Keeping a lawn beautiful all season long does not need to be complicated – keep grass lawn care and maintenance simple with this quick and easy primer.
So much of caring for a lawn and plants in the landscape comes down to knowing what needs to be done and when to do it.
For a lawn that looks great and holds up year round master these lawn care basics.
Water is becoming a bigger issue around the country. Mother Nature doesn’t always do her part in keeping the lawn watered well. However, that’s what underground sprinkler systems are for.
It’s impossible for me to give you a perfect daily watering schedule on how frequently to irrigate your lawn.
The diversity of areas and soils hold moisture differently. Various grass types require different watering needs. On top of that, lawns require changes to irrigation schedules as seasons change.
In grass lawn care, determining when to water is much easier if you let the grass tell you. When grass starts to wilt it is time to water. When leaf blades begin to fold and footprints remain visible long after they have been made.
The quantity of water applied to a lawn is critical when determining if enough water is applied to wet the entire root zone. That plays a major factor in determining how deep a root system will grow. Giving the lawn a quick drink every day or so only surface waters the soil.
This does not allow the water penetrate deep enough to build strong deep roots. Infrequent irrigation for longer periods of time allows the water to reach a depth of 4 to 6 inches. This encourages deep root growth and healthy turf able to handle periods of drought.
Including rainfall, lawns need an inch or two of water per week to thrive. Using a rain gauge will help determine how much additional watering will be required.
How Much Water Should You Apply For Great Looking Turf?
As a guideline of how much water to apply and develop a lush lawn with a strong healthy deep root system apply 3/4″ to 1″ inch each irrigation application. Each irrigation system is unique. It is not possible to determine the amount of time required to put down 3/4″ – 1″ of water.
If you don’t have a rain gauge you can spread some cans around the zones, turn on the sprinklers and measure the depth of the water after 30 minutes. Calculate how much time is needed to put down 3/4″ of an inch of water in that zone. Make sure you do check and measure all of the watering zones.
Keep in mind that different sprinklers heads will put out different quantities of water. When lawns are watered too often it helps to promote sedge and dollarweed. Not watering the yard enough and grass will have brown or dead areas and weeds.
Watering the lawn early in the morning or early evening when there is less wind and heat. One disadvantage to evening watering is that wet grass is more susceptible to diseases during cooler nighttime temperatures.
Handling Dry Spots
The irrigation systems in most yards have areas with dry spots. With different sprinkler heads used in an overall irrigation design it’s important to check the coverage of your sprinkler system.
If brown areas exist in a lawn where an irrigation system is operating it is possible that the sprinklers are not applying enough water to fully putting water and wet the entire root zone.
For example, if one area of a zone gets 1/4″ of water and another part of the zone receives 3/4″ of irrigation (the proper amount required for healthy growth). The first area will dry out long before the second area needs to be watered again.
Watching to see if the sprinkler system is functioning with sprinkler heads throwing water is not enough to tell you if the grass is receiving adequate amounts of water. The only way to know for sure if enough water is being applied is measure the amount as described above.
If soil becomes very dry it can become hydrophobic. This is where the soil repels the water. When this condition happens the water cannot penetrate the soil and it remains dry.
Adding some mild liquid dish soap combined with water can help break the surface tension and allow the water to seep into the soil.
We’ve looked at how much to water and dealing with dry spots. But…
When is the Best Time to Water?
The best lawn care advice on the time for the irrigation system to water the yard is in the early morning. Watering early in the morning does not make the water stay on the turf longer than normal. When irrigating early the dew that normally forms on grass early in the morning washes off any airborne disease spores. As the suns rises the leaves or grass blades can dry quickly.
Also early in the morning the air is usually calm and evaporation is low. Irrigation timers make the task easy of turning on the sprinkler system early in the morning and moving to each zone in the system.
For homeowners with the convenience of an irrigation timer they will need to turn the sprinkler system on and finish watering before 9:00 am.
Fertilizing Grass – Nutrients for Healthy Turf and Lawns
Most yards would do fine if the grass only received one application of fertilizer per year. However, if you apply 2 to 4 fertilizer applications throughout the year the turf should experience lush growth.
A quick walk through the garden center and you’ll discover a wide selection of fertilizer brands and formulations. Plus you’ll find suggestions of when to apply lawn fertilizer.
