Got a nice looking home with a lawn that’s an eyesore to the neighbors? Chances are, you don’t give Mother Nature the boost she needs – frequent and high mowings, timely soakings, a seeding when necessary, weed control and lawn fertilizer.
All of these practices are important, but fertilizer gives the biggest return.
It sounds like more work, but actually a little “scientific” lawn care can take the backache out of yard work, and help you realize a splendid lawn besides!
“A better lawn sounds good,” you say, but fertilizer means more trips with the mower, and mowing is not my favorite recreation.
True, but don’t overlook the fact that a properly fertilized lawn means vigorous turf that withstands wear without constant pampering and reseeding, and too, proper fertilization can help eliminate your annual battle with weeds!
But first, before your spirit prompts you to head for the nearest fertilizer store, consider what the lawn needs.
Plants need a good diet, just the same as race horses or Michigan tackles. Animal diets are grouped under the headings – Proteins, Fats and Carbohydrates. Plants use these foods, too, but they manufacture their foods from basic elements in the soil.
N, P, and K
Three of these plant foods are needed in good supply for vigorous and healthy lawn growth.
The three, classed as major elements, are nitrogen, phosphorus and potash (N, P and K). In varying combinations they make up the commonly available commercial fertilizers.
Of these three plant foods, the one credited with adding the most beauty to your lawn is nitrogen. It promotes abundant dark-green foliage, and response to this nutrient is rapid.
Another first-string performer although not a major plant food is lime.
Lime plays several key roles. It assists in making elements more available to plants, especially phosphorus. It supplies calcium, another needed element. And it counteracts soil acidity, which hinders lawn growth.
In tackling the job of applying these principles, many interested in improving their lawn have arrived at a formula such as this: 10 to 20 pounds per 1000 square feet of a complete fertilizer such as 8-24-8 (8 per cent N, 24 per cent P and 8 per cent K), in fall or very early spring; 4 pounds per 1,000 square feet of a higher nitrogen fertilizer in early spring, and 4 more pounds six weeks after the first nitrogen application.
There is a fairly scientific way to find out the specific needs of your particular lawn by having a soil test done.
A soil sample for testing is obtained by taking plugs three inches deep from eight to ten places well distributed over the lawn. Mix these plugs in a bucket and measure out a half-pint sample. The county agricultural extension agent in your county is one man who can give you details on performing a soil test.
When and How
“OK,” you say. “I know what is needed, but when and how should this fertilizer be applied?” The application of a complete fertilizer should be made in the fall (September} or very early spring (March). This timing will favor the desirable grasses like bluegrass, fescue and bent and discourage weeds such as crabgrass. Following this treatment with one or two straight nitrogen applications will keep these desirable grasses growing vigorously into the summer months.
As for application, several methods are open to the homeowner. There are a number of made-to-order lawn spreaders those handy tools for applying lime and complete fertilizer. You simply set the indicator at the labeled rate on the bag, fill the hopper and take off across the lawn. Just as a straight furrow depicts a good farmer, a uniform spreading pattern is the sign of a master lawn spreader. Be sure the spreader paths mesh so no tell-tale strips appear. (If you’re not in the mood to buy a spreader, you can generally find one to beg or borrow in most neighborhoods.)
Another tool for spreading lawn fertilizer is a cyclone seeder. This instrument is handy for applying pelleted fertilizers. It is wise to split your fertilizer rate into equal portions and spread half lengthwise and half crosswise. This will provide more uniform spread and will eliminate the possibility of streaks in your lawn. Spreading by hand offers another means of applying fertilizer, and the same rules as above are in force.
Both of these spreading methods present a common problem – gauging the spread so that the proper amount of fertilizer falls on the intended area. Here are three suggestions that may aid you if you are faced with this problem.
First, weigh out the desired amount of fertilizer for 1,000 square feet. Next, step off a 1,000 square foot area, preferably a square about 32 by 32 feet (roughly 11 by 11 paces).
Then, see how evenly you can spread this amount of fertilizer on the area described. You may wish to make a few “practice runs” on the driveway to perfect your spreading ability.
The Other Rules
The gentle art of lawn maintenance must not be overlooked if your earlier efforts are to bear fruit. Here are a few pointers:
Do not mow too close. Set your mower high, and mow often. It is possible to cut a lawn as high as the lawnmower can be set and still achieve a uniform appearance (the main object of mowing). Too many well established lawns have been ruined by close mowing, which reduces plant vigor and encourages lawn fungus and disease. (This does not apply to bent grass lawns.) Incidentally, clippings can be left on the ground unless they smother the grass.
Water is essential. Water when the grass begins to suffer, but when you water and run your sprinkler system, soak the grass and soil thoroughly. Frequent light sprinkling often does more harm than good. No matter how dry the weather, watering once a week should be adequate for most lawns.
Loosening aids the lawn. A hollow tined fork used to separate the soil is helpful in softening up hard spots and allowing water to penetrate.
Weed and insect control is another story, but it follows that a healthy lawn (properly cared for) will be less susceptible to the common pest problems. As an example, in areas where crabgrass is a serious pest, the lawn keeper can do much toward retarding crabgrass growth by adequate fertilization and then by clipping the lawn high – at least 2-1/2 inches. Long clipping may prevent crabgrass growth entirely.
It appears that even on good soils a lawn requires work and care. But your own experience should prove that the best lawns are not a result of additional back-bending but rather a product of the most thoughtful application of good lawn practices.