If you’re growing a lawn, how do you take care of it? By lawn, we mean a green grass lawn (as there are alternatives). As with many plants, the secret is providing enough nutrients and practicing weed control—plus, mowing the grass properly. The more you let nature do the work for you, the easier it will be to care for 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 (like this one from Echo). Soils rich in decomposed organic materials will do a better job of holding moisture.
- In the spring, also 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.
Fertilizing Your Lawn
- As well as building your soil with compost, regularly apply a slow-release nitrogen fertilizer with a lawn spreader.
- The best time to fertilize substantially is actually in the late fall before the ground freezes. A slow-release fertilizer allows the grass to store carbohydrates to provide energy for root and shoot growth the following spring. It also helps prevent disease and injury over the winter.
- Many studies show that spring feedings, as championed by fertilizer manufacturers, aren’t really that helpful if you’ve fertilized in the fall. If you’re going to fertilize in spring, wait until late spring to restore the carbohydrate reserves in the roots which may be running low. Apply lightly.
- Late summer is a good time to apply a second application. Make sure it is light! It’s just there to get your grasses to fall when you will give them a substantial feeding.
- In areas of your lawn where tree roots compete with the grass, apply some extra fertilizer to benefit both.
Overseeding Your Lawn
- If you have bare patches, it’s best to overseed in late fall. 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.
Watering Your Lawn
- 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.
- With weeds, you truly want to be preventative rather than waiting until they appear in your lawn. Stop weeds from gaining a root hold in your lawn before they even germinate by applying a pre-emergent herbicide in the late fall with a lawn spreader. This method prevents weed seeds (especially crabgrass) from even germinating. Speak to your local nursery about herbicides approved for your local area.
- If the weeds are just unbearable in the spring, you can apply a post-emergent lawn weed preventer that covers both grassy weeds (e.g., crabgrass) and broadleaf weeds (e.g., dandelions).
- Still, we prefer that you learn to live with a not-so-perfectly-perfect lawn. 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!).
- Adding mulch helps with weed control.
- Don’t overmow your lawn. By “moving high,” (2-½ to 3 inches), you let the grass protect its own turf better and weeds won’t see the light needed to germinate.
Mowing Your Lawn
- 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.
- If you have flower beds or areas that the mower can’t reach, use a grass trimmer but be very careful. Don’t use trimmer to cut grass against tree trunks. It could slice into the bark, which could potentially kill the tree. Also, it’s very easy to trim off your own flowers!