The grass doesn’t always have to be greener on the other side — of the fence, that is. If you want a green and healthy lawn that will wow your neighbors, there are a few yard chores you should consider.
Mow for basic maintenance
Mowing may seem routine and dull, but a properly mowed lawn is the easiest way to set up your yard for success. Since it is a chore that you have to do, you might as well do it right and reap the benefits.
- Mow at the right time of day.
The best time to mow is 8-10 a.m.
- Mow when the grass is dry.
This prevents unsightly clumps from landing on and smothering your grass.
- Keep your lawn mower blades sharp.
Plan to sharpen the blades 2-3 times per season. If your growing season is exceptionally long, you will need to sharpen more often.
- Mow tall.
Mow at the tallest recommended height for your grass type. This helps shade the soil and prevent some weeds, such as crabgrass.
- Remember the one-third rule.
Don’t take off more than one-third of the grass blade per mow.
- Leave the clippings on the lawn.
A year’s worth of grass clippings is equal to a single fertilizer treatment. Use a mulching blade for the best results.
- Edge and blow.
Use an edger (AKA weed whacker or string trimmer) to edge along the hard surfaces and give it that professional curb appeal. Don’t forget to blow the sidewalks and walkways to finish the job.
Water to keep grass hydrated
Watering can make or break a lawn. How often you water depends on your soil, how much rain you’re getting, and what kind of grass you have.
A good rule of thumb is to make sure your lawn gets at least one inch of water per week from rain or a sprinkler system. In most cases, watering no more than once per week is a good recommendation. Infrequent watering encourages deep root development, which helps the plant grow strong and fortifies it in seasons of drought.
Another important point about watering: Set your sprinklers to water early, and try not to water after 9 a.m. This allows plenty of time for the water to evaporate and prevent potential fungus issues.
Fertilize to give grass a boost
Whether you choose synthetic or organic fertilizers, a fertilization program is a key component in your yard maintenance toolkit. Fertilizing works with aeration, dethatching, and overseeding to keep water, air, and nutrients available for the grass to use during its peak growing season.
Warm-season grasses peak during the summer’s warm temperatures while cool-season grasses peak in the fall and the spring when temperatures are cooler. The best time to fertilize is when the grasses are actively growing.
A few general guidelines:
- Get a soil test before you begin.
You don’t want to waste money buying nutrients you have too much of already. You can contact your local Cooperative Extension service to send in a sample to your state lab or use an at-home test.
- Don’t fertilize during dormant periods.
Whether your grass is dormant due to drought or because it is the middle of winter, hold off on the fertilizer during periods of dormancy.
- If you have warm-season grass, a general rule is to start in late spring and fertilize every four to eight weeks until late summer.
Another detail on timing: The University of Georgia recommends not fertilizing warm-season grass with nitrogen too early in the spring. Wait until the soil temps at 4 inches reach 65 degrees and start to rise before you apply your first round of spring fertilizer.
Make your last fertilizer applications for St. Augustine and bermuda no later than four weeks before the first average fall frost date. Centipedegrass and zoysiagrass require less nitrogen, so fertilize these during active growth and not in the fall.
- Cool-season grasses benefit from late spring and fall fertilization.
Late spring and fall are the prime growth periods for cool-season grasses, so these are good times to fertilize. If you only want to fertilize once per year, fertilize in the fall. This will set up your lawn for strong growth in the spring.
The timing of your spring and fall applications will depend on where you live. Generally, you want to wait until late spring after the spring flush is over since fertilizing too early will over-stimulate the grass and do more harm than good. Mid to late August through early November is the window for fall fertilization. Look for the lawn maintenance calendars from your state Extension office for more specific fertilization windows.
For more in-depth information, check out our other fertilizer articles: Organic Lawn Fertilizer: How to Grow Chemical-Free Grass.
Cleanup in spring and fall
If you have a yard full of trees, spring and fall yard cleanups may be the most dreaded part of your yearly lawn care routine. You may want to outsource your fall leaf cleanup since it can be a daunting lawn chore.
The main goals of a spring and fall cleanup are to rake the leaves off of the grass and remove dead sticks and plant material from around the yard and from the flower beds. Cleaning up debris sets you up for spring mowing and removes excessive litter that will shade and suffocate the grass, preventing healthy growth in your lawn.
Whether or not you outsource this job, remember that shredded leaves are a key component of a compost pile. If you want to start a home compost pile, shred the leaves with a mulching mower and start creating your own soil from your leaves, kitchen scraps, grass clippings, and other appropriate materials.
Pruning is another part of your yearly cleanup routine. Late winter and early spring are key times for pruning. If you have plants that bloom on the current year’s growth, prune those in late winter or early spring just before new growth begins. If you have plants that bloom on last year’s growth, such as azaleas, prune those after they bloom so you are not cutting off all of this year’s blooms!
These are general guidelines. Remember to research your specific plant before you prune or contact your Cooperative Extension service for local advice.
