It happens in neighborhoods all over the country, and perhaps in yours. With the first tiny sign that spring is around the corner, people get busy cleaning up their lawnmower blades, shopping for weed and feed, and chomping at the bit to win the “best lawn” award for their community. If having a lush and healthy lawn is important to you – and perhaps winning the best lawn award is something you aspire to do – the following rules for a great lawn might just propel you to the top of the class.
Get on top of the crabgrass and weed seeds early
There is a tiny window of opportunity to get crabgrass before it takes hold and invades your lawn. Anyone who loves their lawn knows that crabgrass is one of the worst enemies to a beautiful yard. If left unchecked, it releases a plethora of seeds, multiplying rapidly as soon as the temperature rises above 55 degrees F. While there are chemicals that can help to get rid of crabgrass, there are also more natural approaches that work.
One of my favorite natural pre-emergent crabgrass and weed control substances is corn gluten. Corn gluten stops crabgrass and other weed seeds from developing roots – in other words, they develop shoots, but no roots and will die shortly after application. After application, it is important to provide about ¼ inch of water followed by two days of dryness. Therefore, timing is crucial, and you must watch the weather. The standard application rate is 20 pounds of corn gluten per 1,000 square feet of lawn. As an added bonus, corn gluten also provides 2 pounds of nitrogen per 1000 square feet. Applying corn gluten year after year compounds its effectiveness.
Mower blade height matters
Did you know that cutting grass too short causes it to become weak? Longer grass will grow strong and thick and, in turn, block light that weeds need to thrive. So, beware of your mower blade settings before you start to cut. Depending on the type of grass you have, the best height varies. Cold-season grasses tend to do best when cut to about 2.5 inches, while warm-season grasses can go a bit shorter, around 1.5 or 2 inches.
Don’t pass on the soil test
If your desire is to have the best-looking lawn in your neighborhood, you must pay attention to soil pH. Even if your soil looks rich and healthy, it is still important to test the pH. Take random samples around your yard and have them tested. Most turfgrass likes a pH around 6.0 to 7.2. If your soil pH is too low, add some lime. If it is too high, add some iron to bring it down. Once you have balanced the soil pH, your grass will take off growing like a champ.
Don’t remove leaves
I know that it is hard to stop doing, but raking leaves is actually hurting your lawn more than helping it. Use the mulching setting on your mower to break leaves up into small pieces but leave them where they land. As leaves break down, they act as a slow-release fertilizer, feeding your lawn all through the cold season.
Stop bagging lawn clippings
Like raking and bagging leaves, we are often led to believe that bagging lawn clipping is the right thing to do. While it may make your lawn look neater, it is actually robbing your turf of moisture and nutrients. The best rule of thumb is to leave grass clippings after each cut on the lawn. The only exception is if you have very high grass and have missed several cuts. When this happens, remove the top layer of grass clippings and leave the bottom layer only.
Over the growing and playing season, lawns can often become compacted due to foot traffic. To improve nutrient uptake, water retention, and airflow, aerate your lawn before the first frost each year. If you don’t have an aerating tool you can just walk around your lawn with a pitchfork making small holes.
Water in the winter
Although you may not think about this, lawns benefit from winter watering -especially in dry areas. When the temperature is above 40 degrees F, and you are in the middle of a winter drought – give your lawn a good soaking a couple of times a week to prevent damage.
Feed in the fall
For the best turf on the block, be sure to feed your lawn four times a year. However, if you can only fertilize once, do so in the fall – about three weeks before your last mowing. A fertilizer higher in phosphorus will stimulate root growth all the way into November and even December, which means healthier grass next spring. Remember – go for something non-toxic!
Mulch is not just for gardens
Topdressing your lawn with organic mulch or compost helps control thatch, prevent week growth, and add nutrients, creating a beautiful thick turf. Spread a thin layer of organic mulch or compost – about ¼-inch deep over your lawn in early spring and fall for best results.
Change up your mowing pattern
I know; you have a favorite mowing pattern, right? You start and finish in the same place each time, always going one a particular direction. I get it – I used to do the same until I discovered how important it is to switch up your mowing pattern. When you mow the same way each time, the wheels of the mower are crushing the same grass blades, which can, in turn, weaken the grass and cause bald spots. Instead of mowing the same ol’ way, choose a few mowing patterns and be sure to switch it up each time.
The right amount and the right timing are essential when it comes to watering your lawn. Most types of grass require between one and one-and-a-half inches of water each week – this is especially true during the hot summer months. The key is to water infrequently, but deeply in the morning to reduce the chance of disease. If you are unsure how much water you are providing – place an empty tuna can on the lawn – it should be full when you are finished watering.
If you are ready to have the best-looking lawn in the neighborhood, follow these eleven tips and sit back to collect your award!
-Susan Patterson, CBHC and Master Gardener