Every year as spring fever approaches, die-hard turf grass enthusiasts head to garden centers and home improvement stores to begin any of a host of multistep treatment programs for a lush green, weed free lawn care. While some degree of success can come from these approaches, the truth is these crusading lawn rangers could save money, time and effort with a little knowledge applied first.
Step 1: Identify the Grass
It is important at this point to note that not all turf grasses have the same needs. Even within a species, there are variations. To get good information, know what type of grass is in your lawn. If you are not sure, take a sample the size of your palm (roots included) to your local garden center for identification.
Step 2: Nutrition
Dumping products on the lawn without first knowing what it needs can be not only wasteful but also counterproductive. The best way to measure your lawn’s health is by sending a soil sample to the county extension service (administered by the state university system) for analysis. You can also purchase home PH kits from big box retailers and garden centers.
The report will show the current PH and nutrient levels, and the correct applications to create an optimum environment for your type of grass to grow. Getting these levels in the correct range is a good step toward a healthy lawn. For help in interpreting the results, take them to your local garden center.
Step 3: Cutting
Good maintenance habits will help ensure a healthy lawn. Once you know your grass type, you will easily find information on proper mower height. Never cut more than a third of the height of the grass. For example, if the goal is to keep the grass 2”, then it should never get taller than 3” before cutting; if the goal is 4” it should not get taller than 6”. This will minimize stress, eliminate thatch buildup, and help choke out weeds. If the grass gets too long, shorten it in multiple mowings spaced three or four days apart. Keep the mower blade sharp. If the cut edges of the grass look ragged and brown a day or so after cutting, it’s time to sharpen the blade.
Step 4: Hydration
Proper hydration will further protect the lawn against undue stress that could lead to disease, insect, or weed infestation. Irrigation systems can help tremendously; or they can make us lazy and dumb. They should only run when the grass needs water, not on a regular schedule. The lawn should get about an inch of water a week including both rain and irrigation. More water will lead to more mowing and possibly disease. Less than that can lead to drought damage and insect infestation. If rain totals are not adequate, plan on delivering the balance in one-third inch increments separated by a day or two. Sprinklers should run early in the morning, when the dew is naturally on the grass…again, to help avoid disease. Avoid mid-day watering because evaporation will steal the water before it hits the grass.
These practices will help to ensure a healthy lawn while allowing for minimal external inputs. A healthy lawn will not require preemptive treatment for insects or disease; in fact it will support a diversity of life in the soil beneficial to the grass. By understanding and giving the lawn what it needs, homeowners can save time money and energy while enjoying a beautiful landscape.