Maintaining a lawn may seem like an overwhelming prospect, and may very well be if you are not applying some tried and true techniques to help keep it looking its best. Like any plant, grass requires soil nutrients, sun, and water to grow and thrive, but your approach to the amount of each, and the type of lawn you have can make a difference in the amount of effort you need to put into how it looks.
This guide provides all the lawn care tips you need to know to keep your lawn looking its best. Everything from the type of grass you have to the amount of water and feed it requires will be discussed, as well as the best way to maintain its length.
Choosing a Grass Type
If you have inherited your lawn, then you need to determine the type of grass you predominantly have to best determine seasonal care. You can find out what your grass type is at any local County Extension Office where they can also provide you information on care and other helpful services.
If you are putting in your own grass either by seeding or sod placement, then you need to consider your climate and choose from the grasses best suited for your area. Review the following grass categories to determine which is best for where you live. Once you know your grass type then you know how to best care for it as well since they utilize water and nutrients differently.
Cool Season Grasses
Cool season grasses grow in cooler climates. They stay mostly green year-round, even when temperatures drop below freezing, and are ideal for warm, but not hot, scorching summers. Temperatures that linger above 75 – 80 degrees fahrenheit for long periods of time may not be supportive of these types of grasses. These grasses include:
- Kentucky Bluegrass
- Fine or Tall Fescue
- Perennial and Annual Ryegrasses
Warm Season Grasses
Warm season grasses are those choices that are more tolerant of longer, hotter summers. They will go dormant in winter: turning brown and dying off for three to five months before greening up again as temperatures stay consistently above 50 degrees. They thrive in the heat, and are best for those climates that have summer temperatures that reach into the 90’s or hotter. These grasses include:
- St. Augustine
Irrigation and Watering Techniques
Different grasses have different watering needs depending on the areas they are planted in. However, there are some general tips you can follow and apply to just about any lawn with adjustments towards extra watering if needed during periods of extreme dryness or heat in any climate. Use these tried and true suggestions for all lawns to ensure they get the water they need to thrive:
- Water at least 1.5 inches of water each week spread over every other or every third day in both summer and winter. You can also flood irrigate, especially during periods of dormancy.
- Water early in the morning (which is best), or after the sun has gone down for the evening to avoid loss of moisture to evaporation. This also allows the water to soak deeply into the ground and to the roots for longer periods of time.
- Use a rain gauge to help determine the amount of water being put out by automatic sprinklers and adjust accordingly. Also be sure you have even coverage.
- Different soils also absorb water at varying rates. If water is pooling, break your waterings into shorter bursts to allow absorption rather than runoff.
- Check your soil moisture retention using a 6 inch screwdriver. You should be able to push it easily all the way into the ground. If you cannot, your soils may not be receiving enough water.
- Water for short periods of time daily when temperatures reach 100 degrees or more for prolonged periods of time. You also can raise the cutting height of your lawnmower to allow for added protection to the roots during these times.
How to Feed Your Lawn
Different types of grasses also require different feeding schedules. Most commercial fertilizers will offer suggestions for when to feed various grass species, and what type of fertilizers to use. But many people like to save money by buying in bulk, or even making their own, so knowing these schedules is important.
You want to use a nitrogen rich fertilizer spread at a rate of approximately one pound per 1000 square feet of lawn. Nitrogen fixes to roots and is used in flushes of growth, which is what you want your grasses doing through the growing season. Also check your soul nutrients as those help roots uptake and use nitrogen in a more efficient manner.
Keep your soils just slightly acidic if you can, and also test for phosphorus and potassium levels. You can do this easily with kits found in garden centers or online. These kits provide all the information you need to test and amend your soil.
Cool Season Grass Fertilizer Schedules
Cool grasses require 3 feedings a year: two in the fall and one in spring. Fall feedings are extremely important as it allows the nutrients to get to the roots for winter storage. Roots continue to grow through the winter even though the tops are dormant, and root health is directly related to growth habits during the warmer months.
Feed approximately 6 weeks prior to the first frost, usually before you stop cutting for the year, and then again in late November to help roots store what they need for the winter. Once you observe the first flush of growth in the spring you can apply another feeding to help renew the nutrients being used after the winter months.
