A beautiful lawn is the envy of the neighborhood.
The problem is, where do you start? With differing regions and advice coming at you from all angles, there is no one-size-fits-all action list to help you get that lush lawn you’ve always dreamed of.
Or is there?
Turns out there is a roadmap to a healthier, greener lawn that any homeowner can get started on this coming weekend. The professionals do this, and so should you.
Here’s where you start:
1. Your Lawn is Begging you to get a Soil Test
Ever had a pizza with really good toppings, but the dough was just “meh”? That’s what it’s like when you throw premium grass seed on top of bad or nutrient deficient soil. You simply throw away good money and good seed (not to worry if you’re guilty of this crime…we’ll show you how to fix it later on in this post).
A soil test will give you the baseline information you need to make sure you are setting yourself up for success with any new lawn care plan.
So what are we looking for here?
Check this out:
While the chart above shows a number of elements a soil sample will measure, your primary concern for turf health focuses on 2 areas:
Soil PH – This measurement will tell you of any acidity or alkalinity issues. While everyone wants to achieve neutrality, which in pH terms is 7.0, a range of 6.5-6.9% is ideal for your lawn or garden. If your soil is heavily acidic, add a lime fertilizer. If it’s overly alkaline, a soil acidifier or organic amendments like compost or manure.
The 6 Essential Elements and their makeup in your soil (should add up to 100%)
- Potassium – Ideal range is 2-5%
- Magnesium – 10-15%
- Calcium – 60-80%
- Hydrogen – 10-15%
- Sodium – 0-3%
If you aren’t sure what to make of your soil test results or the suggested amendments, consult your local extension office or a turf care professional. They can help interpret your needs and map out a treatment plan.
2. Fix a Compacted Lawn with these Simple Steps
In essence, soil that is overly compacted (squashed down) negatively impacts the nutrients within it (air, water, organic matter, etc.) and limits their ability to properly function.
Why is this important?
If air and water cannot freely circulate within your lawn, it’s not available for uptake by your turf.
How can you tell if your soil is compacted?
- Good soil is “springy”. Compacted is not.
- Stick the tines of a garden fork into your soil. If it penetrates less than 2”, your soil is compacted.
- Weed growth outperforms Turf
- Lawn sees a heavy foot or vehicle traffic
How do you fix this lawn killer? Follow these steps:
- Thoroughly water your lawn to soften for treatment
- Core Aerate no more than 2 days later (might want to hire someone for this, but you can rent)
- Top-dress your lawn with a nice compost or soil enhancer
- Resume your regular watering and mowing schedule
Now breathe a big sigh of relief (I’m talking to your lawn here). With the loosened soil and newly added nutrients, turf growth is encouraged and essential microbial activity can resume. Fewer weeds and deep-rooting grass is soon to follow!
3. Use this Simple Formula to Repair Bare Spots in Your Lawn
Dogs, pests and those darn playing kids; All guilty of the crime of creating bare spots in your lawn. It happens to the best of us. You may have even tried repairing those spots in the past.
The best part?
The fix is actually pretty simple:
While spot repair is a much easier undertaking than redoing an entire lawn, keep in mind you’ll still need to dedicate some TLC to help ensure these tired areas come back to life. Just like in gardening, there is no “set it and forget it” formula.
Before you begin, make sure the bare spots are not the cause of some pest such as grubs. If grubs are the issue, treat with a 24-hour grub killer to fix your lawn promptly.
Here’s what to do to patch those bare spots:
- Prep the spot by removing any rocks, twigs, branches or other debris
- Loosen the surface soil with a sturdy rake, as this helps seeds take root
- Add some topsoil if the dirt is high in clay.
- Rake in a high phosphorous fertilizer (phosphorous helps root establishment)
- Spread seed at the rate of approx. 1 ½ lb per 1,000 sq feet (you can cover the area pretty thoroughly)
- Water 3-4 times a day in short spurts until seedlings are established. Do this for 2 weeks.
- Mow once your grass has grown 3-4” tall.
Now, while we’ve laid out a nice formula for you to grow some turf and see to it that those bald spots are nicely filled in, you’re likely still left wondering….
4. What kind of Grass Seed Do I Use?
There is a range of grass varieties, but really only 2 types; cool season grasses and warm season grasses. Each is suited best for a particular season or two in the calendar year. You’ll want to specify which type is right for you based on where you live.
Cool season grasses such as Kentucky Bluegrass, Perennial Rye and Fescues are ideal for areas with cold winters where temperatures drop below freezing and warm summers that do not have extended periods of high heat. Cornell University provides a great guide to choosing cool-season grasses.
Warm season grasses come from tropical climates and love the intense heat of summer found in the south. While warm season grasses brown during the fall and winter, they’ll give you a dense green lawn in the warmer weather. The major types of grass include Bermuda, Centipede, Saint Augustine, Kikuyu, and Zoysia.
Understanding the type of grass you have and its peak growing season will help you address lawn care tasks at the correct time. You’ll also want to ask yourself some questions to help determine what grass type is right for your lawn makeup and your maintenance interests.
- Where do you live? Is your area prone to droughts?
- Is the area you are planting Sunny? Shady? Partial Sun?
- Is the area high traffic?
- Will you apply seasonal fertilizers for optimal growth and root health?
- Can you stay on top of a regular mowing schedule?
