Some green grass is essential to most yards. Lawns cool our
neighborhoods, replenish our oxygen supply, prevent soil erosion,
filter dust and pollen from the air, purify water, build topsoil,
reduce sunlight glare, and absorb noise pollution. In addition,
grass makes an ideal carpet for outdoor play or work and gives unity
and serenity to the entire landscape like a backwash does for a
Done with consistency and common sense, lawn care can be pleasant
and minimal exercise with visible, instant results.
lawn is not only enjoyable for its beauty, it also better resists
insects, diseases, and dry times. Dense, thriving turf even deprives
crabgrass and some other weed seeds the sunlight they require to
germinate. The best ways to minimize lawn care and maximize results
are to tend to the following considerations in a timely manner. Your
garden center can provide particulars regarding conditions in your
Grass plants, like everything living, must have nourishment to stay
healthy. Fertilizing will result in a richer color, a thicker turf
that stands more wear and grass that better crowds or shades out
competing weeds. While you are spreading fertilizer, you can use one
that kills weeds too.
Fertilizer content is always listed in order of Nitrogen,
Phosphorus, and Potassium; their numbers indicating relative
quantity. 12-4-8 and 15-5-10 are two recommended formulae for lawn
grasses. It is best to have half the nitrogen a slow release type
and to have small amounts of trace elements like iron included. Read
the label carefully to check for these points.
Tips for Lawn
1. Use a fertilizer with a 3-1-2 or a 4-1-2 ratio. The
nitrogen encourages leaf growth. The higher the numbers, the lower
the pounds per 1000 square feet. Check the label for recommended
amounts and do not exceed.
2. When buying fertilizers for the lawn, don't throw your
money away or risk damage to your grass with a fertilizer meant for
gardens. -Slow or gradual-release' is also worth the extra price
because it lasts longer and cannot burn.
3. Try to apply fertilizers just before a rain. Otherwise
apply when the ground is not too dry and then water well after
application. Chemicals just sitting on the surface could burn the
4. Use either a broadcast spreader, the kind you wear over
the shoulder and crank by hand, or a drop spreader, the kind you
fill and push for dry fertilizer. Many lawn foods can be mixed as
liquids and some come in containers all ready to hook up to your
5. Every time you fertilize, give light spots a little more
to even the growth overall.
6. For most cool season grasses, 75 percent of the fertilizer
can go on in the fall, most of this two months before the first
frost, 25 percent in the spring. The best times to feed are when the
grass is actively growing in spring and fall. You can make another
application after frost so the nutrients will be available for root
growth during winter and leaf growth at the first sign of spring.
For warm season grasses, feed in March or April and again in August
or September. Where summers are rainy (Florida) you might also apply
iron sulfate once or twice at four to six week intervals starting in
July for extra greening without extra growth.
7. Each time,
apply half the fertilizer over the entire lawn in one direction (up
and down). Then put on the other half at right angles (across) for
8. In drought
times, it is better to give lighter applications more often,
especially as the heat of summer approaches. You don't want to
encourage a lot of new young topgrowth that will be extra tender.
Also, stop feeding a few weeks before you stop watering.
9. Do not
overfeed. This can cause a rush of tender new grass that insects can
hardly resist and that requires excessive watering and mowing. If
the lawn is thriving, it is getting all the nutrients it needs.
WATER makes the most difference between a green and a brown
lawn. In many states one can usually rely on Mother Nature to do
this in most springs, but be ready if she sometimes does not. Take
advantage of this time of active growth. It will take much less
water to improve lawn quality in spring while the weather is cooler
than it will in the summer
There are two ways to determine water needs. You can use a rain
gauge and supplement rainfall for a total of one inch per week. Or
you can watch the grass itself for signs. When growth slows and the
grass takes on a bluish cast and footprints or mower tracks seem to
stay forever, get out the hose. Put several containers at various
points under your sprinkler to make sure all areas get their inch.
