It is that time of year to start working on your lawn to get it in tip top shape for the warmer season. The race is on for the best lawn in the neighbourhood. To get a head start, your lawn maintenance program needs to begin in early spring. With a little knowledge and elbow grease, your lawn will be the envy of all your neighbours.
A lush green lawn is the result of hard work, patience, and planning. No one ever created an award winning lawn without putting in some work. If you are ready to make your lawn the envy of the neighbourhood, then there are some things you must know first. In order to have the best lawn on the block you are going to have to take the following steps:
- Test Your Soil
- Aerate Your Lawn
- Choose the Correct Grass Seed
- Select the Right Fertiliser
- Add Just Enough Water
- Mow Your Lawn Like a Pro
- Keep an Eye Out for Weeds and pests
Test Your Soil
Whether you are just moving into a new place or you have been living in your home for years, the soil in your lawn needs to be tested to check for proper pH balance. When you have proper pH, your fertiliser works better, lasts longer, and you get healthier grass. The pH scale goes from 0-14 with 7 being neutral. Lawns require approx. 6.5 to 7.0.
So who do you trust to do this testing? It is best to have your testing done by a lawn care service, cooperative extension or private lab. Soil testing kits have been found to be inaccurate when tests were taken to gauge their effectiveness.
In the Northeast and Midwest, soil is known to be acidic. Soil with a high level of acid can be corrected with lime. Use a pelletized version that will last longer and is easier to handle. Soil west of Mississippi and Florida has high levels of alkaline; therefore, use sulfur or equivalent to get the proper pH balance. Soil tests also can help you decide the mix of fertiliser that you will need when it comes time to add nutrients to the soil.
Aerate Your Lawn
Aerating is simply placing small holes in the soil that allow air, water, and nutrients to reach the lawn. There are two reasons why nutrients cannot reach the roots of the grass they are, soil compaction and thatch.
Soil compaction comes from weight on top of the surface from kids playing in the lawn or regular foot traffic. The compression of the soil makes it hard for the roots to get oxygen and nutrients. Clay based and heavy soils make lawns more prone to be hard. To test to see if your soil is compacted, walk on your soil and see how it feels under foot.
If there is no spring to the soil and instead it feels like concrete, it is a symptom of compact soil. Test your soil after a good rain soak to see if it is indeed compacted. Another way to test is by digging into the lawn and physically working the soil. If you cannot get your shovel into the surface, it needs aeration.
Thatch is the natural buildup of plant material on the surface of the lawn. Excess thatch blocks the water and nutrients from getting to the roots of the lawn. Take a shovel and dig up a sample of a suspected compacted area and dig down 4-5 inches to include grass. Take a look to see how far the root system goes into the soil.
Healthy root growth is between 3-6 inches. When you break the soil from the sample it should crumble in your hand. If your soil is not doing this, you need to aerate. There should be no more than ½ inch of dead thatch on your lawn. If you have more, take a rake, and go through the lawn to rake out the excess.
A word of caution, do not rake up all the thatch, however leave some in there as it provides nutrients to the lawn. Aerate the lawn every 2-3 years. This should keep your lawn healthy and free of buildup.
There are two kinds of aerators, one pokes holes and the other pulls out plugs. The plug puller is called a plug core cultivator. You are better off renting an aerator because they can run on the expensive side for something you will not use very often. Plug pullers are just like any other lawn equipment, they must be treated as a piece of heavy equipment and goggles and protective eyewear must be used.
After using an aerator, your lawn will not look its best. You will in fact have dirt plugs all over the lawn. If these plugs bother you, rake them up and add them to your compost pile. You can also leave them where they are to allow nature to take its course.
You should aerate once a year however can go as long as every 3 years and should always aerate during the growing season. Warm season grasses should be aerated in the spring while cool season grass should be aerated in the late spring or early fall.
Aeration is like giving your lawn a breath of fresh air. You also want to make sure you take the time to resuscitate your lawn during the year.
Choose the Correct Grass Seed
Did you know that where you live determines what kind of grass is best in your lawn? There are many kinds of grass however most fall into two categories; cool season grasses and warm season grasses.
Cool Season Grasses:
Kentucky Bluegrass is the most commonly found cool season grass in the southern region. Kentucky Bluegrass creates a beautiful lawn with very nice coverage. It has been around a long time and has been blended into different mixes and varieties available on store shelves. Kentucky Bluegrass has moderate growth which makes it perfect for filling in holes and spots in the lawn.
