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Lawn Care 101
A lush, neatly trimmed lawn makes a home more inviting, and offers a pleasant setting for spending time outdoors when the weather is fair. While they do require regular maintenance to keep them healthy, the good news is that a healthy yard is significantly easier to maintain than an ailing one. Just 1 hour a week during the growing season is usually all the time you need to keep your lawn looking beautiful. Here’s the dirt on lawn care.
This Blessed Plot
It may surprise you to learn that the most common lawn grasses are not native to the United States—nope, not even Kentucky Bluegrass. Most are European imports, which makes sense, as the idea of a lawn was inspired by the English landscape of rolling fields of green, chewed short by grazing sheep. But we Americans have made it our own tradition, and for many, there is nothing more lovely and familiar than a beautiful, green, summer lawn surrounding our homes.
Soil and Green
It’s a good idea to test the composition of your soil periodically, and balance it with the appropriate additives to keep lawns looking lush and green. Lawns also need to be fertilized to keep them looking their best. Most fertilizers include a mix of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, also known as NPK. Types of fertilizer are differentiated by the percentages of each substance, which is indicated on the bag. Different grasses require different amounts of these nutrients, so be sure to match the type of grass to the appropriate balance of fertilizer.
Generally speaking, for warm season grasses, such as Bermuda and Centipede, spread 0.75 pounds of actual nitrogen, per 1000 ft.² every 6 weeks or so during the growing season. For cool season grasses, such as Tall Fescue and Kentucky Bluegrass, fertilize once in early spring and again in late summer.
Leaves of Grass
Perhaps the most important thing you can do to ensure a great looking lawn is to select the right grass. There are two major considerations to take into account: how you intend to use the lawn, and how much time you’re prepared to care for it.
While grasses can be sold individually, a mixture of different and complimentary types is now the most popular choice for new lawns, and also over-seeding of established lawns. Some mixes produce a tough lawn suitable for high traffic areas, some are designed to thrive in shade, while still others are drought and heat resistant.
There are many different combinations, and one is sure to fit your landscape. Don’t worry too much about picking the wrong grass, as your local garden center will likely only stock region-appropriate varieties.
While there are literally dozens of different kinds of available grasses, here are the most common grasses that are likely to show up in popular mixtures:
- Kentucky Bluegrass. By far the most popular, yielding fine-textured, rich-looking lawns. Thrives in full sun to part shade. Not recommended for extreme climates. Germinates in 14 to 28 days. Use 3 lbs. of seed per 1000 ft.² Plant in early fall or early spring.
- Perennial Ryegrasses. Often mixed in with other grasses to get new lawns off to a quick start. Grows well in full sun to partial shade. Not recommended for extreme climates. Germinates in 5 to 7 days. Use 5 lbs. of seed per 1000 ft.² Best planted in the early fall.
- Fine-Leaved Fescues. Grows well in full sun to light shade. Slower-growing and more water efficient than tall fescue. Germinates in 14 to 21 days. Use 9 lbs. of seed per 1000 ft.² Plant in early fall or spring.
- Tall Fescues. Grows well in full sun to very light shade. Germinates in 7 to 10 days. Use 9 lbs. of seed per 1000 ft.² Plant in early fall or spring.
- Bermuda grasses. Germinates in 5 to 7 days. Use 2 lbs. of seed per 1000 ft.² Plant in summer in full sun.
The Hissing of Summer Lawns
Watering the lawn is where many people miscalculate. Water too much, and you invite disease. Water too little, and the grass develops only a shallow root system, appears patchy, or gets overrun by weeds. How much you need to water depends largely on your region, and can vary throughout the year. Generally speaking, water early in the morning, and soak the lawn with about an inch of water. To measure the amount of water, place a plastic cup in the yard, and activate your sprinkler. Time how long it takes to accumulate an inch of water in the cup. If you use an automatic sprinkler, set the timer appropriately.
Weeds can drive us crazy with their persistence, and more than one homeowner has been so driven to distraction by their propagation that they give up trying to control them. But here again, the best defense against weeds is to take excellent care of your grass. If you have a dense and healthy lawn, it is harder for invasive weeds to gain a foothold, and they will be much less of a problem.
Weeds fall into two categories, and I hate both of them:
- Broadleaf weeds such as Dandelions and Chickweed are the simplest to control, since common lawn weed killers can eliminate them without harming your grass. Read packaging labels to ensure that you are targeting the right type of weed. Applied evenly over the entire lawn, they generally provide visible results in a short period of time.
- Grassy weeds such as Crabgrass and Annual Bluegrass are trickier, as you cannot kill them without also killing your entire lawn. One solution is to use a chemical crabgrass preventive. When applied once in the spring, and once at Labor Day, they can effectively prevent Crabgrass and Annual Bluegrass from germinating.
What an indignation. You work and slave to make your lawn the envy of the neighborhood, and some freeloading bugs want to turn it into an insect buffet. Don’t take it lying down: fight back.
Treating your lawn with a Diazinon-based insect killer can control nearly all lawn pests. You don’t have to read the fine print to find Diazinon, since they tend to put it in big letters on the label. Follow the manufacturer’s directions carefully, as Diazinon is very toxic, and can be harmful to humans and pets, as well as to unwanted garden pests.
To Aerate is Human
Soil gets compacted over time, and consequently air cannot penetrate in to keep root systems healthy. Aerators punch tiny holes into the soil, permitting air and water to quickly get deep into the root system of your grass. You can rent an aerator at a home center. Or, if you want to make a spectacle of yourself, you can actually buy shoes with long spikes on the soles that aerate your lawn as you tromp furiously around your yard. (It helps to pretend to be mad about something to justify your behavior to onlookers.) While this option is inexpensive, don’t be surprised if the neighbors haul out lawn chairs and watch you as you burnish your reputation as the local eccentric.
Who Soweth Good Seed Shall Surely Reap
Unfortunately, now that you’ve encouraged it to grow, you’ve got to keep it under control.
While some grasses grow faster than others, you should count on mowing about once a week. Keep your mower blade high and sharp. Mowing the grass too short increases water and fertilizer requirements, and dull blades can damage the grass. Never cut more than a third of the grass blade. At the height of summer, maintain your lawn at about 3 inches. In spring and early fall, adjust your mower to between 1-2 inches to protect against diseases associated with too much moisture.
Edging your lawn does nothing to contribute to its health, but it does give it a manicured appearance. String-trimmers are a good choice for an average-sized lawn. String-trimmers are inexpensive, require little maintenance, and are fairly easy to operate.
Mow Better Blues
Lawn care getting you down? Hiring a lawn care service is a fine idea. Your leisure time isn’t free; it’s worth something. For as little as $50 a month, you can enjoy having that lawn, without resenting the time it takes away from your Saturday afternoon. Or you can get hold of that neighbor kid, make him read this article, and likely get off even cheaper than that. You’ll never know until you wave 10 bucks under his nose.
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