Although there is some
research recently to the contrary, the rule for years has been to
water deeply or not water at all. Shallow watering can result in
shallow roots that will be even more vulnerable to dry conditions.
Watering early in the day instead of late evenings also helps to
discourage fungus formation and other diseases. Too frequent
watering discourages the deep root growth turf needs to survive dry
spells and encourages diseases. Be sure to water less in shady
If and when the lawn
does go dormant, let it stay that way. Fluctuations between dormancy
and active growth can be worse. Summer's sleep is Nature's way of
preserving the living roots and crowns. The green will return when
the fall rains do.
As the summer dry spell approaches, grass may be somewhat
conditioned by gradually increasing watering intervals and reducing
applications. In drought conditions, about 1/2 inch of water every
other week should keep the grass crowns of cool season (northern)
grasses alive and ready to green up again when fall brings new
Don't be tempted to
treat grass roughly just because it is dormant. With the return of
rain, lawns have rejuvenation powers that can give the human heart
Warm season grasses may
turn brown for short periods after a frost or go dormant in colder
climates, but will green up when the weather stays above freezing
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- These can be
anything from a single hose to a sprinkler to an automatic
- The hose and
sprinkler may be enough in many situations.
- Be sure you have a
rain sensor to turn off the automatic system. These are not
expensive and are required by law in many states.
- Whatever you use,
keep it in good repair and watch for leaks or patterns that put
the water in the wrong place.
- Most people with
automatic sprinklers never adjust them for the different
seasons. Just two adjustments a year in Florida can save 40-45%
on water use. Eight adjustments a year, or about once a month,
result in 70-75% savings.
Mowing: Safety First
Watch your feet
whenever you must pull the mower toward you. Always wear
shoes, socks, and long pants. Never mow barefoot or in
sandals. Remove debris before mowing. Keep children and pets
at a distance.
Refuel only when engine is stopped and cool. Pull plugwire
before doing any mower maintenance. The best safety measure
can be to replace grass in hard to mow areas.
Mowing: The Process
and the Practice Top
Mowing is less of a
chore if you have a mower that is easy to start, turn, raise or
lower, and sharpen. Mulching or composting is not only a responsible
way to dispose of clippings, but also benefits the yard and garden.
Mow frequently enough so that clippings are not too long. Ideally,
you should only cut off 1/3 of the leaf length at one time. These
shorter pieces break down faster, releasing nitrogen, and they do
not contribute to thatch buildup.
Match your mowing schedule to the growth rate of your lawn. You may
need to mow every four or five days during a wet May, but only every
10 to 14 days in July. If the lawn gets away from you in a wet week,
don't mow lower, mow higher and more often.
Mowing also cuts off weed seedheads before the seeds can ripen.
Plugging or SpriggingTop
In Sunbelt areas, warm season grasses that spread by runners, like
St. Augustine, can be easily and least expensively started,
repaired, or replaced by planting grass plugs or sprigs. Runner
grasses will crowd out weeds and any seed-spreading grass like
bahia, so you can plant the plugs right in this kind of turf
and watch them take over.
Plugging allows you to do the job in sections. You can
pick up a few trays at most nurseries, and each will cover 30 to 50
Seeding and SoddingTop
- Early fall is the
best time for seeding a lawn most places, with spring the second
best. Seeding can be done almost any month in much of the West.
Sod can be put down at anytime during the growing season (not in
- Do all grading
first, making sure that drainage is adequate, and sloping the
lawn gently away from the house.
- Improve the soil
with organic matter in the form of peat moss or compost.
Test for pH and add lime if needed. Broadcast a special
fertilizer rich in phosphorus, for new seeding areas, and till
all of this into the soil. Then rake smooth.
- Buy only
high-quality seed since a lawn can never be better than the
seed from which it starts. Check the package for high percentage
of germination, of superior, named varieties included, and low
percentage of inert ingredients and weed or other crop seed.
Quality seed is usually regionalized for the areas where it is
sold. Keep it in the refrigerator between buying and planting.