Once you’ve properly assessed your geographic region, the specific conditions of your property and finally your own personal tolerance for lawn maintenance responsibility, you can get to choose a grass that’s right for your project.
About Seed Blends
More than likely you will come across a mixture or blend of grass seed varieties, and these are advantageous for a reason. The diversity of genetic makeup of a formulated blend improves the likelihood of adaptation and future growth. Because a lawn is not 100% uniform in terms of soil makeup, shade coverage or drainage characteristics, you’ll want a mix that presents varieties that thrive in any 1-2 of those environments.
For example, a mixture containing Kentucky bluegrass and red fescue species will complement each other nicely. The red fescue will succeed in shady and dry locations, while the bluegrass will thrive in the sunny and wet conditions.
Looking for a grass seed that will require as little water and overall maintenance as possible? Check out the varieties from Pearl’s Premium.
5. All About Lawn Fertilizers
Have you ever looked at a bag of fertilizer and wondered what the numbers on the front mean? Sure, you may understand that N-P-K stands for Nitrogen, Phosphorous, and Potassium, but what does that mean for your lawn? Why should you care?
A good reminder when considering what each letter stands for is “Up, Down, All Around”. Meaning:
- Nitrogen is good for helping your lawn grow “up”.
- Phosphorous is good for helping your turf grow healthy roots “Down”.
- Potassium helps your grass grow in size in general, “all around”.
Use Fertilizer When Establishing a Lawn from Seed
Here you will want a fertilizer high in Phosphorous* to help with root growth and establishment.
Look for numbers like 12-25-10. If your soil test (from step 1) reveals a yard that’s especially Phosphorous deficient, go with a fertilizer with a higher spike in the middle, like an 18-46-0.
How Frequently Should I Fertilize my Lawn?
Generally speaking, fertilizers should be applied when the turf is most actively growing. Knowing this, application times will vary for cool vs warm season grasses.
Cool-season species grow most actively during Spring and Fall, so recommendations suggest the following schedule:
- 1st application: March/April .5-.75 lbs of Nitrogen/1000 sqft.
- 2nd application: May/June 1 lb of nitrogen/1000 sq ft
- 3rd application: August/September 1 lb of nitrogen/1000 sq ft
- 4th Application: Late Fall 1 lb of nitrogen/1000 sq ft
For warm season species, the application date and range are generally the same as the above but consistently at 1.0 lb of Nitrogen per 1000 sq ft.
*note: consult your local extension office for maximum allowable phosphorous application rates. States like New Hampshire or Maryland stipulate a maximum of .9 lbs per 1,000 square feet due to environmental oversight.
6. How to Mow Your Lawn with Care
Grass can be really stressed by poor mowing practices! A newly cut lawn looks great and the all-familiar summer smell of shorn grass brings many of us back to our childhoods and those long summer days, but for your lawn, it truly is a stressor.
Mowing damages and ruptures the elements of your turf grass. Literally shearing off entire sections, the cutting of leaf tissue can cause major loss of water, the introduction of disease organisms into the open “wound”, and the disruption of photosynthesis due to a loss of carbohydrate production.
Having said that, there is no other plant like turf grass that can handle this kind of regular trauma. Being the caring homeowner you are, the natural question is “how can I make this as painless as possible”? So nice of you to ask!
Use the Rule of 1/3 when Mowing your Lawn
Your aim should be to cut off less than 1/3 of the grass blade. With an optimal length of 1.5-3” for cool-season grasses and 1-3” for warm season grasses, this means never allowing your lawn to get long enough where you must cut off more than 1/3 of its length to get it back down to optimal height.
(Quick math question: Your lawn is at 3 inches, but optimal height is 1.5”. How much do you mow? No more than 1” (1/3) at a time. This will bring it only to 2”, but that’s OK…wait until it’s at 2.5” and then mow back down to 1.5”.)
If you get lazy at the start of the mowing season while the grass is still active and it gets too long, mowing off more than 1/3 of the turf to get it down to its proper height will have a more negative impact than you think. Root growth will delay as the turf puts all resources into healing the tips leading to decreased or stagnant growth. Allowing this cycle to continue will make your lawn more open to weed, disease and thatch invasions.
Develop a Mowing Strategy
If you know your lawn is going to get away from you due to vacations, extensive rain or mower issues, it’s best to get your lawn back into shape with short, frequent mowing until it gets back to optimal height. If it takes 2-3 cuts in the same period you would have usually mown once, so be it. Your lawns long-term health will be worth the effort.
Mowing Tip: The worst time to mow is in the heat of the day when the sun is at its peak. The intensity only adds to the stress of the mowing, so with that in mind try to mow early in the day or in mid-to-late afternoon.
7. What’s with Water, Anyway?
When you are installing a lawn from seed, your yard will need some regular face time with you and your hose. So you will need a strategic plan for new installations. Too much water and you can wash away the seed, too little and you will kill the sprout. Your best objective? Keep the ground moist at all times.
This means watering 2-3 times a day for short spurts. As the days progress and you begin to see germination take place, you can slowly taper back.
As your turf begins to grow and the foliage, or grass blade, grows in coverage size you’ll need to water heavier to get the water past the tips and down to the soil so the roots can hydrate.
As with all plants, it’s important to remember that watering should be done earlier in the day so the foliage has a chance to dry off. Wet leaves, turf, and flowers are significantly open to disease vulnerability when allowed to stay damp overnight. It’s a risk you don’t want to take.