My father always dreamed of having a lush, verdant lawn. He spent many a summer day plodding around the yard, obsessively watering and frowning at stubborn brown spots. To some, a well-manicured lawn is as much of a suburban status symbol as a fancy European car or a custom-built barbecue pit. To display a stubbly mass of dried-out grass is akin to having a rusty car on cinder blocks sitting in front of your house, and risks the neighbors’ muttering under their breaths as they diligently water and care for their own perfect expanses of turf.
Although people value the look and functionality of a beautiful lawn, few really take the time to learn how to cultivate and care for one. It’s about more than just turning on the sprinklers a few times a day; taking care of your grass depends on many factors, such as soil type, climate, humidity, precipitation, and grass type. No matter whether you live in Florida or Fargo, or whether you’re growing monkey grass or zoysia, follow these words of wisdom to ensure that your lawn will look and feel beautiful all summer long.
A Drop a Day
- To know how much to water your lawn, consider its location, soil type, and your area’s precipitation. Humid or rainy areas, places with thick, loamy soil, or partially shaded lawns need less water than areas with dry, sandy soil or lawns that sit in direct sunlight.
- Water in the early morning. In the afternoon, wind could disrupt your sprinkler’s distribution patterns, and the sun could cause water to be wasted by evaporating before it’s absorbed. Watering in the evening can leave the ground too damp overnight, leading to mildew, fungus, or disease problems.
- The root system will grow only as deep as you water, so try to give your lawn about one to two inches of water at a time, which will reach six to eight inches down. This amount of water should last the average lawn about a week. A thorough watering once per week is more effective than a modest watering once per day, because it allows more of the water to reach the roots, instead of evaporating.
- Whether you use hard or soft water doesn’t matter unless you live in an arid climate with dry soil, where soft water could cause a harmful buildup of sodium. If you do have a water softener installed, ask about installing a bypass valve for water used outdoors, or ask for one outdoor faucet to be left untreated.
- Watering too much can create an atmosphere of increased humidity, which leads to an especially thick carpet of grass that’s more susceptible to fungus, pests, and disease. The lawn may look thick and lush, but in reality the grass will grow more slowly and die earlier.
Mowing It Over
- Mow the lawn only when it’s dry, but avoid cutting your grass during the hottest part of the day. Mowing while the lawn is wet can spread weeds and fungi, and it’s also not good for the blades of your mower. Mowing while it’s hot can be stressful to the blades of grass, causing them to dry out.
- Any time you mow, cut only one-third of the grass’s length. For example, if the blades of grass are three inches high, cut off only one inch. If the grass is six inches high, cut two inches. Mowing a lawn too short can leave it susceptible to weeds and fungi and can traumatize the individual blades, making it more difficult for them to grow back.
- Most lawns will need to be mowed about once per week, but in arid climates, grass may need less frequent mowing, and lawns in humid or rainy climates may need more.
- Whenever possible, mow in long, straight lines. Ideally, you should mow along one set of lines one week, and mow in perpendicular lines the next week. Alternating the pattern prevents traumatizing the grass and also prevents trampling it down in one direction with the wheels of your mower.
- For routine trimmings, it’s good for the remains to stay on the lawn; as they biodegrade, they’ll return important nutrients to the soil. The only occasion on which you should remove them is if you cut more than you normally do
- Determine the best regimen of watering, fertilizing, and mowing based on your lawn’s unique characteristics. Consider having a landscape consultant do a soil analysis to determine the best course of action.
- Different kinds of grass require different care. Northern temperate regions usually grow cold-weather grasses, such as bluegrass, bentgrass, and fescue. These varieties can tolerate cold weather but require much sunlight and water. Southern lawns are more likely to figure varieties such as Bermuda grass, buffalo grass, and St. Augustine grass, which thrive in extreme heat but require frequent mowing. If you know what type of grass you have, you can tailor your maintenance plan to fit its particular water, light, shade, mowing, and fertilizer needs.
- If all efforts fail and nothing seems to grow, some experts recommend starting over with sod. Choose sod panels that contain an appropriate type of grass for your lawn conditions, have been grown on soil similar to yours, and were cut fewer than twenty-four hours prior to installation. Make sure the panels are placed together tightly and watered every day for seven to ten days. After that, the sod can be treated and watered like regular grass.
- Every lawn can benefit from regular fertilizing. Aim to fertilize at least twice per year, or as many as three to five times per year. Fertilizing helps maintain a rich color and density, resistance to pests and fungi, and resilience against mowing and foot traffic. Just make sure to keep the chemicals away from pets.
- Some lawns just aren’t meant to be. If you live in a desert climate or have excessive shade, a lawn might not be worth the effort you’ll spend on it, not to mention the water it will consume. There are many drought-resistant and shade-tolerant plants that you can choose for landscaping as alternatives to grass.
Grass asks mainly for light and water, and if you can provide enough of those things, it shouldn’t be impossible to grow a healthy lawn. There’s nothing better than the feeling of a lush blanket of grass under your feet, and with a little care and a lot of water, your lawn can be the envy of all the neighborhood.