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The Basics Of Lawn Care

Lauren Nowacki11-Minute Read
July 09, 2020

A well-maintained lawn, complete with great landscaping, can instill a sense of pride in any homeowner and catch the eye of a home buyer in seconds.

Your lawn can help you sell your home by giving it curb appeal and providing buyers with a ready-made yard of their dreams.

Keeping your lawn healthy, lush and charming doesn’t have to be difficult or costly. With simple maintenance, you can have the lawn you – or your buyers – have always dreamed of.

Proper lawn care includes addressing common problems and taking preventative action with routine upkeep. Follow these tips to have the best turf on the block.

Common Lawn Problems

Many common lawn problems are easy to treat as long as you know how to identify them and what steps to immediately take. Here’s what to look out for.

Excessive Thatch

Thatch is organic material made up of grass clippings and both dead and living grass crowns, stems and roots. It’s the layer that’s found between healthy grass blades and the soil. While the right amount of thatch can provide insulation in extreme temps and help reduce weeds, excessive thatch can smother the lawn, essentially cutting off its supply of food, water and air. It can also cause your lawnmower to sink and “scalp” the grass.

When it comes to dealing with thatch, there are two ways to fix it: aerating your lawn or dethatching it. We’ll go over those treatments in the sections below.

To prevent thatch, you may consider bagging your lawn clippings instead of mulching them. You can also regularly test your soil’s pH level to make sure it’s staying at about 6.5. Soil that’s not at the proper pH level may be more prone to thatch. You’ll also want to control your use of fertilizer and pest control – both solutions to other lawn issues – as too much of these can impede thatch breakdown.

Weeds and Crabgrass

“Weeds and crabgrass are unsightly and can out-compete the grass if left unmaintained,” says Jason Warner, owner of EnviroTurf Enterprises. “Most weeds and crabgrass will thrive in a thin, poorly irrigated lawn. If the lawn isn't thriving, the weeds have a chance to take over.”

Weeds are invasive plants that look out of place on your lawn. They’ll compete with your lawn for water, food and space. “There are a variety of broadleaf weeds that infest lawns,” says Warner. “Most commonly [in Michigan], we see dandelions, clover and chickweed.”

“Crabgrass is a summer annual grass (weed) that comes back every year,” he explains. “It commonly grows along the edges of a lawn and is light green color, causing it to stick out like a sore thumb in lawns.”

Weeds and crabgrass create an aesthetic problem. Since they don’t match your lawn, they interrupt the uniform, lush green of the grass spanning your yard and can make your lawn look unkempt.

The first step to getting rid of weeds and crabgrass is keeping your lawn healthy. This is something you can do on your own.

“Lawns will naturally choke out most weeds when they are healthy,” says Warner. “If a homeowner keeps a regular watering schedule and mows at the highest setting, they will notice a huge reduction in weeds.”

If you still need help, consider a calling in the pros. “A professional lawn service will set up a proper fertilizing and weed control program to promote a healthy lawn,” says Warner. “With the homeowner and technician working together, a weed-free lawn can be achieved.”

Water Pooling

Lawns serve another purpose: they keep water from getting into your home when it rains. If you have drainage problems, you’ll notice water pooling on your lawn or, worse, seeping into your basement walls.

Water pooling can lead to several problems for your lawn. Standing water is a breeding ground for mosquitos. It can cause moss growth and can also prevent the grass below it from growing properly.

To fix this issue, you should do the work to divert water away from your home. This may include extending your downspouts, improving the grading, installing a French drain or creating a rain garden. If the problem is compacted soil, you may want to consider lawn aeration, which is discussed more in the lawn treatment tips below.

Pests

“In lawns, you have to watch for lawn grubs, cinch bugs and webworms,” says Warner. “These insects feed on the lawn or its roots and do a lot of damage to the lawn. They can even kill off entire patches (of grass) if left untreated.”

Some pests aren’t hazardous to a lawn, but they’re still household health hazards that you’ll want to take care of.

“Although ticks don't do damage to lawns, I think it’s important to bring them up,” says Warner. That’s because ticks can carry and transfer several diseases to humans, including Lyme disease, babesiosis and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. And, according to Warner, they’re becoming more of an issue.

