How to Maintain a Healthy Lawn
By Jodi Torpey
Do you think of your lawn as a piece of old green carpet or as the perennial groundcover that it is?
Most folks forget that a lawn is made up of many individual plants that are all begging for some attention. With the right amount of TLC, your lush green lawn can increase the value of your home by 5-15 percent, according to the Professional Lawn Care Association.
In our climate, lawns need some kind of care during all four seasons. There’s aerating, fertilizing and watering starting in spring, mowing and managing weeds through summer, aerating and fertilizing in fall and watering during dry times in winter.
One way to keep your lawn healthy over summer is to top dress it with compost. Spreading a thin layer of compost, about ¼ to ½ inch deep, over your lawn gives your soil a boost of nutrients, helps feed beneficial soil organisms and works to hold in moisture.
Compost will also help reduce the need for weed killers because a thick, healthy lawn is the best way to prevent weed seeds from finding a place to land.
You may think watering your lawn is the key to keeping it healthy, but good mowing practices are just as important. Resist the urge to mow grass blades shorter than 2 inches tall. Mowing lower can damage or kill grass roots. Keeping grass taller (about 2-3 ½ inches tall) helps shade the roots so they can grow deeper and need less water.
Remove only 1/3 of the grass blade during each mowing. This may mean mowing more than once a week, but your lawn will be healthier and thicker.
Speaking of mowing, if you use a mulching lawn mower, you can leave your grass clippings on the lawn instead of bagging them. Leaving grass clippings on your lawn after mowing reduces the need for extra fertilizer because clippings quickly decompose and add nutrients to your soil. (It also means you’ll be sending fewer bags of yard waste to the landfill.)
Another key to maintaining a healthy lawn is by watering deeply and infrequently. Frequent shallow waterings keeps grass roots close to the surface of the soil where they can dry out quicker.
Water only when your grass needs it. Test the soil moisture by pushing in a screwdriver about 6 or 8 inches deep. If the screwdriver goes in easily, the grass won’t need extra water. If the screwdriver goes in only a few inches, it’s time to water.
For a bluegrass lawn, apply fertilizer four times during the year: mid-March to April, May to mid-June, mid-August to mid-September, and early October to early November (while grass is still green).
The fall application is what gives lawns the nutrients needed to green up quickly in spring. Use fertilizer in the recommended amounts. Excess lawn fertilizer becomes a major source of pollution when it washes off lawns and into the storm water system.