How-To Tips to Help You Achieve a Happy, Healthy Lawn
From Sunday picnics and impromptu barbecues to games of catch, make your lawn center stage this spring. Everyone longs for a lush, green lawn, but many homeowners aren't sure how to achieve it. In fact, 81 percent of Americans do their own lawn care and 69 percent of those people say they feel their lawn could be better, with nearly a third of those homeowners admitting they aren't even sure how to grow a healthy lawn. Here are some tips to help.
1. Adjust the cutting height on your mower for the time of year and always use a sharp blade.
For the first cut of the year, use a 1-1/2 inch cutting height. This will remove dead grass and allow more sunlight to reach the crowns of the the grass. During the heat of summer, raise the cutting height to 2 inches or more. Then lower the blade back to 1-1/2 inch for the last cutting of the year.
Cut your grass using a sharp blade only. A dull blade will tear grass rather than cutting it cleanly. This can cause great damage to your lawn. Damaged grass turns yellow, requires more water and nutrients and is more susceptible to disease. Sharpening and balancing the blade three times a year is usually enough - unless you hit a lot of rocks and sticks while mowing.
2. Give your grass a good soaking - and water at the right time.
Deep watering helps develop deep roots. Light sprinklings wet only the grass and surface of soil; this will encourage shallow root growth and will cause you to have to water more frequently. When your lawn loses its bounce and resiliency or wilts exposing dull green bottoms of the blade, it needs water. The best time of day to water is early morning. Less water is lost to evaporation and your lawn has plenty of time to dry out before nightfall. Lawns that remain wet overnight are more susceptible to disease caused by moisture-loving mold and other fungi.
3. Mow only the top 1/3 of the grass blade - and don't rake up the clippings.
The top 1/3 of a grass blade is thin and "leafy", it decomposes rather quickly when cut and can contribute up to 1/3 of the nitrogen your lawn needs. While it's decomposing, this light layer of clippings also helps to slow water evaporation and even keeps weeds from germinating.
The bottom 2/3 of a blade of grass is tough and "stemmy". It is slow to decompose and contributes to thatch. When thick enough, thatch prevents sunlight, air, water and nutrients from reaching the soil. Cutting more than the top 1/3 of your grass will also shock grass roots and exposes stems, which tend to burn in direct sunlight.
What does all this mean? It means, if 2 inches is your target grass length, cut it when it reaches 3 inches. Since grass grows in different rates at different times of the year, an "every Saturday" isn't necessarily the best plan to follow. Sometimes you may need to mow more often; other times, less. Th ideal length for cooler-climate grasses is 3-4 inches.
Mow when grass is dry and avoid mowing in the heat of the day when you're more likely to stress the grass - and yourself!
4. Apply fertilizers and weed killers at appropriate times.
When applying fertilizers and weed killers, it's always important to take into account variables like geographic location, grass type, weed type and soil conditions. Here are a few basic guidelines:
- The best defense against weeds is a thick, healthy lawn that doesn't provide weed seeds adequate sunlight or open spaces to germinate.
- Attack weeds early in spring and summer before they have a chance to develop root systems, get to seeds or reproduce.
- Different weeds will need to be dealt with using different treatments and methods. Eradicate grassy weeds like crabgrass with pre-emergent weed killer, these destroy germinating plants just as they sprout. Broad-leaf weeds need to be attacked while they are young and actively growing; spraying the leaves of individual plants or patches of plants is most effective. Dandelion killers work by literally growing the plant to death.
- Fertilize in early spring to jump-start root development. Fall feedings will help to repair summer damage and spur root growth that will continue for several weeks, even after the top growth stops; this helps grass survive winter. Light feedings in between spring and fall also help to maintain healthy growth.
- Read the package of any treatment method you choose. Look for all natural solutions that have less of an environmental impact. While some treatments will only work in the presence of moisture; other treatments can be rendered useless by water. It is important to heed all safety warnings too.
5. Help your lawn "breathe" - aerate.
Grass roots need oxygen as well as water and nutrients. Aerating is the process of removing small plugs of soil throughout your lawn and produces multiple benefits. Aerating improves air-to-soil interaction, allows water and fertilizer to penetrate easier and deeper into the soil. It also reduces soil compaction and opens up space for roots to grow. It also helps to remove some of the thatch and stimulates the breakdown of the remaining thatch.
Like fertilizing, timing is critical when it comes to aerating. While you can aerate in the spring, fall is the best time to aerate. After the kids are through trampling the grass and there are fewer weed seeds to set up a home in the open spaces. It's best to aerate first, then apply any weed killer so the open holes are protected against weeds.
D.I.Y TIP: Homemade Dandelion Killer
Mix 1 tablespoon of liquid dish soap, 1/4 cup of lemon juice and 1 quart of vinegar. Pour mixture into a spray bottle. Spray enough to thoroughly coat all parts of the dandelion. If dandelion has not completely withered within 3 hours, spray the plant again.