Maintain ornamental beds
Ornamental beds are the glory of a well-maintained yard. Whether you have prize-winning roses or glorious grasses, ornamentals can add beauty and interest to your landscape. To maintain your flower beds, consider a few key tasks:
- Choose plants wisely
“If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” If you don’t want a high-maintenance flower bed, select plants, trees, and bushes that are hard to kill and practically maintain themselves. Or, you could use these ornamental beds to host more showy, high-maintenance plants. You may choose a combination of both. Know the sun/shade needs of the plants and whether they are annuals or perennials.
Another approach is to create a xeriscaping bed. Xeriscaping is a low-water approach to help yards in arid locations reduce or eliminate the need to water outdoor ornamentals. Put drought-tolerant plants together in a bed or yard to create a water-wise landscape.
Whatever your approach, the idea is to know the maintenance and sun/shade requirements for your plants before you buy them.
Weeds are inevitable but can be greatly reduced. You can always pull those stray weeds by hand, but you can manage weeds by using high-quality landscaping fabric, cardboard, or newspaper and a few inches of mulch.
As we’ve discussed in the section above (Cleanup in spring and fall), pruning is an important part of maintaining your yard. So, if you have shrubs, bushes, or other plants that should be pruned, make sure to do so at the appropriate time. This will keep the plants healthy and ensure they don’t outgrow their space.
Many homeowners mulch their ornamental beds. Common choices include wood, pine straw, rubber, and stone. Mulch helps suppress weeds, maintain temperature, and conserve moisture.
Overseeding is when you cast new grass seed over your existing lawn. This helps to fill in those bare spots where you pulled out weeds or have dead or sparse grass.
Be sure to do this at the correct time of year. If you have cool-season grass (northern parts of the country), late summer and early fall work best. If you have warm-season grass (southern parts of the country), late spring or early summer is ideal. These times of year coincide with cool- and warm-season growth patterns, so your seed has the best chance of success.
As with anything, a little planning and preventive maintenance go a long way when it comes to weed control in your yard. As we mentioned above, landscape fabric (or cardboard or newspaper) and mulch are popular ways to control weeds in ornamental beds.
In the lawn itself, crabgrass and other weeds can be a bear. Remember these tips:
- Cut your grass tall.
This helps to deprive weed seeds in your soil of the necessary light they need to germinate.
- Weed while the ground is moist.
Pulling weeds from wet ground is easier than pulling them when the ground is dry.
- Reduce seeding by dead-heading weeds or cutting off the seed heads.
If you can’t pull them up, dead-head or remove the seed heads so that the seeds don’t drop to the ground.
There are a plethora of post-emergent herbicide options available, both organic and conventional. Ensure the product you buy is formulated for the weed(s) you’re trying to kill, and always follow the label instructions.
- Use a pre-emergent.
Pre-emergent herbicides (natural and conventional) kill the root once it reaches the top of the soil. With these products, timing is everything. Generally, the best time to apply is when the soil temperature reaches 55 degrees for several days in a row. When the soil reaches this temperature, seeds start to germinate. Plan to apply sometime in March or April in most areas.
With persistence, you can reduce weeds in your yard, but it takes time. Seeds can stay dormant in the ground for years, so be persistent in the fight.
Dethatch and aerate
Dethatching and aerating are key to helping your grass maintain a proper air and water balance.
Thatch is a layer of living and dead plant material between the living, growing grass and the soil below. A little thatch is good; it shades the soil and helps the grass to withstand traffic. Too much, though, can invite fungi and insects. Once the thatch in your lawn gets over ½” to ¾”, it’s time to rent a dethatching machine and remove it.
Aeration is another tool in your healthy lawn tool kit. Aeration does what it’s name implies: It facilitates air (and water) movement in the soil. It is especially helpful in soil that is compacted or too dense, like clay. If you can’t push a pocket knife into the soil with just your thumb, head to the home improvement store and rent an aerator. Your lawn will thank you.
Note: Dethatching and aeration are often done in conjunction with overseeding. If you have cool-season grass, do this in the late summer or early fall. For warm-season grass, the best time is late spring and early summer. If you pull up any weed seeds from the soil bed while you dethatch or aerate, they’ll be crowded out by new, thick grass.
Take care of trees
Look up! Don’t forget to take care of your trees. Do you need limbs cut because they are hitting your house? Do you think your tree has a disease? If you think your trees may need special attention, call a local certified arborist. Ensure they hold ISA TRAQ (Tree Risk Assessment Qualification) credentials. They may charge a small fee.
Relax and enjoy your healthy lawn
After you’ve completed your lawn maintenance chores, why not enjoy your lawn a little bit? Backyard games and outdoor living areas that include fire pits and outdoor kitchens are great ways to spend time with family and friends. Sit back and enjoy your very own green, great outdoors.
If you’d like an expert to handle the yard maintenance for you, hire a professional and spend your free time doing what you love.
Main Photo Credit: Jared Muller | Unsplash