Keeping it Green
A natural lawn can make a big contribution to your quality of life without requiring a great deal of maintenance. Regular mowing and watering, periodic feeding, and weed control if needed will keep your grass healthy and happy.
- Mow in the morning or evening: Lawns are highly tolerant of mowing, but cutting still stresses the grass. You can reduce this stress by mowing in the early morning or evening (never during the heat of the day) and by making sure the grass is dry when you cut it.
- Never cut off more than 1/3 of the grass blade height at a time: If you miss a mowing and the grass gets too long, raise the height on your mower. Recommended mowing heights are different for different types of grass, but an easy rule of thumb for the most common types of lawn grass is to mow to a 2-inch height when the grass blades reach 3 inches. Grass should generally be allowed to grow a bit taller in the summer to shade the roots and ground, while the last mowing of the season (in areas subject to freezing) should be shorter to allow sunlight to reach the base of the grass plants.
- Keep your equipment in good condition: If the mower blades are dull, they’ll tear the grass instead of cutting it, which is hard on the grass plants and increases their susceptibility to fungus infections. Change your mowing pattern regularly to reduce wear and compaction.
- Don’t bag your grass clippings: If you’re not cutting off more than 1/3 of the grass height, the clippings will break down easily, providing nutrients to the soil and reducing the need for fertilizer. Grass clippings don’t cause thatch. If you have a mulching mower, you can also mulch in fallen leaves in the fall to add extra nutrients – and save time and effort raking.
- Use an edger: The finishing touches such as using an edger after mowing create clean lines that set off your lawn.
- Avoid overwatering: Many homeowners overwater their lawns, which not only wastes water but harms the grass in the long run. A simple trick to determine whether your lawn needs watering is to stick a screwdriver into the ground. If it enters the soil easily, your lawn has plenty of water already. If you have trouble getting the screwdriver into the ground, it’s time to give the grass a drink.
- Water thoroughly versus lightly: A thorough watering once or twice a week is preferable to lightly misting every day. Allowing the soil to dry before it is watered again encourages the roots to grow deeper into the soil and can help the lawn become drought tolerant in the future.
- Water during the cooler hours for best results: Always water your lawn during the cooler hours of the day. Early morning and evening are the ideal times to water. Cooler air and less wind mean water is absorbed directly into the grass, with less moisture lost to evaporation. Watering during the heat of the day can actually scald and burn grass.
- Save water by selecting a large, low drop sprinkler setting. Air currents can easily catch a light spray and keep the water from reaching your grass. To avoid this, adjust your sprinkler setting for larger drops closer to the ground rather than misting in the air. You’ll end up with a more thorough watering while saving water and money.
- Keep your grass a little taller in the summer. You can also reduce the amount of water lost to evaporation by keeping your grass slightly taller (2 to 2½ inches) in the summer, so that the blades shade the roots and soil surface.
- Create a routine and stick to it. Whatever watering routine you choose, try to stick with it. Grass does best with a consistent watering schedule, and starting and stopping a watering pattern can stunt your lawn’s growth. This is especially true right after fertilization.
- Leave your clippings in your lawn. If you leave your grass clippings on the lawn, you’ll save yourself time and you won’t need to fertilize as often. Grass clippings enrich the soil with nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium – the same nutrients found in fertilizer.
- Fertilize at least once a year. To keep your lawn in optimum health, aim to fertilize at least once a year –four times a year is ideal. Ask your local garden center or agricultural extension service about the best fertilizer for your particular type of grass and soil conditions. There are natural and organic lawn food options as well as conventional chemical fertilizers. The best times to apply fertilizer will depend on the type of grass and the climate.
- Avoid overfeeding. Like overwatering, overfeeding can be counterproductive. Too much fertilizer can cause rapid but weak growth, leaving the grass less resilient and more susceptible to stresses. In the worst cases, overfertilizing can literally burn the grass.
The best defense against weeds is a thick, healthy lawn, because lawn grasses will easily outcompete weeds when the conditions favor the grass. Weeds are often an indication of a soil problem (nutrient deficiencies or excesses, soil compaction, poor drainage, etc.) that is making the ground more hospitable to weeds than to your grass. An herbicide may work, but if the same kinds of weeds keep coming back you may want to talk to a turf expert at your garden center or agricultural extension service for suggestions on how to correct the underlying problem. The types of weeds (or moss or fungus) that are growing will usually tell the experts what issues need to be addressed.