How do you keep your lawn looking respectable year-round? You know you have to mow, but how much else do you need to do? Do you want a great lawn or a “good-enough” lawn? Here are tips on how to have the lawn you want.
Mowing is key to keeping your lawn presentable, no matter what! Your goal: keep your cool-season grasses three inches tall, mowing off no more than a third of the height at a time. Never let your lawn get above five inches. Grass may need mowing anytime of the year that temperatures get into the 70s.
Lawn growth varies wildly and individual lawns need individual evaluation. Overheard last week: “We’ve had so much rain that my husband is mowing the lawn every four days!” “Well, we’ve had so little rain that I haven’t mowed in three weeks!” Plan accordingly—fixed schedules won’t work!
Many mowers will bag your cut grass, but you can save time and money—including on fertilizer—by leaving the clippings on the lawn. Mulching mowers keep the clippings small so they quickly dry out. Turf specialists estimate those clippings provide about 25 percent of the nutrients your lawn needs each year.
If your mower leaves clumps of cut grass, you may need to mow more often, or be sure the lawn is drier. Break up clumped clippings to avoid smothering the remaining lawn. If you bag or rake clippings, use them elsewhere in your garden or compost—hot composting will kill weed seeds!
Aerating helps root growth in compacted soil and is worth doing, especially in years you overseed your lawn. Aerate this fall or when growth starts up again in the spring. Rent equipment that brings up small cores of lawn or hire someone to do the aeration. Just poking holes in the soil creates more compaction! Cores gradually break down—rake to break them up if they bother you. Mark irrigation system emitters and hoses so you do not damage them!
Lawns in active growth need consistent watering—an inch a week from rain or irrigation. Cool season grasses go dormant and brown up in the heat of summer. You may want to encourage dormancy to minimize maintenance. Dormant lawns may be able to go without rain for six weeks, but it is best to provide some watering every three weeks. Turf specialists advise that as little as ¼ inch may be enough.
Grass can’t effectively use nutrients if your soil is too acid. Many WNC lawns desperately need lime, but only a soil test will tell you how much. Lime takes awhile to work on soil pH—don’t expect immediate results. Test again in two or three years before liming again.
Yearly nitrogen is a given, but some lawns need phosphorus, too—check your soil test! A lush lawn may require 2.5 to 3 pounds of nitrogen a year, but you can certainly use less, especially if you leave your grass clippings on the lawn. Plan to apply at least one pound of nitrogen every September and possibly another pound in October or November. If your lawn is still struggling, provide the remaining half-pound or pound in February. Fertilizing any later may lead to even lusher growth, but may make your lawn susceptible to fungal diseases come summer.
With proper maintenance, you’ll find weeds aren’t as much of a problem. Identify your weeds. Pre-emergent herbicides can prevent crabgrass—an annual weed—from sprouting in bare spots. Decide if perennial weeds justify treatment. White clover may be a desirable addition to your lawn if you don’t need a uniform stand of grass. If you have a few dandelions, or other broadleaf weeds, try digging them out. Pervasive aggressive weeds may justify broadleaf herbicides.
Diseases and insects
There are many lawn ailments and pests, but with proper maintenance, damage is minimal, especially if you employ proper lawn maintenance practices. North Carolina State University provides many resources for identifying and treating lawn problems.
Article written by Debbie Green, Extension Master Gardener Volunteer.
Photo of woman mowing lawn courtesy of Joey Williamson, HGIC Horticulture Extension Agent, Clemson University,
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