It spreads on its own and takes over the lawn. When the weather gets really hot and dry in the summer or cold during the winter, it goes dormant. This type of grass does not like the shade. It also does not grow well really hot climates. When blue grass is blended with perennial ryegrass, it creates a wear resistant lawn that stands up to heavy traffic and seasonal conditions.
Shade has always been an issue with Kentucky Bluegrass, so a blend of creeping Red Fescue will give the lawn the ability to thrive in the shade. Seed blends seem to create a better grass yield by allowing the winning grass seed to take over and continue thriving. The roots of the Kentucky Bluegrass do not run deep, so it tends to go dormant during drought season. If you water it well, it will come back to life and green up.
Creeping Red Fescue: Used in the Northern and transition areas. Red Fescue is a cool season grass used in mountainous shaded areas such as camps, cabin sites, and resorts. This is a lower maintenance type of grass does not require much water, fertiliser or cutting. This grass is often added to Bluegrass mixes where shaded areas of the lawn are being seeded. The Red Fescue is usually the prevailing seed that thrives in the shaded areas of a lawn.
Chewings Fescue: Chewings Fescue is a fast growing grass that grows in bunches. It is often used to over seed shaded lawns in a ryegrass mix. It produces a lawn that thrives in shade and is beautiful to the eye. This grass grows best in Canada, the Pacific Northwest and the Northeast region of the United States. Characteristic weather in these regions are cool summers and cold winters.
Hard Fescue: Hard Fescue is much like Chewings Fescue in that it also a bunching grass. It is called the hardiest of the Fescue grasses because it can resist disease better and can withstand drought. It can be found growing in more northern states and can grow at high elevations. It is a low maintenance grass that stays green longer and makes it a favourite grass in the Fescue line. It is not recommended to cut this grass very short when you mow.
Tall Fescue: Tall Fescue is a perennial bunching grass that grows very fast during the spring and fall months. Because this Fescue grass grows in bunches, it is advisable to use a weed controller when using Tall Fescue.
Ryegrass (Perennial and Annual)
This is the cheapest grass you can buy. Ryegrass does not grow well in cold climates. It grows quickly and can be used as a temporary cover on your lawn until slower growing grasses take root. Ryegrass comes in annual and perennial blends. Ryegrass grows naturally in the southern United States and can be found throughout the region.
In transitions zone climates, perennial ryegrass is blended with Bluegrass for a durable lawn for sporting fields. This mix of ryegrass and Bluegrass allows the Bluegrass to continue with its slow growth pattern and establishment of a root system, while the ryegrass creates a quick growing lawn that can be great to look at however not quite ready for heavy foot traffic.
Cool season grasses do better in cool northern climates where they can thrive in spring and fall and can survive the frigid temperatures of winter. These grasses also have adjusted well to high heat summer and can stave off droughts. During the high heat temperatures these grasses will just turn brown however will come back season after season. As you can see these grasses are quite resilient.
Cool season grasses can be found in any local home store, hardware store, or large mega store. They are sold as a mix such as Kentucky bluegrass and Fescue.
When planting a variety of grass, you have several kinds of grass growing at once so if any kind of disease hits one kind or if the weather changes and does not permit maximum growth, the others can take over and continue growing.
Kentucky Bluegrass, Fine Fescue, perennial ryegrass, and tall Fescue are some of the common types of cool season grasses that will be found in variety mixtures in your store and hold up well in the cool season climate. Some problems that can occur that will stunt grass growth are foot traffic, disease, drought and areas without enough sunlight.
Warm Season Grasses:
The first thing that comes to mind when I think of warm season grasses is Florida and the beach. Grasses in high temperature climates need special attributes and must be able to survive in these hostile climates. These grasses have adapted well to this region and are resilient.
The following is a list of warm season grasses:
This is the most commonly used warm season grass. It grows a thick turf that is lush and green. It is the lawn most often associated with golf courses and homes with near perfect lawns. It grows naturally in many lawns in southern regions. Bermuda grass has one flaw, it does not grow well in the shade; therefore, it is not a one-size-fits-all grass for homeowners.
