How To Care For Your Lawn: Basic Lawn Care Tips
Holly Shuffett9-Minute Read
July 22, 2022
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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. Whether you’re trying to add curb appeal or you just want a lush, healthy lawn, some simple maintenance makes all the difference.
Many landscaping problem areas are easy to treat as long as you know how to identify them and what steps to immediately take. Follow these lawn care tips and you’ll have the best turf on the block in no time.
Lawn Care Basics
Having a well-manicured lawn can go beyond pulling some weeds or mowing the grass. In fact, the best lawn care tips usually include preventative care that can help homeowners avoid out-of-control weeds or pests. That, paired with some good landscaping, and your yard will be looking sharp.
At $50 – $100 per hour for a crew of two, hiring expert laborers doesn’t come cheap. But if you aren’t as mobile as you once were or if you have an especially large yard or complex project, consider enlisting professional help. Front- and backyard landscaping services are a sure fire way to get a beautiful lawn and boost your curb appeal.
Whether you decide to hire some help or DIY, here are some lawn care essentials to get you started.
1. Know Your Grass
An important part of lawn care is knowing which type of grass and plants are native to your area, since native species are more likely to prosper and require less attention. It also helps to understand under which conditions weeds are likely to appear, to avoid creating such an environment.
“Most weeds and crabgrass will thrive in a thin, poorly irrigated lawn,” says Jason Warner, owner of EnviroTurf Enterprises. “If the lawn isn’t thriving, the weeds have a chance to take over.”
Crabgrass is a type of warm-season grass which comes back every year. Like weeds, the light green color and appearance of crabgrass can cause it to interrupt uniform, lush green grass and leave your lawn looking unkempt.
The best way to avoid weeds and crabgrass is to keep your lawn healthy. This may be simpler than you think.
“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.”
2. Test Your Soil
Thatch is an 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 your lawn, essentially cutting off its supply of food, water and air. It can also cause your lawnmower to sink and “scalp” the grass.
To monitor whether your soil may be prone to thatch, consider conducting a soil test. You can buy soil test kits online or at your local garden center. A healthy lawn typically has a pH level of about 6.5.
3. Aerate Your Lawn
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.
Generally, homeowners should aerate at the start of the spring, summer or fall seasons. To do so, you’ll need the proper equipment, which you can usually rent from a home improvement store, garden center or other rental shop.
Here are two common equipment options:
- Spike aerators punch holes into the grass using spikes attached to special shoes you wear or a rotating drum you push. Most useful 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. They are also attached to a rotating drum, but the spikes are hollow tubes that lift the dirt out. Core aerators leave bigger holes in the lawn without compacting the soil around them and 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, you should leave them to decompose naturally back into the soil.
If you have been looking for a chance to lay down some grass seed or fertilizer, now’s your chance. Within 48 hours of aeration is the best opportunity to add lawn treatments and water since you can get deep into the soil.
4. Add Fertilizer
Whether you enlist the help of a lawn care company or take a DIY approach to fertilizing, there are some things to keep in mind.
“Take the time and read the label, a few times if necessary.” Warner says. “It’s important to put down fertilizer at the right rates and the right patterns. A mistake in either could lead to a stripped lawn or a burnt lawn.”
You should also be intentional about which type of fertilizer you use. Fertilizers have varying amounts of nutrient levels depending on the season and type of grass, so try to understand your lawn needs first to best reach your grass goals.
Whichever 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.”
5. Seed Your Lawn
How and when to lay down grass seed can vary by region and whether you’re seeding a new or existing lawn.
Start by conducting a soil test and considering your area’s climate to figure out the best kind of grass seed for your lawn. Areas with frigid winters and areas with a dry, desert environment will meet the needs of different types of grass, so be sure to choose a seed that’s most likely to thrive in your area.
When seeding a new lawn, here are the steps you should take:
- Prepare your ground. Till your lawn to a 3-inch depth, making sure to leave behind a smooth surface with drainage contours as needed.
- Add nutrients. Add compost, topsoil and fertilizer, working them evenly into the soil.
- Plant your grass seed. Distribute the seed per the packaging instructions. Be mindful of even coverage.
- Protect the seed. Once your grass seed is laid down, rake the area to cover it with a light dusting of soil. Consider using an erosion control blanket to prevent seeds from blowing away.
- Water your seeds. Be generous when watering your grass seed but avoid overwatering. Your seeds should be moist but not totally submerged. Once your grass reaches 1 inch in height, reduce watering to once per day.
