The more you let nature do the work for you, the easier it will be to care for your lawn. Here are techniques to help you improve your relationship with your lawn.
Feeding Your Lawn
Always pay attention to the soil! Your lawn needs nourishment.
- Every spring, apply a one-to-two-thick layer of compost to top of your lawn with a spreader. Soils rich in decomposed organic materials will do a better job of holding moisture.
- In the spring, remove the thatch or dead grass with a rake to help moisture and oxygen reach down to the roots.
- Aerate (poke holes in) the lawn to loosen up compacted soil and allow oxygen, water, and nutrients to flow. You can use aeration shoes, golf shoes, a pitchfork, or a power aeration tool available at rental shops.
- As well as building your soil with compost, regularly apply a slow-release nitrogen fertilizer with a lawn spreader. The best time to apply fertilizer is just before it rains.
- In areas of your lawn where tree roots compete with the grass, apply some extra fertilizer to benefit both.
- If you're seeding or reseeding in bare patches, use a mix of seed that includes slow-growing or low-growing grasses. Fine-leaf fescues have low water and fertility requirements and grow well in places with a mild summer climate. Combine the fescues with a low-maintenance Kentucky bluegrass like 'Park', 'Kenblue', or 'South Dakota Common'. Contact your local cooperative extension to see which type of lawn grows best in your area.
- Water your lawn early in the morning or in the evening.
- Water long enough to allow the water to soak in below the root zone. Shallow watering encourages shallow root growth and weeds. It will take about an inch of water to penetrate 6 to 8 inches into the soil. Set out shallow cans in the sprinkler area to measure.
- Don't overwater. Make the lawn seek its own source of water, building longer, sturdier roots. Cut back on water especially in midsummer to let the lawn go dormant, strengthening it for fall and winter.
- Excess water leaches away nutrients and encourages insects. Deep waterings are better for the lawn than light waterings.
- During a drought, let the grass grow longer between mowings, and reduce fertilizer.
- Prevent weeds with regular mowing and hand-removing tenacious weeds. Relax your stance on weeds, however, and be comfortable with letting some weeds grow in that expanse of green.
- A slightly wild lawn lets volunteer grasses, wildflowers, herbs, and even wild strawberries grow, adding color and variety to your landscape.
- Clover grows low to the ground and smells lovely after it's been cut, and it often stays green after the rest of lawn has turned brown; dandelion greens taste great in a salad (if you're not applying chemical fertilizers!).
- Moss and sorrel in lawns usually means poor soil, poor aeration or drainage, or excessive acidity.
- To keep a healthy lawn, never cut more than one-third off the total grass height. Mow the lawn when the grass is dry and keep the blades sharp to reduce tearing the grass blades (which invites disease).
- Leave clippings on the lawn to filter down to the soil, decompose, and recycle nutrients back to the roots. The shorter the clippings, the more quickly they will decompose into the soil. Look into the "mulching mowers" that recycle clippings back onto the lawn.