This grass has its birthplace in Asia. It creates a lush turf and can be started from plugs, seed or sod. Seed is costly and slow to establish, however if you are the patient kind, it produces a great product. It has become a popular grass in the transitions zone (areas between cool and warm season grass climates).
St. Augustine Grass
This grass can be found in the Gulf Coast states, Texas and southern Florida. It is very similar to Bermuda grass however does not do well in cold weather. You can start a lawn with this grass using sod or plugs to produce a beautiful lawn cover.
This is the lesser used grass in the warm season list, however its popularity is rising. This grass can be found in Florida, the Gulf Coast, and Texas regions
This grass has a characteristic blue-green hue. It is found in dry areas of the prairie in the United States. It flourishes in dry weather with low moisture.
These grasses grow best in the southern regions in hot weather. They turn brown and go dormant when temperatures reach low numbers.
Zoysiagrass is the hardiest of the warm season grasses. It grows at its best in the upper southern regions and can be grown up to zone 7. Zoysiagrass does not do well during cold weather and turns brown. It also takes time to turn green during the spring time and takes time before your lawn will be the picture of health.
Bermuda grass is great for very warm climates like the West Coast and Gulf Coast regions. It stays green longer than the warm season grasses and stands up to heat and wear. The only drawback to this kind of grass is it needs lots of watering.
Select the Right Fertiliser
Fertilizing is an important step in taking care of your lawn; however, when choosing the correct fertiliser, it may not be clear which type of fertiliser you need. You need this fertiliser to build a dense grass system and this in turn inhibits the growth of weeds. These are great reasons to fertilise your lawn.
Read the fertiliser’s label to make sure you are purchasing the correct blend of fertiliser for the type of lawn you have. You can use chemical or organic fertilisers for your lawn. Do you know how to use the fertiliser numbering system? Each bag of fertiliser has a set of numbers on the bottom. The first number is in reference to nitrogen which makes the lawn green and makes the leaves grow.
The middle number is phosphorus which is crucial for root development. The last number is potassium. Potassium helps the grass to stave of disease and drought. To remember the numbers think leaves, roots, and outer environment. Another familiar term for the number on the bag is the NPK number (nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium).
Now that you know how to read the bag let’s discuss kinds of fertilisers you will find in your local hardware store. General fertilisers usually have the numbers 10-10-10 on the packaging. A starter fertiliser will have numbers like 20-27-5. Fertilisers are just not for lawns, you can find fertilisers for shrubs, trees, flowers and garden produce.
Look at the packaging and match it up with whatever project you are taking on in your lawn. It’s as easy as 1, 2, 3. If you have questions about your fertiliser, always ask a store associate who should be well versed in fertiliser brands, product information, and how to use your fertiliser.
When is the best time to apply your fertiliser? Well, this varies depending on where you live, however most gardening and lawn experts recommend feeding late spring and early in the summer and again in early and late fall, however do your research first to make sure these recommendations match up with your climate zone.
When applying fertiliser, you never want to apply it by hand. You must always wear gloves and use some kind of spreader to avoid burning your lawn with concentrated amounts of fertiliser which can result from hand applications. .
Spreaders come in three categories: Hand crank models, drop spreaders, and broadcast spreaders. The handheld models are great for gardening beds in small areas such as rose beds and perennial plant beds. The drop spreader covers larger areas like small lawns. The broadcast spreader can spread a lot of fertiliser at once and can be used for large lawns.
Once you have applied the fertiliser clean your sidewalk and driveway to prevent staining of the cement and contaminating your water runoff in the lawn. Contaminated runoff effects local environments and water sources. Protect your neighbourhoods by using a little care when using fertilisers.
Add Just Enough Water
Using the right amount of water on your lawn is very important. There needs to be a balance between just enough moisture for a perfect growing environment and days of sunlight to get your lawn seed growing and to keep the roots of your lawn nourished and not oversaturated.
The best way to keep your lawn looking green is to water every 5 to 7 days. There are places in United States where lawns are watered on a schedule due to water rationing, therefore some people are already practicing this kind of schedule without knowing its benefits. A 2-day water plan can work if you water less the first day and more on the second day.
The water must get past the roots so the plant can partake from the water within the soil. Water that does not reach beyond the root system will not be absorbed by the plant and will be lost to evaporation. As a rule of thumb, the best time to water the grass is just when it starts to look dry because the soil will be able to absorb the water like a sponge due to its low moisture concentration.
