Growing a Great Lawn
June 18th, 2005
A well maintained yard (including lawns) can add 15% to 30% to your home’s value. There is no other improvement that will return as high of value as landscaping. Lawns help muffle noise, moderate temperatures, reduce dust and pollen, control erosion, improve soil, improve air quality by reducing CO2 levels, cushion the legs, and, though some may disagree, help keep dirt out of the home.
Maintaining a healthy, vigorously growing lawn is the best way to prevent a severe disease outbreak in a turfgrass. A 5,000 square foot lawn contains about four million turfgrass plants, each requiring optimum amounts of water and fertilizer, the right mowing regime, and an aerated, well-drained soil. About 75% to 85% of common lawn diseases can be avoided altogether just by optimizing these practices to avoid stressed grass, which is much more susceptible to disease outbreaks than healthy grass.
Water as infrequently as possible, but make sure you water enough. Watering infrequently but deeply will encourage the roots of the turf to go deep.
Water for as long as possible to get deep soil penetration (up to 30 minutes). It may be necessary to cycle irrigate if runoff occurs after just a short time. To cycle irrigate, water until runoff occurs, then stop and wait for the water to penetrate (usually 1 to 2 hours), then repeat.
Water as early as possible – first thing in the morning. Do not water between 4 pm and 4 am.
Do not water areas in the shade as frequently as the areas of your lawn that receive full sun.
Fertilization timing, amount, and type depend on the turf you have and your soil type. Unless your soil is very nutrient-poor, fertilize cool season grasses such as fescue, sparingly, as you can actually over-stimulate plant growth, making the lawn more susceptible to dry conditions and disease. Warm season grasses such as Bermuda and St. Augustine, thrive in the heat and should be pumped up with a balanced fertilizer during the warm growing season.
It’s very tempting to set the lawn mower very low so that you don’t have to mow as often. Don’t do it. If your lawn looks like astroturf with brown patches appearing, you are mowing it much too short. Lawns mowed at 1 1/2″ for Hybrid Bermuda to 2-3″ for Fescues, tend to have deeper roots, fewer weed problems, and look much better. On any given mowing, you should be removing about 1/3 of the grass blade.
If you are mowing regularly, let grass clippings stay on the lawn; they will readily decompose and return nutrients to the soil. If you have just inherited a meadow, and don’t have a mulching mower, you can get the same effect by remowing several times, thus slicing up the long clippings that are lying on top.
If there are brown spots in your lawn and you have ruled out fungus and insects, it could be a simple case of the soil being too compacted. Try aerating the area and adding some grass seed; if it is very bad (dead turf) remove the turf, turn over the soil and amend with a good soil amendment such as Gardner & Bloome Soil Building Compost. If you reseed, lightly cover with a good organic topper such as Kellogg Topper. The seeds must be kept moist continuously for the first two weeks or they will die.