The way to a lush green lawn begins with an understanding of how lawns grow and a respect for the needs of the grass plants. Misunderstanding and mistakes abound, especially in the areas of mowing, watering, and fertilizing. Let’s take a look at these aspects of lawn care.
How high or low you set the mower blade is based on the needs of the grass plants at the time, and that can change with the seasons. But one of the biggest mistakes people make is setting the blades too low. Their theory is that by cutting the grass very short they won’t have to mow as often. What actually happens is that they are putting the health, and maybe even the life, of their lawn in jeopardy.
For one thing, photosynthesis takes places in the blades of the grass, creating sugar as a food source for the roots. When the blades are cut too short, the plants are stressed in their attempt to make an adequate supply of sugar and must work harder. The result is actually faster growth. And the way to thicken the turf is to be sure the plants are allowed to make not only enough, but more than enough, sugar. That excess goes into the production of new plants, called rhizomes.
Another factor to consider is the competition between the grass and the weeds. Whichever one gets the most sun will shade the other. Without enough sun plants can’t carry on photosynthesis and they die. You want to give the grass the advantage. Longer blades mean better health, and their length and density will allow the grass to outcompete with weeds. With too much shade, weed seedling, especially, won’t stand a chance.
Therefore, during the growing season, set your mower as high as it will go. (That is probably 3 to 4 inches. As temperatures cool and winter rains begin, it’s a good idea to then lower the blades a little. The lower lawn height will allow the grass blades to ”dry off” faster, helping to prevent fungus and disease.
When you do mow, leave the clippings right on the lawn. As they break down, they add nutritious organic material that helps prevent thatch and feeds the plants.
Watering and Soil pH
As counterintuitive as it may seem, you should water your lawn LESS often for better results, BUT WHEN YOU DO, WATER DEEPLY. That helps to develop grass roots that go farther down into the soil. Grass watered frequently and shallowly develops shallow roots and the many horizontal runners that make up mat of thatch. If the grass doesn’t show any signs of drought stress, it may not need watering. If the lawn has become quite dry, it works better to give it only ½ inch, wait for about 90 minutes, and then give it another ½ inch. Add organic mulch in late spring to help reduce heat stress in the summer. Dr. Earth® Natural Choice® Compost makes an excellent top dressing or mulch.
You can check to see how much water your lawn really receives, by putting a cup in the zone of the sprinkler and running it for the normal length of time. You should see at least an inch of water in the cup.
Have the pH of your soil professionally tested because the inexpensive kits you can buy are often inaccurate. Your local county extension will sometimes test samples for free or for a minimal charge. Add lime if it is below 6.0 and soil sulfur if above 7.0. A higher number is more favorable to weeds, like dandelions, and grass prefers a pH of about 6.5, so accuracy matters.
Fertilizer provides your grass with the nutrients it needs to grow a healthy, thick green lawn. As a rule of thumb, you should fertilize your lawn at least twice a year when the grass is actively growing to ensure good overall health and keep your grass looking its greenest. It’s also best if your yard is watered a few days before you want to apply the fertilizer, whether that’s from rain or a sprinkler.
The actual timing depends on what kind of grass you have, feeding it just before grass enters its peak growing phase. Warm season grasses such as bahia, Bermuda, St. Augustine, centipede and zoysia typically grow in southern regions. The optimum time to fertilize these grasses is in late spring or early summer when the soil temperature reaches 55º Fahrenheit and a second application in late summer before your turf goes dormant. The best time to fertilize cool-season grasses like fescue, bluegrass and perennial ryegrass is in early fall and spring. The fall feeding is responsible for a quick green-up in spring. Apply before grass starts to discolor, typically October or November.
The best fertilizers to use for these key seasonal applications are slow release. Slow release fertilizers generally come in granular form and will get the grass green without growing too quickly as they break down their nutrients over a longer period of time.
Liquid fertilizers are fast-absorbing, allowing plants to quickly soak up the nutrients, making them a great way to quickly fix a problem. This makes it a perfect option for in-season fertilizing anytime of year, because the risk is lower for accidentally over-fertilizing. Liquid applications are a good way to correct mid-season deficiencies or supplement soil applied nutrients. But be careful – over-fertilizing is possible. Applying too much fertilizer can burn your grass, whether you use granular or liquid fertilizer. There is no reason that you cannot find a balance between using both liquid and granular fertilizers at varying times of the years to properly maintain and get your lawns what they need.