- Spread the seed,
like fertilizer, first in one direction, then in the other.
Check the label for amounts. Using a precision spreader is best
for areas larger than ten feet square. Some garden and hardware
stores will rent these, but the over-the-shoulder-model is not
too expensive to buy.
1/2 to 1''
Fair to poor
Best for putting greens
2 to 3''
drought but comes back
Adapted to upper
2/3 of US-popular
Dense roots, good in
mixes, fast growing
perennial takes shade,
good in mixes for disease
Best in upper 2/3 of
states in moist shade
*Improved cultivars may
Fair to light
Widely used in
Gulf states, coarse texture, pest problems
Blue grama grass
not for Sunbelt
Adapted to plain
states of West
to 1 1/2'
Needs much care Used in southern half of
U.S. and West Coast
Sun to light shade
Lower third of
U.S., slower growing,
turns brown with frost
1/2'' to 2"
Insect resistant, adapts well
to infertile acid soils
deep rooted, most shade
*Improved cultivars may
- Then rake lightly
and roll the area to tamp seed down so it is in good contact
with the soil. Cover seed with a light mulch of straw, peat, or
dry grass clippings. Use burlap on slopes. Regular burlap needs
to be removed when seeds sprout, but some biodegradable, open
mesh material can be left in place for erosion control.
- Keep the lawn
moist until germination occurs. Probably 90 percent of seeding
failures are due to lack of moisture. For at least the first
month, the upper inch of soil should never be allowed to dry
out. This is a time for frequent sprinklings rather than deep
watering. If a hot, dry spell follows your seeding, you may have
to sprinkle five or six times a day. Daily, slightly deeper
watering will do for sod or plugs. After germination or settling
of sod, water less often but more deeply.
- Keep traffic off
the new seeding until it is established. Mow regularly as soon
as it is 2 to 3 inches tall. Remove clippings and leaves.
- Fertilize again
four to six weeks after planting, this time with a regular
long-acting, high nitrogen fertilizer.
Repairing Bare Spots Top
Ordinarily, fall is the best time for repairing lawns in the North,
spring in the South. Check for bare spots to determine if caused by
insects, diseases, or ordinary wear and tear.
Like weeds, insects and diseases are best controlled by regular
feeding and care so that the grass is more resistant. Warm season
grasses have more of these problems. Watch carefully to stop them
before they spread. Call in a lawn expert if necessary. Use all
pesticides carefully according to label directions and wear
To reseed, prepare the soil by cultivating the bare spots 4 to 6
inches deep and then raking smooth and seeding as for a new lawn. If
the entire lawn looks bedraggled, you may want to overseed it all. A
rented dethatcher or power rake set deep enough to make small cuts
of exposed soil will ease the job. Otherwise, rake it vigorously by
hand to make scratches of soil in which the new seed can lodge.
Spread seed right over the old grass at half the rate recommended
for a new lawn.
Watering is a little tricky when overseeding. You want to keep the
soil moist without encouraging weed growth. The shade of the
established grasses will help. Mow the new grass when it reaches two
inches or more and then give care as for a new lawn from scratch.
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crabgrass, use a pre-emergence herbicide according to label
directions. With new seed, use Siduron, the only
pre-emergence herbicide that will kill crabgrass without
killing the new grass seed.
For established lawns, there are several brands on the
market. Most give residual control for 6 to 8 weeks. Apply
again if needed. Follow label directions carefully.
If you dig up one
dandelion or dock, usually two more will grow. Even if you
get all the roots, weed seeds already in the soil or blowing
in the wind will hurry in to fill that space.
Localized chemical control can be done with a tank sprayer
or ready-to-use jet-can dispensers. On a larger scale, apply
granular fertilizer/broadleaf herbicide formulas with a
broadcast spreader or adjustable-rate seeder.
The most important weed controls are keeping grass healthy enough to
crowd weeds out and mowing before weed seeds can ripen.
Use all pesticides only according to label directions. Wear clothes
that cover you well and wash them separately.