Before applying any fertilizer to your yard make sure you’ve read the label and selected the right formulation best fertilizer for the grass. Also follow the label and do not over fertilize or the grass may show spots of fertilizer burn.
When feeding lawns always apply fertilizer during the growing season. Warm season grasses like Bermuda, St. Augustine and zoysia grass need applications in early spring or summer.
Cool season grasses which include fine fescue, Kentucky bluegrass and perennial ryegrass need fertilizer applications in early spring and late fall.
If your are going for only one fertilizer application per year then fertilize in the spring with warm season grasses and in the fall for cool season grasses.
When applying lawn fertilizer make your applications when the turf is dry. After fertilizing and for even distribution by pushing a broadcast or drop spreader around the yard, turn on the irrigation. The sprinklers will help move the fertilizer nutrients into the soil and down to the root system. Plus it keeps the fertilizer from sitting on the grass blades which care burn the lawn.
Mowing The Lawn
The sound of the weekends is the sound of lawn mowers breaking through the aroma of coffee brewing. Soon the roar of weed eaters and leaf blowers will be putting the finishing touches on the newly cut and manicured yard. Next week it all will happen again.
When grass is rapidly growing during the warm spring and summer months mowing the yard is an every week occurrence. How much of the grass blades should you cut when mowing? As a good grass cutting rule of thumb – don’t cut more than 1/3 of the grass blade at a time.
Determining The Proper Mower Height Setting
To produce healthy quality turf proper mowing is essential. Remember, grass is a plant. When part of the leaf blade is removed – the leaf surface is reduced.
The quantity of leaf surface combined with the sugar making process called photosynthesis helps determine how much food the root system will receive.
More leaf surface help produce a root system that is healthier. The more developed and extensive the root system in a yard, the better the roots more efficiently use the moisture in the soil.
A healthy lawn with a strong root system has less need to extra irrigation.
Mowing grass at the proper height increases the yards ability to combat weeds. Grass when mowed short is less dense and weakens the roots system. In contrast, a healthy, thick lawn helps prevent weeds from establishing themselves.
Mowing grass at the proper height in shady areas is very important due to the limited sunlight. The “turf management practice” of mowing grass too low and scalping areas with a weed eater is probably the ruin of more lawns then many of us care to believe.
Determining How Often To Mow The Lawn
The picture of a fresh cut thick carpet of grass can be a reality with regular, frequent cutting of the lawn at a constant height. When grass is cut root growth ceases temporarily. The grass has less leaf surface translating into less moisture needs for the grass.
When the grass is cut it under goes stress. The more leaf surface removed the more stress the grass experiences. As we stated earlier never cut more than 1/3 of the turf’s leaf surface at any one mowing.
Proper mowing goes beyond physically cutting the yard. It also includes cutting the yard with sharp balanced mower blades. When grass is cut with a sharp blade it cuts the grass tops cleanly instead or ripping the tops off. A clean cut “heals” much easier and the leaf loses less water.
One question many “home lawn care enthusiast” ask is if mulching grass clipping is beneficial or harmful.
The University of Florida reports that by allowing the grass clipping to drop onto the lawn instead of bagging the grass the yard does get some benefits.
In fact, the UF claims that about 3% nitrogen is contained in the dry weight of grass clippings. Put another way. One hundred pounds of dry grass clippings hold an equal amount of Nitrogen as a 50-pound bag of 6-6-6.
Allowing the cut grass to return to the soil puts valuable nutrients back into the soil. Not only Nitrogen but also other essential elements like Phosphorus, Potassium, Manganese and Iron. Grass clippings quickly decompose. Some “mowers” bag their clipping since they believe the clippings contribute to the build up of thatch.
Fact is, grass clippings contain sugars which stimulate microbes that help with the decomposing of thatch. So keeping grass clippings on the lawn can actually offer benefits.
Another benefit is environmental. There are estimates that we could save 10% of the space in our landfills if we did not bag the grass clippings when mowing our lawn. Plus there is also the time saving factor. Less time mowing – less time bagging.
Lawn Weeds – Controlling By Hand and Chemical
If your yard does not have many weeds the easiest way to control them is by pulling them by hand. The important part in hand weeding is to make sure the entire plant is removed. The plant, roots, runners and all.
For heavier weed infestations chemical applications may be required. A pre-emergence herbicide can help control weeds before they get a chance to sprout.
