Basic Lawn Care Tips
Master the basics of lawn care and everyone will be happy -- you and your lawn.
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Water, Water Everywhere
"Water only once a week, but water deep" is the rule according to Paul. A weekly soaking helps roots extend deeper into the soil, while frequent shallow waterings tend to lead to thatch, that unsightly web of dry brown runners just above the soil. Watering deeply can also prevent chinch bugs, a pest that tends to attach dried, stressed out lawns across the midsection of the country. To figure out how much water your lawn needs, take your soil type into account: sandy soils dry out faster, while clay soils hold moisture longer and don't require watering as often.
For a newly seeded lawn, water every day for five to 10 minutes only. Your goal is to dampen the seeds without causing runoff that might wash them away or mar the surface with gullies. After the seeds sprout and the new grass is a half inch tall, water once a day for 15 to 20 minutes.
Please Feed Me
Even the healthiest lawn gets hungry and needs a solid meal. Twice a year, spring and fall, is the bare minimum most experts recommend for fertilization, though some add a feeding in the middle of the summer. But beware the common N-P-K (nitrogen-phosphate-potassium) fertilizers popular with most gardeners, says Gary; they don't provide everything your hungry grass needs. Instead, he recommends a complete fertilizer that includes micronutrients such as sulfur, copper and iron. "Just like you take a multivitamin, your grass needs one too," says Gary. In addition to regular fertilizing, he recommends an application of dolomitic lime every few years. This is because watering and fertilizing cause soil to become acidic over time and lime restores the pH while putting important minerals like calcium and magnesium back into the soil. In some Western areas, soils are naturally alkaline and may not have this problem, so it's best to test your soil's pH first.
Weeds, Go Away
No doubt about it, crabgrass is the bane of every lawn gardener's existence. But that doesn't mean herbicides are essential to a healthy lawn; in fact, many experts avoid them. The true secret to banishing weeds, they say, is to grow such healthy grass that it chokes out the invaders naturally. Mowing regularly helps too, because it tops off weeds like dandelions and crabgrass before they have a chance to scatter their seeds. When you do find yourself compelled to do battle against a path of weeds, Paul recommends using one of the new "natural" herbicides that derive their potency from corn gluten, salts from fatty acids or other nonchemical sources.
When grass gets too compacted, nutrients can't penetrate to the root system where they're most needed. That's where aeration — poking holes in your lawn to improve oxygen circulation — comes in. Most people aerate with a simple tool that looks like two hollow tubes attached to the end of a long handle. Of course, you can also just waltz around your lawn in spiked sports shoes — that works fairly well too.
Types of Grass
Some lawns have finer textures (think golf courses), while others feel like Astroturf under your feet. There are hundreds of types of grass available, and new varieties are developed every year.
As with all plant choices, climate plays a big role in determining which type of grass will work best for you — soil type, rainfall and other factors also come into it. As a general rule, cool-season grasses go dormant during the warm weather, and warm-season grasses go dormant during the coolest months of the year; in areas where it's possible to have a green lawn all year round, you want a mixture of both these types. "I've lived in seven different states and I've had seven different lawns," says master gardener John Griggs, who believes a local nursery is one of the best sources of information on which type of grass will work best in your area. Here's a list of the most popular choices:
Popular warm-season grasses:
- Zoysia grass
- Bermuda grass
- St. Augustine grass
- Bahia grass
- Centipede grass
Popular cool-season grasses:
- Fine fescues
- Tall fescues
Grasses for special needs:
- Shade: St. Augustine grass, fine fescue, tall fescue, ryegrass, bentgrass
- High traffic: Zoysia grass, improved Bermuda grass, Bahia grass, regular Bermuda grass, perennial ryegrass
Use this seasonal guide to keep your lawn and other outdoor spaces healthy throughout all four seasons.