Tips For Maintaining A Healthy Lawn
Have you been struggling to keep your lawn green and healthy? You’re not alone! Lawn care can be a surprisingly complex subject full of nuance and nitpicky rules to follow. The problem is, those rules can vary widely depending on your unique circumstances: climate, what other vegetation you have, topography and soil composition, among many other things, along with your own personal goals.
Not only that, some of your neighbors may be self-proclaimed experts who “know” exactly what you have to do — but they all conflict with each other’s advice! Perhaps you have even tried to follow suggestions you’ve been given, but it either didn’t help or made your yard worse.
Nobody likes having a brown and blotchy lawn. If you feel like the secrets of lawn care elude you, here are a few tips to help you bring your yard from dry and drab to lush and fab!
Aerate Your Soil
When your sod gets too packed down, nutrients and water are less able to sink deeply enough. If your grass has difficulty nourishing and hydrating itself, it is more likely to dry up and die. Adding periodic lawn aeration to your care routine can breathe new life into your grass.
How do you know if your lawn is in need of aeration? Try shoving a firm, straight object into the ground, such as a screwdriver. If you meet a lot of resistance, it’s probably time to aerate because your soil has compressed too much. You can also cut out a small chunk of sod to see how long the roots are. If they are not longer than two inches, this can also be a sign that water is not able to penetrate deeply enough and the ground is too compacted.
Prepare for aeration by thoroughly watering one or two days ahead of time to soften the ground, which will allow the aerator to penetrate it. Aeration is accomplished by removing three-inch cores from the sod at a density of about eight cores per square foot. The cores can be left on the lawn to decompose over approximately a couple of weeks or gathered and discarded. After aerating, you or your lawn care professional can then distribute your choice of compost, peat moss or sand (depending on your soil’s type) to fill the holes.
Provide Optimal Water
One of the key considerations for healthy grass is providing adequate water. Designing the right in-ground sprinkler system for your lawn’s needs can help you manage it more effectively.
Having to water your lawn manually takes far more time and energy than an in-ground system. It can also easily result in over- or under-watering, potentially harming your turf.
An automatic system is also more convenient. It allows you to sleep in and still water the grass at the best time, which is around 3 a.m., give or take: a time nobody really wants to have to be awake. At this time of day, it’s not only cooler but there is no sunlight yet. The water will have longer to soak in before evaporation accelerates after sunrise. The other benefit of watering at 3 a.m. is that your sod will not stay soppy for an excessive length of time — as it would if watered in the evening after sunset — which may reduce the opportunity for certain diseases or fungi to develop.
In-ground systems also permit you to go on vacation. You will know that your lawn is still getting optimal watering tailored to your property’s needs even while you are hundreds of miles away and relaxing with your family on a beach as you soak up the sun.
When it comes to choosing what kind of in-ground system you need, this will depend on your goals and the area you live in. You may want pop-up sprinklers, or you may need an in-ground drip system. For example, if you live in an area with frequently windy conditions or extraordinarily hot and dry air, you may be better off with drip.
If a pop-up system will work better for you, sprinkler heads come in a variety of types. You can even customize the water distribution for each section of your lawn. For example, you may want to choose a gentle misting sprinkler head over your flower beds.
Having a good sprinkler control box allows you to quickly and easily customize your sprinkler pattern and frequency to match your local climate and your lawn’s needs. Even if you forget about your lawn, your control box doesn’t.
Nourish Your Grass
As a living plant, grass needs the right mix of supplemental nutrients to green up and grow. Nitrogen makes up the largest share of these requirements, but other major nutrients such as phosphorus and potassium are also important. You can find fertilizer or other products which help supply necessary elements that restore balance to your lawn.
The best way to determine specifically what your lawn needs is to have a soil test done. Check with local nurseries to see if they offer the test. Once you have the results, you can look for the right products for your needs.
If you decide to use a fertilizer, proper application is very important. Be sure to follow its instructions precisely: Too great a quantity could kill your turf by burning it to a sickening, yellow crisp.
One way to protect your lawn is to adhere to the label’s watering recommendations. Another way is to decide in advance on a pattern or map to follow so that you can achieve an even spread without overlapping.
To apply your fertilizer, consider your options. Will you be using a dry or liquid product?
For dry formulas, you have a choice of how you can cover your lawn: drop spreader or broadcast spreader. Which you choose may depend on the area you need to coat.
In general, the best type of device for small or tight areas and around the edges of the lawn may be the drop spreader because the fertilizer falls straight down to the ground. However, for this reason, achieving even coverage without creating stripes in your grass can be difficult. As a result, you may end up with over- or under-coated areas if you did not carefully plan and execute your application pattern.
In contrast, broadcast spreaders rotate in a circle, scattering the fertilizer further to make fast work of larger areas. With these, the key concern is to ensure that you prevent the scatter from reaching areas other than your grass by maintaining a wide berth.
