Expert Lawn Care

One of the most time consuming chores facing the home gardener is taking care of the lawn. We all hope for a velvet emerald carpet surrounding our house; unfortunately that’s a rather unrealistic ideal. No homeowner has the time, energy or money it takes to maintain a lawn in flawless condition, not to mention the gallons of water and chemicals we use in this futile pursuit. Once we accept that our emerald carpet is not going to happen, we can relax and enjoy what we can accomplish. Even so, our lawns still demand regular attention. Mowing, watering, and fertilizing are necessary just to keep the grass in reasonable condition, not to mention the ongoing war on weeds, pests, and diseases. This month, I’m going to concentrate on the basics for maintaining a traditional, cool season lawn such as fescue or bluegrass; I’ll discuss other lawn care topics in the next few months.

Of course, everyone who has a traditional lawn has a lawn mower (or lawn service). But there is more to mowing your lawn than just walking around it behind a noisy machine. Although different types of lawns need to be kept at different heights, most lawns are happiest around 2 inches tall. Never cut off more than 1/3 of the leaf plant every time you mow. Cutting off more than that stresses the lawn and increases it susceptibility to pests and diseases. So to maintain your lawn at 2 inches, never let it grow taller than 3 inches long, before mowing it. Also, if you mow often enough, you don’t need to remove your clippings. Short clippings don’t contribute to thatch, but do return important nutrients and organic matter to the soil. (Large clumps of clippings lying on top of the grass should be removed as they block sunlight and can promote disease.) It’s also vitally important that you keep the blades on your lawn mower sharp. When the blade gets dull, it tears the leaf of grass instead of cutting it cleanly, again inviting disease. The torn edges give your lawn a dull gray or white appearance.

Most people, in an attempt to get their lawns to green up quickly in the spring, dump loads of fertilizer on their grass in March or April. While your lawns appreciate (and need) this spring feeding, the best way to encourage your lawn to green up early is to feed it in the fall. If you are using organic or slow-release fertilizers, you can get away with fertilizing just three times a year, in the early spring, in June or July, and then again in the fall. If you use a chemical fertilizer, it’s best to apply half the recommended amount of product twice as often. You’re less likely to burn your lawn this way, and the grass will have a more consistent amount of nitrogen available to it throughout the year, instead of 3 periods of feast interspersed with long periods of famine.

In the early spring and again in the late summer, your lawn will benefit from an application of granular iron and sulfur, such as Ironite. Of course, when using any kind of lawn or garden product, always follow the package directions!
I covered watering last month, so I’m not going to go into it again here. Do be aware, however, that traditional, cool season lawns like to go dormant (and turn brown) in the heat of the summer. They are not dead! Just water them a bit more, and watch them perk up quickly.

What about weeds? Well, it’s too late to apply a pre-emergent now, so put it on your calendar for next spring. If there’s only a few, remove them by hand, if you can. But when there are too many to dig and pull by hand, you’ll need to resort to chemical warfare. A broad leaf weed killer containing 2-4-D is the most effective of these chemical weapons, but be sure to read the label very thoroughly. If you have any trees in your lawn, or even near it, don’t spread any kind of weed and feed or broadcast weed killer over the entire area, since the weed killer can’t tell a tree or shrub from a dandelion. Speaking of which, The American Horticultural Society is advising against trying to eliminate all those little yellow flowers in your lawn, in an attempt to decrease the amount of toxic chemicals people are applying to their yards. Another alternative is a general herbicide or vegetation killer such as Round Up" or Kleen Up". Just be sure not get even a drop of that stuff any place but on your target, since it will kill anything that is green and growing, leaving brown spots throughout your yard.

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