse, in large (5-20 CY truckload) quantities typically about a flat $75-150 delivery charge plus about $25-45/CY for the material - delivered to your property either in a pile, or if where you want it is accessible by a loaded dumptruck (and does not rut too much) with tailgate spreading to roughly lay it out for a LOT less raking. So typically for full truckload (10-15CY normally) about $325-750 depending on how hard good topsoil is to come by in your area. [A cubic yard, used as top-dressing 1/2" thick, will cover about 625 SF - or about a 25x25' square of ground, so a full dumptruck load would cover about 6200-12500SF depending on truck size].

Mulch and Topsoil is the Search the List category for local vendors - some greenhouses, many plant centers, some home improvement box stores deliver it also but more expensive usually because they are just contracting with the same trucking companies you could go to directly to get it - but sometimes a plant center is most convenient for a small quantity or if you have a pickup or trailer to pick it up yourself (be careful about overlaoding - topsoil can weight from about a ton per cubic yard for light, free-flowing dry soil to as much as 2 tons/CY if wet and heavy, so normal small trailer or pickup capacity is typically 1/4 to 1/2 CY to maybe, for 3/4 ton truck or heavier, 1/2 to 1 CY per trip.

Of course, there is probably nothing that says you have to solve this immediately and cannot experiment a bit in say 3-5 foot square patches or strips - by setting mower higher, by watering more or less often (maybe regular moderate watering with rest of lawn plus additional watering can every few days in test area), by fertilizing (which you can do with Miracle Grow and watering can for a small test area - the ordinary miracle grow for planter beds and shrubs, not the bloom booster or flower variety), by thatching a small area (garden rake, stiff leaf rake which will scratch out the thatch, or even hand garden fork can be used for a small test patch), keeping leaves off a test area, putting a bag of store-bought potting soil down as topdressing, etc. which might give you a better idea of what your lawn is lacking. Or as I said before, if you have a friend / neighbor with nice looking lawn that they maintain themselves, ask them to take a look at it for you and give suggestions.

Good Luck, and bear in mind unless you want rapid results so you throw a lot of $ into it, generally you can achieve a good result with just some one-at-a-time experimenting - making sure the watering is right besed on the performance (and lack of signs of stress) in the "good" portions of the lawn, then determining if the soil and fertilizing conditions are the same between that and the "bad" areas ro not (which would tell you if they need adjusting in general), then pahying attention to leave cover, shade, or any other conditions unique to the "bad" areas. If may be, for example, that short of cutting down some trees to reduce shade or leaf/droppings grasskill under trees, there is little you can do for the poorly performing areas - though deeper topsoil and proper fertilization of course promotes healthier growth in stressful conditions. And of course, depending on locale and climate, letting the weak areas grow longer (which stabilizes growing conditions so it does not cycle from very dry to very wet frequently) and possibly planting a more resistant or shade-tolerant grass type might help.

Oh - BTW - unless trying to stabilize soil against erosion, I recommend against grass seeds with rye grass in it - annual rye is commonly put in top provide a rapid greenup, but that isnot a permanent grass cover in most areas, and crowds out the grass you want, so I would go with a good local mix for the shade/sun environment you have if you overseed. And of course should be "weed free" - or less than about 0.25% at the most, and preferably not more than 0.1% weed seed in the mix (see label on back of bag), and zero "noxious" weeds like dandelion, crabgrass, etc. Some box store seeds have as much as 5% weed seed ! And unfortunately, weeds can overtake the grass in areas where the grass is performing poorly, so you do not want to be introducing weeds there. Also, depending on your locale of course, but Zoysia, St Augustine, Kentucky Bluegrass for examples, are more prone to stress than the ones originating in native grasses like the fine and red and coarse fescues, if those are acceptable to you. And among those, the coarse ones (if allowed to grow 3-4 inches long) survive better than the fine ones, in general.

Answered 3 years ago by LCD


Assuming the spreader would be used to top dress with topsoil - sounds about right. (You generally do not want to fertilize new seed if you overseed - stresses or chemically burns it - you fertilize after first mowing.)

On the aerator - plug type is MUCH better than slicer type, and to avoid lumpy lawn rake the cores up (or use aerator type that collects the plugs) and dispose of or put in your compost pile.

You can find a lot of how-to articles on lawn care - at lawn equipment and fertilizer manufacturer websites (Scotts and so forth), and from state Cooperative Extension Services - most of them have a brochure or booklet online about lawn care and refurbishing in your area. Cornell University, Colorado State University, University of California Davis, Texas A&M, and probably a few of the southern state A&M universities have excellent plant and lawn care resources online.