Once weeds are established pre-emergence herbicides with not work. Depending on your location apply pre-emergence herbicides in the spring of fall to stop weed seeds from sprouting.
For broadleaf weeds like clover and dandelions a post-emergence weed killer will be required. These can be applied as a spray or incorporated with a fertilizer as a weed-n-feed product.
Lawn Care & Weed Control
Weeds are defined as a plant growing where it should not be. Most weeds fit the profile of a native plant. Weeds usually grow well and thrive in their native environment and growing conditions of your yard.
The problem is… the conditions which allow weeds to thrive usually are conditions which are unfavorable for your turf grass. As the turf declines, weeds then have room to expand and put down a more established root systems.
Crabgrass and dollar weeds do well in wet conditions. Bahia and St. Augustine grasses don’t do well in wet conditions. This makes for a great combination of grass and weeds.
The grass becomes weak and the weeds are in a perfect environment to grow and take over then start their journey to begin choking out the weak turf.
The best defense and first step in weed control starts not with chemicals but by growing thick healthy yard of grass by following good solid cultural practices.
Four Cultural or Environmental Conditions For Turf Decline
- Excessive Moisture
- Inadequate Moisture
- Insufficient Sunlight
- Mowing Turf too Low
Excessive Moisture – With grass getting too much moisture, weeds as we stated earlier do well under wet conditions. These weeds include dollarweed, crabgrass, sedge and many others.
Inadequate Moisture – The flip side is grass not getting enough moisture to grow strong. Weeds that do well in
dry conditions include Brazil pusley, Alexandergrass and spurge.
Insufficient Sunlight – Grass need sunlight for healthy growth. Weeds that do well in low light conditions include jewgrass and other winter broadleaf weeds.
Mowing Turf too Low – The grass is cut too low becoming weak. Since there is less leaf surface to make sugars and the grass is thinned out by cutting the weeds again have a great place to get themselves established.
A quick look at the above 4 conditions and you can see the “fixes” for these environmental problems is not difficult to find.
A visit to the irrigation timer can increase or reduce the amount of water put on the lawn during each scheduled irrigation session.
Raising the mower blade to take off less leaf blades help with the low mowing issue and gives the grass an change to grow and fill out. It may even mean removing the grass and replacing the area with other plant material.
Trimming the trees will let sunlight penetrate the ground below. Improving drainage my go beyond adjusting irrigation timers and may require improving the drainage in the yard.
It is very important to look at the watering and mowing practices for your yard as both play a big part in lawn weed control.
Hiring lawn care services to provide professional care with fertilizer, pest and herbicide applications can greatly improve the health of your lawn.
These applications can help control insect populations, keep weeds from taking over and provide yards with proper nutrition.
Lawn fungus which can hit turf from time to time can be treated and the occasional bout of crabgrass can be brought under control.
Despite these professional services with all the equipment, personnel, chemicals and knowledge they bring to lawn care the homeowner must do their part.
What part does the homeowner play? Homeowners contribute their part by working to improve the environmental growing conditions.
There may be no way to control when Mother Nature wants to share water from the heavens on the yard, but homeowners can do their part in making sure the grass is not over or under-watered.
Lawn Aerating and Dethatching
When most of us think of great looking, healthy turf care our minds immediately dart off to a golf course. Even the healthy green grass on the course can benefit from a good aerating. If golf courses can use aerating there is no reason your lawn would not benefit also.
After a few years the soil under your lawn can become compacted, especially in heavy soils. Aerating the soil with help produce better root development.
Aerators punch small holes into the lawn allowing for moisture and air to penetrate the soil. Core aerators which can be rented at many garden centers removes plugs of soil.
The plugs decompose while sitting on top of the lawn. Of course on gold courses they remove the plugs as golfers are not fond of the problems they cause to their golf score!
Before aerating your lawn make sure it has been well watered. Fertilizer is best applied when the grass is actively growing. Aerating is also best done when the grasses root system is actively growing also.
Over time organic matter can build up between the soil and grass called lawn thatch.
Dethatching removes this organic matter, grass stems and layers of roots. Anything more than a 1/2 of thatch can prevent water and nutrients from getting down to the turf’s root system.
A dethatcher is like a “power rake” with sharp tines pulling out all debris and excellent in proper lawn care.