“Tick populations have been increasing the past few years and we have been seeing a lot of them in our customer's yards,” he adds.

With lawn care companies starting their pest control services later this season due to COVID-19 restrictions, many neighborhoods may see even more of an uptick. The good news is that many pest problems are avoidable.

“Homeowners can actually prevent most pest problems with proper mowing and watering habits,” says Warner. “A well-irrigated lawn that is mowed at 3 – 4 inches during the summer will withstand against 90% of pest problems. If it is too late to prevent a pest, a reactive approach with either fungicides or insecticides might be needed.”

“It should be noted that almost all of the pest damage that we see are in lawns that were already stressed,” he says. The following treatment and maintenance tips can help keep grass healthy and strong enough to ward off pests.

Lawn Treatment Tips

Specific lawn treatments can address some of the above problems and even prevent them from happening altogether. The following treatments do just that – and add to the health of your lawn by giving it some of its basic living needs: air, water and nutrients.

Aeration

Lawn aeration involves poking holes or removing plugs, or cores, from your lawn to allow more air to reach what’s under the surface layer. Aeration does a few things: it helps your lawn breathe, breaks up compacted soil and helps water and fertilizer reach your lawn’s roots. As mentioned above, it can also help resolve excess thatch issues.

Aeration should be performed at the start of the spring, summer or fall seasons. Cool-season yards should have it done at the beginning of fall. Warm-season yards should have it sometime between the middle of spring and the beginning of summer.

To aerate your lawn on your own, you’ll need aerating equipment, which you can usually rent from a home improvement store, garden center or other rental shop. There are a few different options:

  • Spike aerators punch holes into the grass using spikes attached to special shoes you wear or a rotating drum you push. While they help on a smaller scale, they also compact the soil around the holes. These types of aerators are recommended for small yards.
  • Core aerators remove plugs, or cores, of grass and soil from the ground instead of just making holes. These tools are also attached to a rotating drum, but the spikes are hollow tubes that lift the dirt out. These leave bigger holes in the lawn without compacting the soil around them. These types of aerators are recommended for big yards.

After aeration, there will be plugs and soil remnants on your lawn. While it may look a little odd for about a week, leave them to decompose naturally back into the soil. The best time to add seed, fertilize and water your lawn is within 48 hours of aeration when they have the best opportunity to get deep down into the soil.

Irrigation Systems

Lawn irrigation is the way you deliver water to your lawn. This is usually done with sprinklers, either manually or through an automatic system.

An automatic system makes watering the lawn a bit easier. It takes away the work of standing outside with the hose for hours or unraveling the hose, connecting it to the sprinkler and moving it around until you find just the right coverage. Instead, you can install an in-ground system that waters your lawn on a schedule and, with sprinkler heads installed around the yard, waters the entire yard evenly.

This type of irrigation system will ensure your lawn is getting the right amount of water and on the right schedule. It will also prevent you from wasting time, water and money.

Fertilization

“A proper fertilizing plan provides the essential nutrients that your lawn needs during the growing season,” says Warner.

You have options when it comes to fertilizing your lawn. There are lawn care companies across the country that provide fertilizing services. Or, you can take a do-it-yourself approach. However, if you choose this option, Warner does recommend keeping a few things in mind so you don’t end up ruining your lawn.

“Homeowners should take the time and read the label, a few times if necessary. It is important to put down fertilizer at the right rates and the right patterns,” he says. “A mistake in either could lead to a stripped lawn or a burnt lawn.”

You also need to be careful about which type of fertilizer you use. “There are fertilizers with different types of nutrient levels depending on the type of grass and season,” says Warner.

You’ll want to understand what your lawn needs and what fertilizers will help you reach your grass goals. Some fertilizers include herbicides to kill weeds, while others contain a higher percentage of nutrients to help new grass grow.

Whichever type of fertilizer you choose, Warner recommends it be slow-release, which puts small amounts of nutrients into the soil over time instead of all at once. According to Warner, “slow-release fertilizers are better for lawns and our environment.”

Lawn Maintenance Tips

While one of the major pluses for maintaining your lawn is preserving its curb appeal, it also helps maintain its health. Here’s how to achieve both of these benefits.