Depending on what your issue is, could be all it needs is different watering, less shade in the poor areas maybe, or aerating. Or possibly thatching if it has a heavy buildup of dead grass cuttings, which causes shallow root formation (they are happy in the thatch so do not go deeper) which makes the grass more susceptible to drought or winter stress.

Also look up typical lawn diseases for your species and area - then pull some blades up and see if they are showing the classic symptoms of rust, leaf curling or splitting, burnt or evaporate tips, etc. Oh - and if you have roundish bare spots and look up fairy rings - that condition can be caused by fungal growth or sometimes shallow tree roots.

Or maybe just aerating if the topsoil has gotten packed down. Commonly, assuming it is getting deep watered with appropriate amount for your area and species (deep watering is better than more frequent shallow watering because it promotes deeper root growth), just thatching and/or aeration as applicable to your case will solve the problem, or maybe with some fertilizing as appropriate too. Generally, unless you have bare areas, reseeding is not needed - as long as the grass is present, even if thin or a bit splotchy, once it gets the air or fertilizer or water it needs it will fill in the splotchy areas within a couple of months.

Sometimes (actually commonly) the original lawn has too thin a layer of topsoil put down (or none at all) so that might be what it needs - a top dressing of topsoil. Generally, depending on whether you get very hot or dry summers or substantially sub-freezing winters, you need 1-2 inches (in place after compaction over some time - more like 2-4 inches loose placed if doing new lawn) of topsoil to easily maintain a lawn - get down to a fraction of an inch and most lawns will start showing stress. You might take a few divots and compare poor and healthy areas to see if different thickness of topsoil or thatch mat correlates to the health of the lawn.

Course, if you do topdress, then spreading some seed on it and lightly raking it in is a quick way to get rapid improvement. Typically, just hand broadcasting is fine, with light raking in with a garden rake (just enough to cvoer most of the seed), then light spray watering to settle the soil around the seed works fine - plus of course keeping the soil damp (darker brown damp, not wet or muddy) until the grass is ready for first mowing (typically about 3-4 inches high) . If only thinly topdressed the rolling is not necessary - but if reseeding for new growth with inches of topsoil rolling does reduce the rutting and dips and hollows that form during walking/mowing in deeper soil.

Also - if the poorer areas have tree roots showing, that could be the cause - shallow tree roots can steal a lot of the nutrients and water from lawn, so might need deeper topsoil or more fertilization or watering in that area to provide enough for all. Very shallow root water-loving trees like willows and cottonwoods are especailly bad about this.

Also - check if poor areas are getting a lot of leaf fall on them - that chokes out the grass and with some species (especially most evergreens) poisons the ground so grass grown poorly or not at all - sometimes raking the leaves/needles helps, sometimes dripping sap makes lawn care almost immpossible, like under cottonwoods, most conifers, mulberry, many bushy berry trees like elderberry and holly, sticky/sappy dry climate trees like sumac and palo verde and creosote bush and such. In fact, most desert shrubs/trees do a grand job of choking out or poisoning the grasses under them. As of course do crabgrass and weeds.

Might just need different watering, or maybe fertilizer - general or a specific type. You can get your soil tested by the Cooperative Extension Service in many states (some use mail-in packets) - you can also get it tested at many greenhouses and plant centers, and with mail-in packets from home improvement box stores, to tell you whether your soil is deficient in some nutrient or mineral. If you have diseased grass most Cooperative Extension Services or state AG departments will identify it for you - instructions on how much to collect and how to package it and where to send usually on their website. Some higher-end plant centers also have people who can identify the most common issues if you take in a divot to them - dug all the way down into the subsoil so they can see the whole environment it is growing in as well as the grass itself.

You can experiment this spring/summer to save cost - do a bit of research, make sure you are watering properly, then I would hit it at start of spring with an all-around fertilizer (like 16-16-16) rather than the normal high-nitrogen lawn fertilizer (like 25-4-2) and see if that helps the poor areas or jsut the good ones. [The first number is nitrogen - high nitrogen promotes rapid and bright green blade growth but not root growth, and a very high first number can actually result in stressing during dries or hot times.

If nutrients/watering does not pick it up, then I would look at thatching if that is thick, and aerating if the soil is pretty hard packed and compact.

