Most all lawn care items fall into one of the following categories: Establishment, Mowing or Watering. In this article, we will follow the example of a new lawn being established and cared for over the course of a seasons and list the things that may need to be done. We can’t cover every single lawn care item here due to lack of time and space, but this should provide a good overview. Let’s start with establishing turfgrass.
Turfgrass can be established in a variety of ways. The method you choose will be determined by the condition of your lawn. Do you have a new construction? An existing lawn that is thin and rough? A fair lawn that is just a little thin? The condition of your lawn will determine where to start.
Let’s say you have a lawn that is in fair condition but needs thickened up. An easy way to do this is to aerate and overseed. An aerator is a machine that will poke a hole in the ground (thousands of them actually), remove a core of soil and leave it laying on the surface. These are called core aerators. Some aerators will simply push a spike into the ground creating a hole.
Aerators are available as either “spike,” aerators that stab the soil, or “core” aerators that remove plugs of earth.
To start with, mow your grass as low as you safely can. Don’t throw rocks and dig dirt with the mower, but get it down to about 1 inch high. This will stunt the grass and slow its growth, allowing the new grass to seed with limited competition from the existing grass. After mowing, take an aerator (rent one, buy one or borrow one) and go over the entire lawn at least twice. Depending on the model you use, the aerator will poke holes every 2 to 8 inches apart. I like to be able to look down at the lawn at any point and see no areas larger than 6 inches without holes. If you have a spot larger than 6 inches without holes in it, very little grass will come up in that spot, so go over the lawn as many times as it takes to be sure you have holes everywhere.
Once you’re finished aerating, spread the seed. The amount of seed you use is important. If you don’t use enough, you won’t get the desired results. For my professional lawn care service, we use 350 pounds per acre for lawns. Divided out per thousand square feet, that is 8 pounds per thousand square feet.
This brings up an important point: Measure the square footage of your lawn accurately and write it down. Everything you do in lawn care will depend on how large the lawn is. Spread the seed with a spreader of any type. Do not use your hand and just throw it around, because you won’t get even coverage. Spread the seed using half of the required amount, spreading it in one direction. Use the other half, spreading the opposite direction to create a grid pattern on the lawn. This way, you ensure even coverage.
After spreading the seed, take a drag of any type, like a piece of chain link fence, a board with a rope tied to it, or whatever you can drag behind your mower. Drag the lawn; this will push and drag seed into the holes you created and break up the little plugs of soil that the aerator left on the ground. It will cover up most of the seed, giving much better germination and a thicker lawn.
After dragging, spread a starter fertilizer. This can be done first if you want; it really doesn’t matter. You will need to put down 8 pounds per thousand square feet of a 6-12-12, or 4 pounds per 1,000 square feet of a 6-24-24. This will give the ground the nutrients needed to germinate and start a turf lawn, thus the name “starter fertilizer.”
After about a month the new grass will start to yellow off some, or maybe turn pale green, showing that it is time to fertilize again. Apply 6 pounds per 1,000 square feet of 15-15-15 to provide the nitrogen for green and growth, and phosphate and potash for root growth and overall vigor. After the grass is about three weeks old you should be able to start mowing. Be sure to cut it high (see mowing section to follow). Fertilizing will also need to be done on a regular schedule.
If you have a new home and this is the first lawn, then a few things are different. Mainly you will have to clean up and create the proper grade before seeding. Once this is done you will have to till up the ground to make a soft seed bed.
After tilling, fertilize and seed just as described above, using the same amount of seed. After this you will have to cover the entire lawn with straw. Shake out straw to cover approximately 50 percent of the soil from view. Once you’re finished, you should be able to look down and still see about half of the soil showing through the straw. This equates to about 100 bales per acre.
After you’re done strawing, it’s time to start watering. For the first watering, soak the lawn until runoff, followed by daily waterings of sufficient length to keep the soil wet. If it dries out, the seed won’t germinate.