Alternatively, you may opt for a liquid form of treatment. In this case, it is usually applied from a container you attach to your hose. As you spray the solution over your turf, the fertilizer mixes with the water at the optimal ratio to facilitate an appropriately measured application. As with dry formulas, you should ensure that you carefully avoid any plants besides your grass. Choose a day that is not windy, and consider having someone help you by using a large piece of cardboard or other type of barrier to shield your nearby plants from exposure to errant spray.
Note that it is important to only fertilize a lawn during its active growing season. Also, following the recommended frequency for the brand you choose is essential.
One final note about fertilizers is that some of them are combined with weed control. If you like a simpler, all-in-one solution, finding one of these varieties may appeal to you. However, be very cautious: if you choose a combo formula like this, be aware that weed killer may destroy other types of plants in your yard besides the weeds. Avoiding all exposure to anything other than your grass is critical.
Learn About Synthetic Fertilizer
When people want fast results at a lower price point, they often turn to the inorganic varieties. Sometimes these are referred to as manufactured, synthetic or chemical fertilizers. They promote growth in days to weeks, so they are relatively fast-acting compared to some organic treatments.
Quick-release formulas take effect fairly rapidly, but will need to be reapplied more often. In contrast, while slow-release versions take longer to show results, they may need less frequent applications because they support the lawn over a longer period. Some people prefer a combination of the two because it strikes a balance between immediate rich, green beauty and sustained benefit.
While chemical fertilizers have some advantages, there are downsides, too. First, although they do produce a green lawn, they do not enrich the soil or replenish the bulk (humus) it loses over time. As such, you may have to purchase topsoil occasionally unless you are also mulching or scattering compost.
Second, synthetics typically only have a few isolated elements in a highly concentrated form. This makes it easy to mistakenly apply too much and burn the grass, but may also lead to deficiencies of trace nutrients in the long run.
Finally, synthetic fertilizer can gradually create toxic buildup in your lawn. This may be harmful to the people and pets in your life, particularly if this buildup occurs in the vicinity of plants you intend to eat.
Learn About Organic Fertilizer
You may prefer a more organic approach to your lawn care, perhaps thinking of its long-term benefits. One way of achieving this is to use natural store-bought fertilizers. When transitioning to an organic approach, achieving the desired visual effects for your yard may initially take longer than inorganic versions. Sometimes it can be weeks to months to “see” results. However, results are definitely in-process.
During that time, sweeping positive invisible changes are taking place in the turf’s ecosystem. Natural fertilizer introduces a host of beneficial microorganisms, along with improving your lawn’s ecology to help support those which may already be present in your soil. This gradual repair process establishes a bustling symbiotic relationship that restores vitality to your sod. In turn, reconditioning your lawn facilitates its ability to break down the natural fertilizer and better utilizing the nutrients locked inside.
Natural options also improve the composition of the soil by enriching it, bulking it up and enabling it to retain better moisture levels. This transformation helps your grass to flourish and become lusher and more resilient. Furthermore, as the environment improves, your lawn becomes less hospitable to many unwanted weeds and pests.
Opting for a natural approach to fertilizer has a few other benefits worth noting, too. First, because of how much more slowly they break down, organic formulations are generally less likely to burn your grass if applications are imprecise. Second, depending on the natural fertilizer you pick, it may contribute a wider range of the nutrients that your grass needs to truly thrive. Third, due to the extended period over which the nourishment is taken into the grass, you may be able to administer treatments less frequently. Fourth, but most importantly, the risk of harm to your family, pets and other plants may be far lower with organics.
Give Your Lawn the Benefits of Mulching
Whether you choose synthetic or organic fertilizers, your lawn could benefit from mulching your grass clippings as you mow, rather than hauling them away. In addition to the fact that your work is reduced by not having to stop mowing to dump the grass frequently, there are other great benefits for your lawn and soil:
- Helps preserve moisture in the grass and soil while decomposing
- Replenishes soil by returning nitrogen and other nutrients to it
- Protects the natural ecology of your grass, such as safeguarding the worms that help refresh the soil
- Helps shade the soil, making it harder for weed seeds to germinate
Many lawn mowers can be fitted with a special blade and guard to facilitate mulching. Contrary to what some people believe, mulching does not cause thatch, but rather it can help improve the lawn’s condition.
Let Your Grass Grow, Don’t Over-Mow
Consider letting your grass grow longer between mowing, along with raising your mower blades to their tallest setting. Yes, this may seem counterintuitive. Your neighbors might give you the side eye every time they walk by your “overgrown” lawn. Regardless, letting your lawn grow more may do a few things to improve its health:
- Retain soil moisture — Maintaining longer grass blades creates more shade cover over your soil. This prevents the heat of the sun from reaching the soil and evaporating the moisture as quickly. You may find you need less supplemental water from your sprinkler system to keep your grass healthy.