When seeding an existing lawn, here are the steps you should take:
- Prepare existing grass. Mow your grass shorter than usual and rake to thin out its turf.
- Prepare the soil. Aerate to reduce risk of soil compaction and to get seeds deep into your lawn. Add fertilizer accordingly.
- Plant the seed. Distribute the seed per the packaging instructions. Be mindful of even coverage. Rake in the seeds.
- Protect the seed. Add mulch, compost or peat moss overtop.
6. Water Deeply
Watering your lawn may seem like a no-brainer, but it can be hard to find the sweet spot between too much water and not enough. You should also take weather into consideration when deciding when and how to water your lawn.
“The amount you need to water in any given week will change depending on the temperature and precipitation,” says Warner. “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.”
If you have an automatic irrigation system, like sprinklers, be sure to reset it during times of heavy rainfall to avoid wasting water and money. Generally speaking, Warner suggests watering your lawn for 30 – 40 minutes, two to three times per week.
7. Maintain Your Mower
Given that you don’t have a no-mow lawn, mowing your grass consistently and correctly is an integral part of maintaining a healthy lawn. To do so, you’ll want to take good care of your lawn mower. Here are some tips for a healthy lawn and a healthy mower:
- Only mow dry grass. This avoids damaging both your mower and your lawn.
- Maintain your blades. Most lawn mowers have a 100- to 200-hour lifetime. Replace them often to ensure a smooth cut.
- Alternate your mowing pattern. Switching up how you mow can encourage grass growth in an attractive, upright position.
8. Invest In Weed And Pest Control
Invasive weeds can look out of place and rob your lawn of water, food and space. If you have a weed control problem, invest in some lawn-specific herbicide and use as directed. This can kill weeds without damaging your lawn and eliminate the need for tedious hand-pulling.
Lawn care can also mean pest control.
“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.”
For especially unruly weed or pest control issues, it may be wise to bring in the pros. Many lawn care companies offer such services and more.
Want to do-it-yourself? Check out our article on how to get rid of lawn grubs for more tips.
How To Care For Your Lawn In Every Season
Proper lawn care is a year-round task which evolves with each season and change in weather. Here are some simple lawn care tips you can use throughout the year to ensure a healthy lawn and happy home.
Fall Lawn Care Tips
- Cut the grass shorter than usual on your final mow. Shorter grass means less distance for air to travel to your soil, which can keep excess moisture from building.
- Use leaves. Use a leaf mulcher or your mower to create a mulch from fallen leaves - just don’t overdo it.
- Clear your lawn. Make sure there are no sticks or other debris on your lawn in the fall. When winter hits, this can lead to snow mold or other kinds of fungus growth.
- Aerate. Aerate your lawn to relieve compaction before snowfall and low temperatures cause your grass to go dormant.
Winter Lawn Care Tips
- Check your equipment. Winter is the perfect time to make sure all your lawn equipment is in working order.
- Avoid trampling your yard. Walking over the same area too much can erode certain areas of your yard, leaving you with patchy grass when the weather warms.
- Avoid salt damage. Many of us salt our walkways to avoid slipping on snow or ice as temperatures drop. This salt can easily seep into our lawns as we shovel snow or leave bags of de-icing products out. Try to choose products with calcium chloride rather than sodium chloride.
Spring Lawn Care Tips
- Dethatch and rake. Ensure that your grass gets the air and water it needs by removing matted grass, leaf, or other debris that’s built up during the winter.
- Reseed. Patchy grass is a common byproduct of the wintertime. Reseed the area or purchase a roll of grass sod for a faster solution.
- Water. Just how much you should water varies, but most lawns in the spring will need a long, deep watering.
Summer Lawn Care Tips
- Mow taller. The ideal mowing height varies by grass type, but you can leave your grass taller than you would in the fall. Be sure to adjust your mower accordingly.
- Treat pests. With warm weather comes insects and pests. Be sure to test and treat for grubs, ticks, or other unwanted guests.
- Fertilize. Now is the time to fertilize your lawn to grow some healthy, vibrant grass. Invest in nutrient rich fertilizers that meet the needs of your lawn.
- Plant. Want to grow a garden or plant some colorful summer flowers? Now’s your chance! Consider planting some perennials for blooms that will come back each year.
The Bottom Line On Basic Lawn Care
The basics of lawn care come down to understanding how your lawn works and meeting its specific needs. The right amount of watering and the right strategy for mowing can help your lawn thrive for years to come. Whether you need a little professional help or DIY, properly maintaining your lawn is just one of many responsibilities homeowners must take on.
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