Let’s face it, lawn care can be a little bit tricky. So much of your success depends on your climate, your soil condition, the kind of grass you have, and how much rain is received naturally in your area.
But there are a few simple steps to getting your best-looking lawn, and factors like watering, fertilizing, aeration and mowing are all vital to having beautiful green turf.
First of all, you need to know the type of grass you have – cool season or warm season. Do you live in a hot and humid climate, like the South, or Hawaii? Then you most likely have a warm-season grass such as Bermuda grass, Bahia, or zoysia grass. These are grasses that grow best when summer temperatures are over 80 degrees; typically they go dormant during the winter and turn brown.
Most of the rest of the United States uses cool-season grasses like bluegrass, red fescue and ryegrass, which grow best in areas where winters are cold and summer are warm.
The reason you need to know what kind of grass you have is that it will make a difference in how you fertilize during the summer. You should not fertilize cool-season grasses during the summer; waiting until fall is recommended. Warm-season grasses need light applications of fertilizer during summer, which is their peak growing season; time-release fertilizers make this an easier task to handle. Ask your garden center professional for a recommendation on the type of fertilizer that’s best for these types of grasses in summer.
Do not overfertilize your lawn – too little is better than too much. To be most precise about getting your lawn what it needs, it’s best to get your lawn soil tested, either with basic soil tests available at your local garden center, or by your county agriculture extension service.
The next important job is to water your lawn. Water deeply once or twice a week for optimum root growth, and if you do apply fertilizer, make sure it is well watered in to prevent lawn burn.
Water first thing in the morning – if you have a timer, set it for 5 a.m. – to minimize evaporation and to get as much of the water to the roots of the grass as possible. Night watering is less desirable because the overnight wetness can lead to lawn fungus and other diseases.
If you have just planted a new lawn, you’ll need to water once a day to allow the seeds to sprout and encourage root development, for a period of between two and eight weeks, depending on the type of grass and your climate.
Watering the day before you mow reduces stress on the lawn, and will prevent the browning that can form on the tips of the grass.
When you mow your lawn, it’s also helpful to know what kind of grass you have, since recommended mowing heights will vary according to the variety. Mowing higher will also help retain water and prevent unnecessary evaporation. You can leave grass clippings on the lawn so that they can break down and return nutrients to the soil.
Try not to cut away more than one-third of the grass blade in any one mowing. Here is a chart of suggested growing heights for different grass varieties.
Another important lawn task is aeration, which is vital for lawn health. Lawn soil often becomes compacted. Aerating, a process of poking holes in the soil, breaks up the compaction and allows water, oxygen, and nutrients to enter more freely. The process also helps fight thatch.
Lawns of warm-season grasses should be aerated in spring or summer when the grass is actively growing. For cool-season grasses, aerate in the fall.
It’s best to use a sod-coring tool or to rent an aerator from a garden center. Make sure the soil is moist but not wet when you start. Leave the soil plugs on the lawn so that they can break down and return their nutrients to the soil.