Using the right type of watering equipment is also important. Hose-end sprinklers with the 3-arm square model deliver water in large drops. These drops in turn penetrate deeper into the soil and are not lost to evaporation.
In contrast, the traditional sprinkler system that sprays in a rainbow fashion loses a lot of water to evaporation due to the finer drops and mist it produces from the nozzle.
Pulsating sprinklers like the ones found on golf courses and solid brass twist nozzles used for hand watering also are good for maximum soil penetration.
Having the correct equipment will keep your lawn looking green as well as save loads on your water bill in the summer.
Mow Your Lawn Like a Pro
Have you ever looked at a person’s lawn and knew that the owner was the person who did the mowing. The reason you knew that was because of the unprofessional presentation of the lawn. This section of this article will teach you how to mow your lawn like a professional and have people thinking you’re paying a service for lawn care.
Here’s your checklist:
- Clear your lawn of stray toys, branches, twigs, and paper.
- Wear goggles and ear plugs.
- Closed-toe shoes on the feet.
- Edger and trimmer.
- Lawn mower with sharp mowing blades.
Cut the edges of the lawn with an edger before mowing. Depending on the kind of grass you have in your lawn, adjust the height of your lawnmower to the correct height.
Make sure the grass is dry and 3-4 inches for proper mowing. Mow before 6 p.m. because this is the point that dew settles on the lawn. Dew is that moist condensation you find on the lawn every morning. Mowing a wet lawn can cause shredding of the grass blades instead of a clean cut as well as clumping and clogging of the lawnmower. Cut the lawn in an up and down fashion.
Overlap the rows as you cut to give that professional appearance. Slopes are to be mowed from side to side for safety. You want to make sure that you never slip and fall with the running mower and that it never tips over.
After you are finished, leave the grass clippings on the lawn to return nutrients to the soil. With each mowing, always mow in a different direction. This method should give you professional results every time.
Keep an Eye Out for Weeds and pests
Weeds and pests can show up in your lawn in the summer. It’s the best time for them to thrive. Let’s learn about ways we can prevent the spread of weeds and pests in our lawns. There are broadleaf weeds, chickweed, crabgrass, and all kinds of other weeds.
Types of treatments that can be used are pesticides, herbicides, rodenticides, and fungicides. Sprays can be used on weeds and there are different types which can be used on the lawn. These sprays are a last resort and not a first-line choice for weed management. Roundup kills all green plants, it is strong so use it sparingly and not on a windy day where the mist can carry to other spots in the lawn. If you spray a spot on the lawn, it will need to be replaced because the chemical kills everything in the spot. Kill-X is a broadleaf weed killer; it does not kill grass however kills dandelions.
A way to control weeds in your lawn is to get your lawn in tip top shape. Water the lawn once every week and give it a nice soaking. If you don’t know how much enough, use a cat food tin, a full tin indicates your lawn has been adequately watered. A lot of people just turn on the water and let it run for hours. This is wasting water and over soaking the lawn. Keep the lawn fertilised for optimum health and cut the lawn so the grass is tall enough to block out sunlight to low-laying weeds. Dandelions cannot grow in a lawn that is healthy and well maintained because the grass itself will choke it out.
Natural ways to drive weeds and pests from your lawn are plentiful; these include hand weeding, tool weeding, rotation of crops and adding flowering nectar-bearing plants to bring beneficial pests into the lawn. These specific types of preventions are called cultural controls because individuals play a part in the eradication of the infestation.
Mechanical controls are physical barriers that you can place in your lawn to stop weed growth or other external infestations. For example, products like fencing, netting, and electronic fences stop pests from coming into the lawn and spreading disease to the lawn and garden. Organic measures to treat the lawn would be extracted oils from fruits and spices that can be placed on the lawn to drive out infestations and fungus growth.
In closing, remember you need to test your soil, aerate every 2-3 years, select the right grass for your area, fertilise, water, mow like a pro, and keep your eyes out for weeds and pests.
There you have it, everything you need to grow a lawn that will make you and your neighbours smile. Be a role model in your neighbourhood and keep your lawn looking green and presentable. You will be surprised how many people you will inspire to get in their lawns and make an effort to cultivate a lawn you can be proud of.