Lawns have many functions, values and uses and can be used as an important part of sustainable urban landscape design and management. However, they also require a lot of water and fertilizer to maintain.
Homeowners should check with their local Master Gardeners or county Extension agents before hiring a lawn service. They can provide advice about choosing a lawn service that will reduce the use of fertilizers and other chemicals.
In order for grass to grow well, it needs the nutrients supplied by fertilizer. Grass that is fed properly and on a regular basis can develop strong, thick root systems that help it resist invasion by weeds such as dandelions, crabgrasses and oxalis. A lawn that is healthy and dense in root structure also resists insect pests, such as grubs, sod webworms and chinch bugs.
A lawn that is properly fertilized can have a nutrient level sufficient to tolerate damage from diseases, such as dollar spot, brown patch, red thread and rust. Most disease problems are exacerbated by poorly maintained soil and/or improper mowing, but they can occur in any lawn that is infertile or acidic, especially when weather conditions are hot and dry.
When selecting a fertilizer, be sure to read the label carefully. The three numbers printed on the fertilizer indicate its percentage of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. Nitrogen stimulates leaf growth, phosphorus encourages root growth and potassium helps the turf to resist disease and drought.
Fertilizing on a regular schedule is the best way to provide the nutrients needed for good lawn health. However, it is important to avoid overfertilizing, which promotes leaf growth at the expense of root development. It is also desirable to use a fertilizer that contains a high percentage of slow-release nitrogen, which minimizes leaching of nutrients into water bodies and reduces the possibility of burning the lawn.
The ideal time to apply fertilizer is in the spring, when the ground temperature (not air temperature) reaches about 55 degrees Fahrenheit. You can easily tell when the soil is warm enough to apply fertilizer by watching for lilacs to bloom, or you can purchase a soil thermometer.
It is also a good idea to water the lawn after applying fertilizer. This will move the nutrient into the root zone and lessen the likelihood of it being washed off by heavy rains. It is also recommended to avoid spreading fertilizer on sidewalks and driveways, and if this is not possible, to sweep or blow the product back into the turf.
A good lawn should be mowed regularly throughout the year. This helps to crowd out weeds, reduce soil compaction and promote proper nutrient uptake. In addition, a regular mowing schedule will help to maintain the appropriate height for your lawn. During the summer this may be every week or two.
Frequent mowing also helps to prevent thatch buildup. Thatch is a layer of living and dead stems, roots, stolons, rhizomes, and grass clippings that accumulates between the green blades of the grass and the soil surface. A thick thatch layer can limit nutrient absorption, increase water evaporation and cause soil damage. Thatch can also favor fungal growth and provide an ideal environment for insect pests.
Grass clippings contain valuable nutrients that should be returned to the lawn wherever possible. By returning these clippings, the grass is able to absorb them again and they will not be lost through erosion. Leaving clippings on the lawn also reduces the need for fertilizer application. When mowing, be sure to use a mulching mower so that the clippings are not pulled up into the air but instead decompose on the ground where they will benefit the lawn.
When mowing, it is important to keep the mower blades sharp so that the grass is not pulled or damaged. This will help to prevent the spread of disease. It is also important to vary the mowing direction each time you mow so that the grass is not growing with a preference for one direction or another.
Many homeowners have heard that it is best to never cut more than one-third of the leaf in a single mowing. This will help to prevent damage to the lawn and to the mower.
Proper mowing practices can greatly reduce the occurrence of insect pests in lawns. However, under certain climatic conditions, an overabundance of insects can overcome even the healthiest lawns. The most troublesome pests include grubs, billbugs, sod webworms, and chinch bugs. These pests are most active during the summer. However, they can be reduced or eliminated with the proper BMPs and proper timing of the mowing schedule.
A lawn that is healthy and well-maintained requires proper watering to prevent environmental stress, such as disease or insect infestation. However, too much water can be just as harmful as not enough. When a lawn is overwatered, it can develop shallow roots that are more vulnerable to environmental stress and other problems. Also, excess moisture can promote the growth of fungus and attract pests.
Deep watering techniques help prevent these issues. This involves delivering water to the root zone of your grass, encouraging its roots to grow deeper into the soil and strengthening them for healthier, more resilient lawns. Watering deeply reduces the likelihood of fungus, insects and other pests because the soil is not too moist. It can also prevent soil compaction, which hinders water infiltration and hinders root development.
The amount of water needed for a healthy lawn varies according to climate, soil type and grass varietal. For example, cool-season grasses like bluegrass and fescues can become dormant under drought conditions, but warm-season grasses like zoysia and Bermuda are better equipped to handle droughts. A lawn’s watering needs can be further complicated by weather conditions, such as sudden heat waves.
As a general rule, it is better to water your lawn infrequently and deeply rather than more frequently but less deeply. For instance, NDSU recommends watering your lawn about a quarter of an inch each week, which is enough to thoroughly moisten the soil but not too much to create a deep puddle or encourage weeds. It is also better to water in the early morning than in the evening, because this reduces evaporation and allows your lawn to dry before nightfall.
If you are unsure whether your lawn has been sufficiently watered, a simple test will tell you if it is time to water again. A lawn that has been sated will have an even, light green color, while one that has not been adequately watered will have a lighter hue and may be wilting or losing leaves.
Aside from irrigation, other factors can influence the health and appearance of a lawn, including drainage, soil ph, foot traffic, thatch, shade, weeds, soil compaction and the presence of pests. However, proper Lawn care, mowing, nutrient management and other basic practices can improve your yard’s appearance without excessive inputs or labor costs.
Despite your best efforts, some weeds will always exist in lawns. The reason is that weeds, by nature, produce seeds and spread rapidly. If left uncontrolled, they can out-compete turfgrass and crowd out desired plants. This is why weeds are so hard to eliminate, even for professionals who follow the best practices. In addition, if the weeds are allowed to mature and go to seed, they will be back the following year, possibly in greater numbers.
A good weed-management strategy includes persistent effort throughout the growing season to remove weeds before they bloom or set seed. This will prevent weeds from outcompeting desirable plants and will reduce the need for chemical herbicides. Those herbicides that are used should be selected with the utmost care to ensure that they do not harm the turfgrass.
In many residential settings, hand weeding is the most effective method of weed control. This can be done with simple tools like hoes and trowels or by using a hand-held weeder. When hand weeding, it is important to not only pull out the weed but also to get to the root so that the weed cannot grow back.
For larger commercial landscapes or residential yards, nonselective herbicides with minimal residual activity (for example Roundup “glyphosate” products) may be used for spot treatment of large areas. These products are not as damaging to the grass and can be used before sodding or planting, as well as during renovations of existing lawns.
Weeds are a vital food source for pollinators including bees, butterflies, moths and wasps. These pollinators, in turn, support all forms of life on Earth. As autumn approaches, the once-blooming weeds release their seeds and shrivel up, providing valuable food for birds and other wildlife.
Many weeds are invasive and can out-compete native plants for water, nutrients and sunlight. Weeds can also harbor diseases that could be transmitted to the desirable plants in your garden or lawn. Therefore, it is a good idea to always weed out any invasive species that you see. Lastly, if you leave weeds to overwinter in your garden, they will provide shelter and cover for pests that will attack your desirable plants the next spring.