Everyone has one of “those” neighbors … you know, the ones whose gorgeous, lush emerald green lawn looks as if it popped right out of the pages of Better Homes and Gardens. Obviously they pay big bucks to achieve that level of lawn care, right? Great news – not necessarily! With some savvy and the right resources, you can also develop a lawn that is the envy of your entire neighborhood. It takes a little time, but you CAN do it!
The important point to note is that nurturing your lawn into a thing of beauty is not just a summer activity. Throughout the year, you will need to take certain steps to achieve this. Let’s begin with the spring.
SPRING LAWN CARE
Test-Thatch-Treat is the triple play for spring. First, to figure out where you’re starting, begin with a soil test. You can pick up a soil tester at your local extension service or nearby nursery. Some nurseries even offer this for free. The results of this test will tell you the alkalinity or acidity (pH) of your soil. The best soil pH for healthy grass is around 6-7. If the pH of your soil is not correct, your nursery or garden center can help you in determining the proper treatment to apply. Generally, dolomite lime will raise the pH and make the soil more alkaline. Sulfur will lower the pH to make the soil more acidic.
After you’ve determined the pH and before you apply any treatment, do a bit of dethatching. Unless you bag your grass or use a mulching mower, over time, dead grass builds up and packs into the turf. If the thatch remains, it will create a barrier which prevents air, water and nutrients from reaching the soil. Use a metal-tined rake to pull these dried grass clippings out and aerate the lawn. After dethatching, you might also want to run a plug aerator over the area. This will pull out small plugs of dirt and allow the soil to breathe.
The final spring activity is to treat. If your pH is in the normal 6-7 range, the best thing you can do is to put down a pre-emergent weed herbicide and a few weeks later, a slow-release nitrogen-based fertilizer. If you must modify the soil pH, do that several weeks before you do the pre-emergent herbicide.
A final spring note: if you have bare spots, this is also a great time to spread some grass seed; the seed will germinate and take root before the searing hot weather of summer.
SUMMER LAWN CARE
Summer is mostly a lawn care maintenance time. If you gave your grass a healthy start in the spring, it should be looking rather robust by the summertime. One part of summer maintenance is applying a weed and feed product. Slow-release fertilizers work best in the summer; they do not burn the lawn as readily. Always apply summer weed and feed before rain, or water after application. This will also help to prevent burning. The weed element during the summer fertilizing actually kills existing weeds, but it will also make your lawn more vulnerable if there is a dry spell.
Did you know that lawns can get stressed? It’s true. The summer heat, especially in southern US states, is brutal to your lawn’s health. Part of our summer regimen will include alleviating that stress with watering. A normal lawn requires around an inch of water weekly to stay healthy. If rainfall is minimal, you will need to supplement this water requirement with sprinkling. A gentle watering over a prolonged period is better than a short, fast watering session. The hydration needs to reach the roots. In the summer, water thoroughly every 5 to 6 days, unless it’s extremely hot and dry.
Another aspect of nurturing a healthy lawn is to mow correctly. Always do your trimming BEFORE you mow. That way, the trimmed pieces will get cut more finely when you mow and be less likely to produce thatch. Also, many homeowners cut their lawns too short. Keep your grass at about 2 ½” high. This height will discourage weed germination and will protect the lawn from drying too much. While it’s tempting to lower the blade to reduce your mowing frequency and save time, resist that urge and allow your grass to thrive.
The final summer task for a lovely lawn is to treat for pests. Rather than using a fertilizer that has built-in bug control, buy a separate bug control product that is catered to the type of critters your lawn has, such as grubs.
For summer, if you see brown spots appear, you may need to spot treat. Pet waste can cause such spots, but so can grubs or fungus. The best approach is for you to snap a photo on your phone and take the photo to your extension office for them to diagnose it. Never take a sample in unless they request it, as you do not want to spread any contamination.
FALL LAWN CARE
The fall season of lawn care begins with a good raking to collect leaves and branches. If you are ambitious, instead of bagging the leaves or putting them out for collection, try creating a compost pile. Leaves which have composted add nutrient-rich elements back into your landscape beds and plantings. Next, in early fall, apply a fall fertilizer, which is high in potassium rather than nitrogen.
It’s time for another aeration in the fall. This creates holes for the top-dressing. Top-dressing is a mixture of sand, compost and loam, which you brush into the aerated lawn holes. Do not leave any top-dressing on the grass, as it will smother the lawn and will not allow sunlight to penetrate.
The final fall task is re-seeding any bare spots. Since the ground is still warm, the seed will germinate and root without the stress of summer heat.
WINTER LAWN CARE
There’s no a lot to do in the winter. But take note of two things. First, be sure to winterize any gas-powered equipment with a gas stabilizer. Second, mark your walks and driveways so that when you do snow removal you will not damage your lovely lawn.
If you follow these lawn care tips, your grass will look progressively better with each passing year. Then YOU will be the envy of all your neighbors!