Lawns can be a challenge to maintain. They require regular care and routine tasks to keep them healthy and vibrant.
Grass uses up all the nutrients in the soil, so it’s important to fertilize regularly. It’s also helpful to do a soil test every year to see what kind of soil you have – loamy is best, with a combination of sand, silt and clay.
Mowing seems like a no-brainer, but it’s important to know how (and when) to do it for optimal results. Grass that’s cut too short or infrequently becomes vulnerable to weeds and stress, while over-mowing can weaken the turf’s root system, making it more susceptible to drought and other environmental problems.
Fall is the best time to up your lawn care game, before the cold weather hits and you need to tuck it in for winter. Start with the basics, including aerating, amending, and mowing—then check off more advanced tasks as the season progresses. You can also use this time to sharpen mower blades, wipe down equipment, and tune up your sprinkler system.
Raise the cutting height of your mower to its recommended setting for your grass type. This will help protect the grass from disease and promote a thicker, more vibrant lawn that’s less prone to brown spots in summer heat. And be sure to avoid scalping—cutting too close—which leads to bare patches and encourages weeds and moss.
Finally, keep an eye out for debris that accumulates on your lawn throughout the winter. Sweep up any fallen leaves and remove items that sit on the grass, like toys or furniture, because their weight can suffocate or kill the grass underneath. It’s also a good idea to spread a weed preventative, such as Oxafert, in early spring or fall to reduce the amount of weeds that pop up throughout the year. Using these preventatives can save you from spending hours and money eradicating weeds as the seasons change. And remember, avoiding salt in the winter will help protect your turf and minimize damage from road salt or snow plows.
For a healthy lawn to thrive, it needs the right nutrients in the soil. Fertilizers are natural or artificial substances that supply the essential plant elements needed for growth and to replace chemicals that were taken out of the soil by previous crops.
Your lawn should be fertilized twice a year — in the spring and midsummer. A good fertilizer should contain nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. A lab soil test will tell you what ratio of these three elements is best for your lawn and what type of fertilizer to use.
A slow-release nitrogen fertilizer is the ideal choice. It gives your lawn a long-lasting feeding and helps shield the grass against drought and heat. You can choose between granular or liquid fertilizer. Liquid is more easily absorbed by the plants, but it can be harder to apply homogenously. Choose a cyclone or drop-type spreader to get the best results.
Depending on your climate, overseeding may be necessary. If so, apply a starter fertilizer such as Scotts Turf Builder Bonus S Southern Weed & Feed, which kills weeds like dollarweed and clover while helping the grass to grow thick to crowd out future weeds. Then, follow the fertilization instructions on the label.
When applying a starter fertilizer, water thoroughly — but don’t overwater. Too much water can wash the seeds away or promote thatch. Water in the early morning to avoid evaporation and encourage deep root growth. Then, as the grass grows, you can move on to your regular fertilization routine. The bare minimum most experts recommend is to fertilize your lawn twice per year.
When it comes to lawn care, regular mowing and nutrient-rich fertilizer may get the most attention but watering is also very important. Proper watering can prevent weed growth, keep grass thick and green, and allow it to recover from drought. It’s best to water deeply once or twice a week, making sure the top 6 inches of soil is wet. You can test this by sticking a screwdriver into the soil, or simply run your sprinklers until you see water pooling in the bottom of the spray zone.
Watering in the morning is ideal because it’s cooler and allows the grass to absorb the moisture before it evaporates. Avoid watering in the afternoon and evening, as these times can cause the grass to stress and reduces its ability to absorb water.
It’s also important to know how long you should water each time. Too little and you risk encouraging shallow roots, while too much can be equally bad. Using an inexpensive rain gauge and marking the time it takes for one inch of watering can help you figure out how long to set your sprinklers each morning.
Another tip for reducing water waste is to avoid watering grass near sidewalks, driveways and roads, as it will quickly soak up the extra water. It’s better to have a drier lawn with deeper roots than a wet and unhealthy one that’s prone to weeds and disease.
A healthy, lush lawn can be a great way to make your home look inviting, but proper maintenance is essential. Mowing the lawn regularly, nipping out weeds when they sprout, scattering grass seed in bare areas and aerating trampled turf in autumn will all help to encourage rich growth and keep your garden looking its best.
A healthy lawn crowds out weeds. Vigorous grass competes for space, nutrients, and water with the weeds, which are typically much smaller than the healthy turf. But if a weed invasion gets out of hand, it can choke out the healthy plants and even the grass itself. Weeds also detract from curb appeal, so a battle against them is an important part of good lawn care.
Weeds are easiest to remove when they’re young, before they go to seed. Then, they have a much harder time sprouting again next year. It’s a good idea to make weeding a regular chore so you can get them early, and it’s especially easy to do after a rain or a fresh watering. The soil is soft then, so it’s easier to dig them up without breaking the roots.
When you can’t beat the weeds by hand, use a pre-emergent or post-emergent herbicide. Both help block weeds from growing before they start spreading, and then they kill them on contact. It’s essential to read the product label carefully and choose the right treatment for your specific situation. If you’re using a chemical, make sure it’s safe for the type of grass in your yard.
If you prefer a natural option, cover the problem area with a layer of compost or manure. This adds organic matter to the soil and makes it harder for weed seeds to find a home. But if you do use a chemical, always follow the label instructions and don’t apply more than recommended. This is especially important during the hotter months, when a little bit of poison can lead to burns and other problems.
When it comes to the health of your lawn, aerating is like medicine. Aerating breaks up the layer of sediment or soil thatching that builds up over time and blocks the grass roots from absorbing water, air and nutrients. This condition is known as compacted soil. Aeration also encourages root growth into the ground beneath your grass, which reduces water and nutrient usage.
Aerating is the process of scooping or “coring” holes in the lawn, which helps break up thatch buildup and soil compaction, allowing oxygen, water and nutrients to penetrate deep into the soil. Aerating is recommended twice a year for the best results. The optimal times for aerating your lawn are during the growing season of your grass type: cool-season grasses such as fescue and bluegrass should be aerated in early spring and fall; warm-season grasses such as zoysiagrass, bermuda grass and st. augustine grass should be aerated in late spring through early summer.
Before you aerate, always water the lawn a day or two before. This helps soften the soil and prevents the aerator tines from running over and damaging sprinkler heads, septic or utility lines. Flag these items ahead of time to avoid costly repairs.
Also, be sure the soil is moist enough to aerate; otherwise, it will be difficult and messy for the aerator tines to break up the thatch and compacted soil. Be sure to aerate your entire yard, including areas adjacent to driveways and sidewalks. If you have a spike aerator, make several passes, each at a different angle, to ensure the full area is aerated. Once your yard is aerated, water well and fertilize it if needed. The aerated soil plugs that remain in the yard will eventually return nutrients to the soil as they decompose.