Grass clippings from a lawn treated with herbicide are NOT safe to
use as mulch on other plantings. Pile them up and let the rains wash
through them for six weeks, after which they should be safe for most
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One of the easiest ways to aerate a lawn is to wear aeration
sandals, available from garden catalogs, while you cut the grass
about every third time.
- This or the use of
a power aerator creates a better environment for the
microorganisms that consume thatch. Use core aerators like
seeders in a criss-cross pattern. You can rent these.
- For St. Augustine
grass, a verticutter does the same job and should be used
every several years. The clumps that are torn out can be raked
up and composted.
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Thatch is a decaying accumulation of fibrous leafsheath and roots.
It is beneficial because it recycles plant tissues, provides organic
fertilizer, and helps to control weed growth. Too much thatch,
however, can harbor insects and disease organisms, prevent water and
fertilizers from reaching the soil and new grass from breaking
through to the light.
If this happens, a good raking with a pronged or rented power rake
will make an amazing improvement in just a few days. Till the raked
thatch into the garden or put it on the compost pile.
You don't need to bag grass clippings as long as you keep up with
the job. They make the lawn healthier by recycling the nutrients and
adding humus. Clippings can contribute 25% of the nitrogen needed by
the turf. Grass clippings do not ordinarily cause thatch buildup.
New mulching mowers now on the market, finely chop the clippings or
chop leaves in the fall and blow them back deep into the lawn so you
can't see any residue at all.
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Lawns take more maintenance and water than anything else in the
yard. But a regular schedule of good care is the best way to prevent
outbreaks of diseases, infestations of insects, and invasions by
weeds. If you don't have time for that care, invest in a good lawn
care service. They may need to use some pesticides, but the best
ones use the most care and the least chemicals.
Instead of Grass Top
Grass takes more water, fertilizer, and work than any other
landscape planting. Most of us still want some, but we can cut the
work and add an air of elegance with different textures and colors
by putting some of the yard into ground covers.
Ground covers are especially appropriate on slopes, in the shade, in
small areas where it is hard to get the mower, and where there is
little foot traffic that can be handled by stepping stones or paths
through the planting.
Such plantings take about as much work as a flower or vegetable
garden until they become established. This usually takes one to
three years, depending on the climate, the kind, and how closely the
plants are set. After that they are almost maintenance free. Heavy
mulch between the plants until they spread will save much of the
weeding and conserve water for faster growth.
Some Favorite Ground
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Ajuga or bugleweed is one of the hardiest of plants.
It thrives equally well in Pennsylvania cold and Florida heat, in
full sun or partial shade, in clay or sand.
is a fine ground cover for shade or the north side of a house. The
basal, bright green leaves grow about 10 inches tall and are
attractive from spring to fall.
Strawberries make excellent, edible ground covers with
foliage that is attractive all year, white blossoms in the spring,
and delicious red berries that begin to form while the plants are
still in bloom. Strawberries need full sun to fruit and they spread
quickly by runners.
Violets, the same that grow wild, are fine ground covers for
a woodland floor or shady garden corner. Some have runners, some
spread by branching rootstocks, and some self sow readily.
For an evergreen ground cover, junipers can't be topped. Do
not confuse these with the taller shrubs or trees of the same
species. Be sure to get the low, sprawling shrubs often called
Creeping Juniper. They come in kinds from 4 inches to 4 feet.
Colors include silver, bluish, gray-green, bronze, gold laces, and
purple tipped in winter. These thrive in sun or light shade.
Ground Covers for
Rosemarinus officinalis 'Prostratus'
Ground Covers for
Cast iron plant
- Pick location if
- Pick mulch
- Select ground
- Select grass seed,
- Soil amendments
·peat ·compost ·lime
·for new grass ·for established lawn
·rake ·hoe ·spreader/seeder
·plugging tool ·hose ·sprinkler
·irrigation system ·lawn mower
Some facts may vary by region. Please check with your
local lawn and garden dealer if concerned about possible variations.