Fertilizing the grass does more than just make it green. Of course it will make it grow too, but lots of things happen when you fertilize. Going back to our establishment, fertilizer makes the seed germinate faster and begin to grow out of the ground. After the grass has a good start, fertilizing increases growth, color, vigor, hardiness, thickens the grass and is the mainstay of having a rich,dark lawn.
What most people want to know is how much and when. Simply put, most grasses will benefit from four applications of fertilizer per year. Spread out these applications 60 days apart starting in early spring, approximately 30 days before the growing season starts in your area, and continuing through the growing season until fall. Spring fertilizing gets the grass off to a fast start giving you that rich green color everyone wants. A word of warning, though — don’t use too much fertilizer. Follow the listed guidelines on the bag. Too much fertilizer will cause excess growth, lead to fungus and weaken the grass.
Controlling weeds in a new or existing lawn is vital to the health and overall appearance of the lawn. A beautiful lawn gets most of its good looks from the fact that it is smooth and level with no weeds sticking up above the turf. You have probably mowed your lawn in the past only to have dandelions popping up above the grass a day later, making it look like you need to mow again already. A weed-free lawn holds its good looks for several days if the grass is a monoculture with uniform growing heights.
Controlling weeds in a new or existing lawn is vital to the health and overall appearance of the lawn.
Weed control products need to be used regularly just like the regular fertilizing schedule. Most people will use a “weed and feed” product that contains weed-control products and fertilizer together. This is the easiest way to do both tasks. There are two types of weed-control products: Pre-emergent and Post-emergent. Pre-emergent products control weeds before they germinate and come up. Post-emergent products kill existing weeds. Good weed control is achieved only when you use the right product for the right weed at the right time.
Mowing is the most misunderstood part of lawn care, and often the most incorrectly performed part of lawn care. Far too many people will set their mowers too low or “scalp” the lawn. This leads to thin and dying grass, shallow root systems and in the long run — no grass.
Each grass type has a height range that it prefers to be mowed. If you will cut the grass at that height, the grass will be healthier, look better and last through the season without dying out from lack of water. The depth of the root system is in direct correlation to the height you mow. So, the higher you mow, the deeper the roots, the more water the grass can get and the less you have to water.
In general, two types of grasses are what we deal with. Cool Season grasses: Fescue, Bluegrass, Ryegrass. These are the most common in the Southeast. These grasses like to be mowed at a range of 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 inches high. I like to mow Fescue at least 3 inches high; it just looks better. Bluegrass is the most tolerant to lower mowing, but I still wouldn’t take it lower than 2 1/2 inches.
The other type of grass is Warm Season grasses: Bermuda, Zoysia, Centipede. These grasses will tolerate as low a cutting as most homeowner’s mowers will cut. Golf courses use a lot of Bermuda and Zoysia, and they routinely cut it as low as 1/2 inch. A typical home lawn will look nice at 1 inch, providing you have a smooth grade.
After spending hundreds or thousands of dollars renovating or installing the perfect lawn, it just doesn’t make sense to let it go back to being a pasture from lack of watering or other maintenance. Spend a little time and money and keep it watered, and you will keep the lush grass you spent your hard-earned money and time on. The ideal way to water your lawn is with an automatic underground sprinkler system. This way the watering is done whenever it needs it. You don’t have to drag hoses, you don’t waste water from overwatering, and you get all of the lawn watered — not just where you happen to set the sprinkler. How many times have you started the sprinkler and then forgot to move it? This wastes water and overwaters some parts of the lawn, while other parts may never get water. Another common problem in hand watering is that you can only run one or two sprinklers at a time. If you have a very large lawn, this could take all day to water. Automatic systems will water when you program the system to come on, once a day, every other day, once a week, or your choice for whatever water regimen you need.
Editor’s Note: This article was written by Greg Pierce of Lawn Masters, Inc.