Get Good Grass: Lawn Care and Maintenance Tips
Do you have a lawn competition going on in your neighborhood? Maybe the guy down the street works his lawn every weekend, coaxing it into the lushest, healthiest patch of green this side of Pebble Beach while you match his mastery with a brilliant lawn of your own.
Or maybe you struggle with brown patches and prolific weeds. Whatever the state of your lawn, you’ve probably asked at one time or another: How do I get good grass? As you probably know, the answer depends on where you live and what you plant, so let’s brush up on the basics:
Prepare Your Lawn
Test Soil pH and Prime Your Soil
If you’re planting new grass, be sure to test the pH level of your soil before you begin because soil pH indicated the ability of grass to draw nutrients from the soil. Hardware stores and nurseries sell do-it-yourself kits, as do gardening catalogs. Take a sample of your soil and after you’ve determined its pH, you’ll know what grass seed to plant and the soil compounds you need to add to grow the healthiest grass for your soil type.
For optimum growth, soil must have the proper pH, which is measured on a scale of 1 to 14, with 7.0 considered neutral. Numbers below 7.0 indicate your soil is acidic and a reading above 7.0 suggest alkalinity. Most plants prefer nearly neutral soil with a pH between 6.2 and 7.2.
The best way to adjust your soil’s pH is to add organic material, such as compost, to your soil. This method balances both acidic and alkaline soils, while improving the structure of your soil. Raising soil pH is achieved by adding lime to the soil and lowering pH is accomplished by adding sulfur. For either method, it’s best to consult your local nursery or gardening store for proper amounts to add.
After you’ve brought your soil to its proper pH, be sure to prime it by removing all weeds and roots and rototilling several inches (six inches is most recommended) to loosen compacted, heavy soil. You may want to also add loam, which is equal parts sand, silt and clay and compost the mixture to the soil to enrich it. Pack the soil with a roller and groom it with a metal rake.
Pick the Right Grass Seed
Assess the sunlight available in the areas you will plant. If your lawn receives less than four hours of sun a day, select a grass that grows well in the shade (see below). Some grasses prefer full sun, others tolerate shade better.
You want to select a seed that’s right for your climate, usage level (i.e. is your lawn for show or actual use?), and available sunlight. Popular warm-weather grasses include Bahia grass, Bermuda grass, Buffalo grass, carpet grass, and Zoysia grass. Common cool-climate grasses are Ryegrass, Fescue grass, Bluegrass, and Bentgrass. If you need help, your local nursery will be well versed in the types of grasses that grow best in your climate.
Of course, you can go the native grass route, which means you’ll grow grass that is original to the part of the country you live. These are usually grasses that look like a grown over field and are punctuated by wildflowers or other native plants. Native grasses. while not always groomed and suited for the look you’re going for, are usually impervious to climate, disease, and insect damage because the grasses have evolved over time to handle these issues.
Whichever grass you choose, when you’re ready to plant, you can seed your soil yourself, hire someone to do it for you, or hydroseed, where you spray a mixture of grass seed, water, fertilizer and mulch from a tank evenly over your prepared soil.
Maintain Your Lawn
Whether you are planting your lawn or refreshing the lawn you have already nurtured – cutting, watering, fertilizing, and weeding will keep it looking green and happy.
Here’s some guidelines for a fresh-looking lawn:
Mow only the top third of your grass to encourage healthy root development , repel weed growth, and eliminate brown spots and drying. Taller grass provides more ground shade. Ensure you are cutting the top third by raising your mower to the highest notch and keep your blades sharp.
You may opt to keep the grass clippings (the mown grass) on the lawn as they’ll return nutrients to the soil. Grass clippings shouldn’t be confused with thatch, which is dead grass and root “tissue” that actually blocks water and prevents nutrients from reaching the grass roots.
Most lawn experts suggest weekly, deep watering for lawns because more daily watering can cause your seed to drown and leads to blown out brown areas in your existing grass (thatch). Watering deeply and infrequently encourages roots to grow down into the soil to get the water they need. However, if you have a freshly seeded lawn, water every day for five or 10 minutes until the seeds sprout. Then, adjust the time to every day for 15 to 20 minutes.
Also, be sure to take your soil into account. If you have sandier soil, it will dry out more quickly while clay-rich soils retain more water. Other watering tips include water in the morning so that the lawn dries during the day and use organic fertilizers and soil add-ins like leaf mulch or compost to increase the soil’s water retention, which makes the grass greener.
It’s recommended to fertilize at least two times a year – once in the spring and again in the fall. Apply a fertilizer with micronutrients including copper, iron. and sulfur, and use a drop spreader for precision fertilization or a broadcast spreader for larger areas. Both types of spreaders are available at your nursery or can be rented.
Less weeds happen when you maintain healthy grass that resists weed development. Mowing the top third of your grass helps because rampant weeds like dandelions and crabgrass are cut off before they spread their seeds. If you still have weed issues despite good lawn maintenance, try a natural herbicide to eliminate exposure to pets and children.
The thing to remember is that most weeds will grow back unless soil conditions are changed. That’s because the weeds are well suited for growth in your particular soil and until the soil is modified, the weeds will stay. It’s a good idea to keep some grass seed in a cool, dry place and when any bare areas left by pulled weeds appear, spread some seed on the soil, cover with a thin layer of compost and keep moist until the seeds germinate. Actively growing grass like this can “outcompete” the weeds in that area.
If your lawn is heavily walked or mowed, it can become compacted, and aeration can help. By cutting “cores” out of the soil with a machine or hand tool, your lawn is aerated with holes through which air, water and fertilizer can enter.
You can rent an aerator from a local supply store. As for timing, fall is the best time, according to experts, while heavy clay soils may need to be aerated twice a year and sandy soils, only once. Lawns with heavy foot traffic may need aeration several times yearly.
A beautiful lawn is a process and may take a few seasons to achieve, but once you do, practice good maintenance and changes are, you’ll be the winner of your neighborhood lawn-off this year!
Do you have any lawn care tips you would like to share?