Studies have found that the most plentiful crop across America is — not corn, not cotton, not rice — turfgrass. Lawns are everywhere in the U.S.; it’s part of the American dream to own a house with a lawn and a white picket fence surrounding it.
Unfortunately, turfgrass is harder to grow than most homeowners realize. Lawns don’t grow naturally in most areas of the country, especially not in the dense, shortly cropped state that most homeowners prefer. That means it takes work to keep grass alive and thriving — work that many homeowners thoroughly misunderstand. While the details of lawn care will vary from region to region, due to things like soil composition, rainfall, temperatures and turfgrass type, the basics of lawn care remain the same.
Basics of Lawn Care for an Epic Curb Appeal
No matter where you live, your lawn needs enough water to soak the top 6 to 8 inches of soil, which amounts to about 1 inch of water per week through rainfall or irrigation. It’s best for your lawn to receive longer, deeper drinks fewer times throughout the week, which means you should schedule your sprinklers or hose time to run twice per week at most. If you aren’t certain how much water your grass is getting, you can perform either of these tests:
- Before watering, place several shallow containers, like tuna cans or pie pans, around your lawn to collect water. Diligently watch the containers and the time, so you know how long it takes for the lawn to receive .5 to 1 inch of water. You can shift the cans around your lawn to ensure your lawn is evenly receiving water.
- About an hour after watering, push a soil probe, like a long screwdriver or shovel, into your lawn. It should easily penetrate about 3 to 4 inches deep. If you encounter resistance before this depth, you are not watering enough.
Watering in the morning tends to be ideal because that time of day provides an optimal amount of evaporation — not enough to deprive your lawn of water but plenty to prevent your lawn from drowning in excess water.
It’s difficult to provide precise mowing advice over the web because mowing depends largely on unique features that might change from lawn to lawn or even from year to year. Your first goal for mastering mowing should be to determine what type of grass is growing in your lawn — specifically, is it a warm-season grass or a cool-season grass?
You might use any of the following tells:
- Location. If you live in an area where summers are hot and the other seasons are relatively mild, you likely have a warm-season lawn. Conversely, if you experience harsh, snowy winters, cool springs and falls and temperate summers, you probably have cool-season grass.
- Active growing period. Cool-season grasses thrive in spring and fall, when soil and air temperatures are lower but still livable. Meanwhile, warm-season grasses spring to life in late spring and grow throughout summer, when temps are high.
- Growth pattern. Most cool-season grasses grow in bunches from the crown, but most warm-season grasses grow from stolons or rhizomes, stems that creep along the ground to sprout new blades.
If you have cool-season grass, you should set your mower to cut higher. Cool-season grass tends to need between 3 and 4 inches of length to prevent excess evaporation and remain in peak health. You’ll do most of your mowing in the late spring and fall; when your grass is growing actively, you should try to mow at least once per week to ensure your lawn stays within its healthiest height range.
Warm-season grasses, on the other hand, should stay much shorter — about a half-inch tall at most. This is because these grasses grow denser when kept closely cropped, which helps them stay stronger against pests, weeds and other threats. As with cool-season grasses, you’ll need to mow your warm-season lawn frequently during its growth period; you never want to shave off more than one-third of its height at once, so being diligent with mowing is a must.
It doesn’t take long for lawns to suck all the nutrients out of your soil, so you need to reintroduce nutrients on a regular schedule. You should administer fertilizer at least once per year, but many experts advocate for a biannual (twice-per-year) fertilizing pattern, once in the spring and once in the fall. In the spring, you should prioritize fertilizing with a high-nitrogen mix. Nitrogen facilitates green, leafy growth in plants, which will help your grass wake up and grow thick after its dormant period. In the fall, high-phosphorus blends will encourage root growth to keep grass alive during the cold winter. In either case, you should buy or rent a spreader to ensure even distribution of the fertilizer.
When a lawn is healthy, it does a relatively good job on its own of keeping weeds and insects away. That’s because it is growing too thick for other seeds to stand a chance at reaching vital nutrients, and it can effectively defend against insect invasions. However, if your lawn is attracting pests, you need to respond quickly to prevent the pests from devastating your well-kept grass.
Chemical pesticides and herbicides are most effective, but you should hire professionals to administer them properly, so you don’t damage your lawn or any other part of your landscaping. If you are opposed to chemical pest control, you can try a few DIY organic solutions, instead.
Overseeding and Reseeding
Unless your lawn care is absolutely impeccable, it’s likely that over time your lawn will develop sparse and bare patches. Your first step in fixing this unsightly development is understanding its cause, which might include one of the following issues:
- Shade. Shade that is too dense prevents grass from photosynthesizing properly.
- Animal waste. Dogs and cats tend to relieve themselves in the same spots, and an overabundance of animal waste will burn grass to death.
- Lack of water. If sprinklers don’t reach a corner of your lawn, that corner will suffer.
- Traffic. Foot traffic or parked vehicles compact the soil, preventing roots from reaching nutrients.
Once you fix the underlying issue, you can add more seed to your lawn. Over-seeding is the act of supplementing a sparse lawn with seed to increase its density. Conversely, reseeding is administering new seed to a completely dead patch of lawn. The latter is much more complex, so you might want to hire a professional in that case.
Watering, mowing and fertilizing are your three basic lawn responsibilities, followed by pest control and seeding as necessary. Lawn care can be complex — but you should only delve into the details once you’ve mastered the basics.