Warm Season Grass Fertilizer Schedules
Warm season grasses are fairly easy to maintain and are typically less sensitive than cool season grasses. They only really need one good feeding a year in the spring after they have come out of dormancy. Because they have a longer growing season, wait until you have cut at least three times before application.
If you feel your lawn is being stressed or you have soils that allow water to drain very quickly, thus leaching nutrients through the substrate, consider fertilizing again in the middle of the growing season and as it is going dormant for the year. Faster growing climates use nutrients more quickly, and a good way to tell if you are using up the effects of fertilizer more quickly than planned is as simple as running a quick soil test.
Mowing Techniques to Live By
A lawns height is directly related to its root depth and health, so you want to try and avoid cutting your grass too short. In fact, it is better to cut a little more often than a lot all at once. In order to determine how your cutting schedule should be approached, keep this general rule of thumb in mind: Allow your lawn to average 3 inches in height, and cut no more than ⅓ the overall height of your lawn with each cutting.
Always keep your lawnmowers blade sharp as well. This keeps you from accidentally pulling up the roots of the grass as you work. Look over your blade after every 20 hours of cutting time and sharpen it up. Also, only cut when the lawn is dry- not after a watering or a rainstorm. Wet soils are softer and grasses become more easily tangles, raising the chances of you pulling them up by the roots.
Also- instead of bagging your grass clippings, consider leaving them behind after every few cuttings or so. This helps return nutrients to the soil and provides protection against moisture evaporation without creating a thick thatch.
Soil Aeration is truly up to the types of soils you have and if you feel your water and/or fertilizers are not being as effective as they should. Aeration techniques provide quicker access to grass roots to ensure oxygen, water, and nutrients are getting where they need to be. Highly compact soils that do not absorb water readily can often benefit from being aerated at least once a year.
Thick, healthy lawns generally do not have much of a weed problem as grass roots will take over and choke out weeds. For the occasionally weed, it is much easier to simply work the weeds up by the roots rather than apply any chemicals. If you find you have more weeds than grass, first consider the health of the soils and grass themselves. You may end up wanting to spray a widespread weed killer, amend your soil, and then reseed to encourage a healthier lawn.
If weeds are a problem, but you have what you feel is good grass, consider a fertilizer with a weed control mixed into it to help get rid of unwanted vegetation. As they die out your grass roots should take over the areas and get rid of any future weed spread.
Pest can come in various forms. Cut worms that attack your grass roots, as well as ants, digging moles, gophers, and voles can disrupt grass growth and leave unsightly mounts and holes. Some fertilizers can be bought with general insect control if you feel you have a problem with small critters living in the soils. For larger mammals you can look to trap, kill, or hire a professional to eradicate their presence.
Hire a Highly Rated Lawn Care Company
If the idea of this much effort for your lawn seems daunting, consider hiring a reputable lawn care service. Full lawn care services offer everything from fertilizer, weed control, and pest control schedules, to mowing and trimming lawns and various landscape plantings. They also can provide suggestions as well as troubleshooting questions you may have.
Consider Artificial Lawns
Advances in technology have created incredibly realistic looking and feeling artificial lawns, complete with slight inconsistencies that occur naturally. If you are not interested in caring for your own lawn, or paying a company to regularly maintain your lawn, this may be a great option. Other than having to blow it off from time to time, there is very little maintenance involved.
Others reasons to have one include having only small areas of lawn, or using a lawns for aesthetic purposes only. Areas of extreme dryness may also be a good reason for their installation since watering and care can begin to get costly.
A healthy lawn doesn’t have to be an overwhelming prospect, but it does require some basic knowledge of its care. Starting with the type of grass you have influences your overall approach to ite health, and as long as you keep it watered, cut, and fed properly you should have a lawn to be proud of. Hiring a maintenance service is also never a bad idea if you feel you are not up to the task. Many provide year round extras as well to help you enjoy your yard.
Let us know below if you have any questions as well as your favorite tried and true lawn care techniques! And, as always, please share!