Mow Your Lawn Strategically

It may seem like a tedious chore (so much so that some people are opting for no-mow lawns), but if you don’t mow your lawn consistently and correctly, problems may begin to arise.

“Tall and uncut grass affects curb appeal and makes mowing difficult when you do decide to mow,” warns Jay Williams, owner of Jay’s Lawn and Landscape Services, LLC. “Along with that, you will have excessive grass clippings and clumps, which will in turn kill your lawn.

“Overall, an unhealthy lawn is more susceptible to diseases, pests and weeds,” he says, adding, “Regular mowing keeps your grass healthy and growing.”

Williams recommends using sharp blades to get a fresh cut and mowing in straight lines to give your grass great curb appeal. He also suggests cutting in different directions regularly so you don’t cut the same pattern week after week.

Also, Williams says how short you should cut your grass depends on the type of grass and area. However, as a good rule of thumb, follow the professionals, who typically cut at 4 – 4.5 inches.

Remove Thatch Buildup

There are two ways to remove thatch buildup. One is aeration, discussed above. This method is recommended for more severe cases.

For less severe cases, you can remove it by dethatching, a process that involves combing your yard by running tines over your lawn to pull up the thatch. You can do this with a normal garden rake or a dethatching rake. You may be able to hit this task as you do your first round of fall clean-up when you rake your leaves. For bigger yards, you can rent a dethatcher machine that does the work for you. These devices either attach behind a trailer or work as stand-alone machines that you maneuver as they rake.

No matter what dethatching approach you take, remember to overseed your lawn after. In this method, you’ll apply seeds directly to your existing lawn without digging any holes or covering the seeds with soil. It helps reinvigorate your lawn and thicken any thinning areas.  

Properly Water Your Lawn

Watering your lawn may seem like a no brainer when it comes to lawn care, but you have to find the sweet spot between too much water and not enough. Think about what happens when we don’t water our plants – the lawn becomes dry and crunchy, and patches of brown or yellow grass become visible.

Not many people consider what happens if you overwater your grass. According to Williams, overwatering drowns the roots, causes lawn mowers to leave tracks and drenches the soil, causing the lawn to easily rip up and detach from the soil.

To make sure you’re providing your lawn the right amount of water, Williams says, “On average, watering your lawn for 30 – 40 minutes, two to three times per week will keep your lawn green and healthy.”

Of course, that depends on the weather, too. “The amount you need to water in any given week will change depending on the temperature and precipitation,” suggests Williams. “If it’s 50 degrees and rainy, you should water less. If it’s 90-plus degrees and there’s a drought, you’ll need to water more frequently.”

The time of day you water your lawn may have an impact on its health as well, according to Warner. “Most fungal diseases, like dollar spot, can be avoided by watering between the hours of 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.,” he says. “Watering too early in the morning and too late in the evening will keep the lawn moist for an extended period of time and almost always leads to disease.” 

Consider Hiring A Professional

Professional lawn care and landscaping companies offer an array of products and services that make your lawn look good, and they can take a few weekend chores off your list.

When you use a landscape (or lawn care) company, your lawn is one less thing to worry about as a homeowner,” says Williams. “These companies know the tricks to make your lawn look even better and save homeowners time, so they have more to spend with loved ones."

With years of experience, agricultural knowledge and high-end equipment and products, these professionals may be the best option to ensure the job is done properly and that all of your lawn’s issues are being appropriately addressed.

“Industry professionals know what products to use when and where. We use these products daily and know what rates to apply them,” says Warner. “While a professional is treating, they will also be looking for any problems in the lawn. If a trained eye catches pest problems early enough, the damage can be minimized or avoided completely.”

The Bottom Line

The basics of lawn care come down to the right amount of watering, the right strategy for mowing and, sometimes, a little help from professionals who can provide the best treatments for your grass. Properly maintaining your lawn is just one of many responsibilities you’ll have as a homeowner. Feeling overwhelmed? We’re here to help with a variety of homeowner tips on the Rocket HomesSM blog.

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Lauren Nowacki

Lauren Nowacki is a staff writer specializing in personal finance, homeownership and the mortgage industry. She has a B.A. in Communications and has worked as a writer and editor for various publications in Philadelphia, Chicago and Metro Detroit.