- Conserve grass moisture — Cutting grass creates open wounds in its blades. Until the grass can seal and heal, those wounds enable moisture loss due to evaporation. Frequent trimming keeps grass in the wound-loss-heal cycle, continually depleting its reserves.
- Lengthen roots — Letting your grass grow longer gives it more time and opportunity to lengthen its roots. Cutting it short tends to also encourage the roots to remain short. Longer roots can reach subterranean moisture to help your lawn quench its thirst. Having a deeper root system also creates more durability due to, for example, having a bigger reserve of nutrients and water. Your grass will be more likely to survive the weather fluctuations of the season, such as extended periods of dryness.
- Thicken your turf — Grass goes through growth cycles, a later step of which is producing seeds. Frequent cutting may deprive it of the chance to reach the seedling stage. You may then be forced to rely on manually scattering purchased seed periodically to replenish coverage, which means more time and another expense. When the right kinds of grass have time to complete their own germination cycles, a lawn can become a thicker, more resilient and evenly distributed carpet with less money and energy invested.
- Crowd out weeds — Greater density above and below the soil empowers your grass to become the dominant vegetation of your yard. You may find the weeds begin disappearing because they cannot gain a stronghold. What weeds you do continue to find may be fewer and further between, and therefore easier to manage.
- Optimize nutrition — The blades of your grass are among its vehicles for feeding itself. Through photosynthesis, it converts sunlight into energy. Frequently mowing it short reduces its exposure to sunlight which, in turn, diminishes the energy it can produce.
Cap off your enhanced mowing routine with regularly sharpened mower blades. Mowers dull with use, creating uneven and jagged cuts that can traumatize the blades of grass and make them turn an unsightly yellow or brown.
As such, sharp mower blades contribute to the health of your lawn in a similar way that other maintenance steps (proper fertilization, deep roots, etc.) do. When grass gets a clean cut, rather than being shredded or crimped, it will not only look better but will preserve more of its moisture and nutrients. Conversely, damaged grass has more surface area through which to lose hydration and must divert more resources to repairing itself.
How frequently you will need to sharpen your blades depends on a few factors: size of yard, whether you mulch, length of grass, prevalence of obstacles (toys, rocks and so on) coming into contact with blades, quality of blades and other factors. The typical homeowner may only need to sharpen once or twice per season.
Also, if you are wondering what length of grass has to do with requiring sharp mower blades, it is because longer shoots require sharper blades. Dull blades tend to simply knock long grass over, while sharper blades are more efficient at severing the flexible strands. Likewise, mulching requires sharper blades for a similar reason: Dull blades are less effective at sufficiently pulverizing the clippings.
Design for Easy Maintenance
Finally, perhaps you are designing, or planning to redesign, part or all of your yard. While appearance and beauty top the list for many people, taking long-term ease of maintenance into consideration might also be beneficial.
Adding a clean line along the edges of your grass can streamline mowing. For example, flat pavers can be lowered into the ground to the height of your soil for an easy way to mow right over the edge of the grass. Alternatively, sloped edging material in concrete or rubber can be used for the same purpose. Edging of these types not only reduces how much you have to use your weed whacker but also separates your flower beds, bark and other materials to limit mowing over undesirable areas.
If you use commercial fertilizers and worry about errant spray into non grass areas, consider even wider separations by installing a pathway of pavers between grass and flower beds or other areas. Choose from pavers in concrete, clay (brick), rubber, stone and more, each in a variety of colors and shapes. In addition to limiting cross-contamination, pavers allow moisture through, benefiting your subsurface water collection. In contrast, large poured concrete slabs block water from reaching the ground below them, so each sidewalk, patio or driveway of this kind may further diminish your yard’s potential reserves.
Speaking of water reserves, ground cover plants can add to your lawn’s moisture conservation by shading the soil of key areas that are prone to high evaporation rates. In addition, hilly or uneven ground that is difficult or dangerous to mow may be better suited for a beautiful layer of low-maintenance ground cover. As an added bonus, the roots and shading of such cover can help protect against soil erosion as well.
Shape Your Own Yard’s Destiny
As you can probably tell by now, proper lawn maintenance is a vast topic and may require some education and planning for ideal results. Simply listening to a well-meaning acquaintance or buying a bag of some product you find and scattering it may not be the best ways to address what ails your lawn. Likewise, limiting your efforts to merely mowing and watering may not be conducive to cultivating the look you desire.
Customizing your methods, and perhaps even your yard’s design, to your unique area and desired maintenance level will likely be more compatible than trying to adopt someone else’s routine. The final result may be achieving the lush and inviting yard you’ve long dreamed of having.