Top dressing with more topsoil (typically about 1/2" layer to provide soil and nutrients but not so much it can't grow back up through it) would be the most time consuming and expensive so I would leave that till later to see if needed. Best time for that is early spring before the grass is coming up (so it just grows up through it) or in late fall after you mow it quite short (so the dirt does not lay the blades of grass down under it). However - consider your yard use - if mostly summer use then fall topdressing works well, but if the yard is used a lot (like by kids or pets) then you don't want to do it when it will be all muddy from the rainy season or snowmelt. You can actually do it about any time - just before snowfly is popular in wintry areas because it lies under the snow all winter and be ready for spring, though it will be more compacted then so harder for the grass to grow up through it - but will get muddy during breakup. In areras where the grass goes beserk in the summer, sometimes just a short mowing and topdressing works best as it grows back up and fills it in within a few weeks - just avoid doing it during real hot times when the grass is stressed (or times when there are watering restrictions), and not late in the growing season when the grass is storing energy for the winter - if doing in later part of seasons wait till the grass has totally stopped growing (if it does in your area).

Oh - cutting height too - most people cut too short by about half, which stresses the grass, makes it less drought resistant, prevents its usuall longer blade choking out of weeds, etc. And a dull blade (should be sharpened yearly in most areas) strips and shreds the top of the blades rather than cleanly cutting them, which promotes disease growth and can stop that blade from growing any more that season, so check the tips of your blades.

One other thing - is what species you have. Some like Augustine in particular are picky and require really prime conditions. And the finer-bladed grasses are generally more prone to stress - so for instance in the more northern areas between fine or red fescue and coarse fescue the fine will take initial hold better (faster starting), but will typically be crowded out by the coarse fescue. DItto for Kentucky Bluegrass - typically it will start off fine, but unless conditions are prime for it, the fescues and prairie grasses will start to fill in.

Another resource (though be sure to glue your ears on so they don't get talked off - is neighbors who you are on good terms with and have a nice looking lawn in conditions similar to yours.

Answered 3 years ago by LCD



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Answered 3 years ago by Member Services


I meant to vote up, but my big thumb hit the down button. Thank you for your advice. I have one and one half acres under fence, some clover, some fescue, I believe, and then grass of unknown type with some bare areas that died under leaves that didn't get burnt. I have no way to topsoil. Our ground is clay and what passes for topsoil here is usually more clay and rocks dug from construction. I will see what kind of aerator they rent, and use seed appropriate for my shady or sunny areas and definitly use your fertilizer tip. Our blades are sharp, but we have no way to get up the mowed grass. We'd have to buy a sweeper if we could find one reasonably priced, so what I usually do is keep mowing over the loose grass til it's mulched. We have weeds, but can't use any weedkiller because we also have a pond and the neighbors horses graze, so between them and herbicide runoff into the pond, well you can see the problem. I was hoping to get a good strong rooting shorter growing type seed, if you could tell me what that might be. I've heard of it but can't remember the name. Hopefully, that will take over the weeds. Also, should I roll the seed in? I am sort of on my own in doing this, so I appreciate your help. Thanks again.

Answered 3 years ago by mary7458


Ok, so don't roll, except the newly planted on bare earth seed. I live in Arkansas, zone 7, and with the size of the yard, do not water it. I can't afford irrigation, though I can water in the newly planted over dirt seed by hose. As for topsoil, I've searched for it and could never find it. Except, as I said, from construction. Fertilize with the 16-16-16 after first mowing, take up grass cuttings, dethatch first beore aerating and planting and overseed. Right, so far? The feed store has good seed for sun and shade, and I don't mind the clover because it draws bees. I think I've got it now. God bless you for all your help. Thank you. If you can think of anything I desperatly need to know before starting all this, please don't hesitate to say.

Answered 3 years ago by mary7458


Hmmm - not watering in your area (when it has not rained substantially in past week, which should take care of about half the weeks or more in summer) is likely to make for summer heat and water stressing - during the hot periods try to keep it at least 3-4 inches long so the moisture does not evaporate so quickly. Commonly appears as browning and thinning - and with time, develops into bare patches in brownish field of stunted limpish grass.

In Arkansas thatch buildup is a common issue, so check for that. As I said, over 1/2" recommneded to thin/dethatch, over 1" is probably really stressing the grass because the thatch disrupts the biochemistry as it degrades in place, plus causes shallow rooting development which then nmakes it more susceptible to stress.

I can't imagine you can't find true topsoil in your area unless up in the exposed rocky hilltop area of the Ozakrs - calllocal plant centers/greenhouses and ask who delivers topsoil in your area (know in advance if you are talking 1-2 CY for small areas for truckload size for substantial topdressing/reseeding).

Or google search phrase like this, putting your town or county name in place of "mytown" - topsoil delivery mytown - or if you want only listings of angies list rated providers, use this - topsoil delivery mytown angies list

Here are a couple of Cooperative Extension Service articles which might help -

Answered 3 years ago by LCD

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