Lawns are like gardens. They are a man-made concept and like a garden, they require proper tending and care.
It comes as no surprise that there are professionals that specialize in lawns. This is because caring for turf is just as important as caring for the plants in the garden. There’s quite a bit of important information to understand how to properly care for a lawn. From proper mowing techniques, feeding and tending to the lawn throughout the seasons, here’s how to get started to improve the overall health and appearance of your lawn.
During the active growing season, lawns should be mowed approximately every seven to ten days. Lawns do best when mowed dry, so allow the lawn to dry a bit after a recent rainfall or watering.
During warmer summer months and growing season, it is recommended to mow to a finished height of 3 to 4 inches. Lawns that are mowed shorter run the risk of stunted root growth as well potentially causing susceptibility to drought and pests like grubs.
Blades on the mower should be sharp. An annual blade sharpening at the beginning of the season helps to prevent the spread of disease by giving each blade of grass a nice clean cut. If disease is present in the lawn, cleaning the mower blades is a good idea. After mowing, move off the lawn. Lay the mower on its side, and spray the blades and the underside of the deck with a safe cleansing agent. Then rinse with water and allow it to dry. The mower can then be put away and is ready for the next mowing.
Mowing a lawn too short can damage a healthy lawn. (Photo courtesy of Melissa Caughey/Tilly’s Nest)
Feeding the lawn
During the growing season, lawns are fed approximately every six to eight weeks. Many lawn care companies have simplified the process with four-step applications during the growing season. Whether organic or synthetic, the schedule remains the same. If fertilizers are applied too frequently or during periods of drought, there is a risk of burning the lawn. Synthetic programs often contain weed killers. Be sure to read the labels prior to application. Some require kids and pets to remain off the lawn following application until the product can be watered in thoroughly.
Lawns can also be fed on a weekly basis via mulching grass clippings back into the lawn. Simply insert the mulching plug into the deck of the mower and mow the lawn as usual. When properly mulched, there will be no clumps of lawn clippings left in the mowing path. If the lawn grows too long between mowing, you may have to re-mow the lawn to properly incorporate and mulch in the cut grass. Mulching grass back into the lawn recycles nitrogen back into the lawn and soil.
Apply a fertilizer regularly to keep your lawn fed. (Photo courtesy of Melissa Caughey/Tilly’s Nest)
The presence of clover in the lawn is a sign of a healthy lawn, plus it is good for the lawn too. Clover is able to absorb naturally occurring nitrogen in the air and pull it into its root system, which in turn feeds the surrounding lawn. In fact, years ago, clover was included in many grass seed mixtures until grass seed companies eliminated it in the 1960s because Americans were craving golf course lawns. Clover seed for planting is readily available on shelves near grass seed products.
Clover indicates your lawn is healthy. (Photo courtesy of Melissa Caughey/Tilly’s Nest)
Common lawn diseases
Unfortunately, like all plants, lawns can be affected by disease. There are many causes including drought, stress from mowing too close and over-watering. Humidity often can exacerbate these issues. Red Thread is a common lawn disease. Areas of the lawn will take on a pink appearance. Red Thread will not kill your lawn but will continue to return and spread via contaminated mower blades. In the presence of Red Thread, a boost of nitrogen can help to push new growth and remove the disease. Be sure to bag lawn with Red Thread and dispose of it verses mulching the cuttings into the existing lawn.
Dollar Spot is a fungal disease and looks like round yellow silver dollars. Brown Patch, another fungal disease, looks just as one would imagine. It is caused from thatch in the lawn that remains wet. These two conditions can be improved with proper watering techniques. Dethatching is also helpful and avoid over fertilizing.
Lawns are susceptible to diseases, like red thread. (Photo courtesy of Melissa Caughey/Tilly’s Nest)
Dealing with moss
Moss seems to find its way into lawns where shady spots are present. Moss can be raked out and replanted with shade loving grass seed blends. However, the moss will most likely return due to shade. To fully battle moss, often trees will need to be removed or their canopies lifted to allow more sunlight to reach the soil. Another potential solution is to embrace the shade and create a perennial shade garden in this spot instead, with plantings such as hostas.
In the Northeast, treatment for grubs is usually applied in June. A slow release type of product can last up to five months and work throughout the grubs’ entire lifecycle. The use of Milky Spore Disease (Bacillus popilliae) to control grubs typically takes years of regular applications to become effective. In order to be effective, it also requires warm soil temperatures. It is not effective on all types of lawn grubs
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Lawns require approximately one inch of water every 7 to 10 days. Add a rain gauge to the garden to help keep track of natural weekly rainfall. When watering an existing lawn, morning is preferred and helps to prevent disease. Water deeply, and provide one-inch of water all at once verses breaking up the one inch of watering into separate sessions.
A healthy lawn will improve the look of your landscaping. (Photo courtesy of Melissa Caughey/Tilly’s Nest)
Lawns thrive in a pH around 7. To determine the pH of your lawn you can use a soil pH test kit available from your local garden center. Garden centers and Master Gardener Programs are also often able to test the pH of your soil and recommend how to amend it. Lawn pH can be adjusted with an application of lime or sulfur depending on your lawn’s specific pH.
Winterizing the lawn
As temperature drop in the Northeast, the lawn will prepare to go dormant for its winter slumber. Regularly remove the fallen leaves from the lawn. For the final mowing of the season, mow the lawn as usual to three inches tall. Then take another inch off the top a few days later. Winterize the mower by allowing it to run dry of fuel until the following season. You can also opt to have your lawn mower serviced at this time as well as the blade sharpened. This time of year is less busy for servicing verses springtime.
Beautiful lawns are not impossible to achieve. It can take multiple growing seasons to attain the lawn of your dreams. Think of the lawn as another garden for inspiration and tending needs. For more information about lawn care contact your local garden center, Master Gardeners, landscaping professional or visit your local library for more reading resources.